The Ebb and Flow of History
More properly, the ebb and flow of the reporting on the historical record...
I take it we’re all still here…and Russia has not yet given up…
We point to “history” and say to ourselves, “we know what happened.” Well, some of us do. We take an educated guess based on the record, what we are told happened and what others said happened. Every once in a while, we get the chance to “prove” something based on physical evidence… but that’s not that common, especially the further back into the past we go… and what advantage this or that party can get out of pushing their version.
Retelling the past is both a parlor game and a cottage industry: it’s entertaining and harmless and everyone used to do it.
An English “gentleman of leisure” (a comfortable man of independent means) wrote the magisterial A History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Edward Gibbon had very little formal education—though he read a great deal. Still, he undertook the monumental task of describing what was, in his time, the largest empire ever known after two lackluster terms in the House of Commons. He spent most of his time between 1774 and 1788 writing the six volumes, and expressed great relief after he finished the last—a sentiment I can identify with. While he was a Professor of History in the Royal Academy in 1744, that appointment is and was honorary.
Decline and Fall was used as a textbook into the 20th century.
His work was popular for decades and was highly cited well into the 19th century… but written by someone with no formal training in history. (In his defense, there wasn’t much such training in his time). For those of us who have suffered through it (albeit, an abridged version in my case) can attest that the somewhat dense prose with page-long paragraphs waxes poetic and descriptive, but in hindsight was not especially definitive. His thesis that it was Christianity that brought Rome low might have been popular in the late 18th century, but holds little water in the 20th. Even while he credits the Church for Rome’s demise, his was a scathing view of it, causing the work to be banned in several countries. An Enlightenment scholar, he had converted to the Catholic Church, yet he criticized that body severely for its intolerance. It made him financially secure, even though he was already independently wealthy. It gave him renown, but very little authority.
Decline and Fall is a model of how “history” ebbs and flows with time, fashion, and research.
Our book has stirred a negative reaction that helps to show the ebb and flow of history. Some simply say “Hiroshima, stupid,” or some such nonsense.
We’re talking not about how they lost the war, but about how they lost Japan.
The nuclear bombings in 1945 were the culmination of many months of direct and indirect attacks on Japan that had brought her industry to a halt. By that time, Japan barely had the means to defend itself, though they were arming everyone from age 8 to 60 (really), and still had over two million men under arms in Japan. By August 1945, the military leadership of the country was torn between seeking terms and waiting for annihilation. It was this attitude that fueled Japan’s separation from their militaristic past.
Some really believed annihilation was preferable to surrender.
Other critics, more erudite, claim that Japan abolished the samurai in the 19th century. While imperial decrees did away with samurai traditions in the 1860s, they could not do away with a thousand years of tradition with the stroke of a brush. The clan identification remained even after their domains vanished. While the topknots didn’t come back, the “militarists” of Japan who led the Army and Navy gradually restored much of the samurai imagery to popularity by 1900.
These “militarists” called themselves “samurai” who said they followed the “bushido code.”
While some authorities blame the Showa Emperor Hirohito for allowing his country to go to war with the rest of the world, the truth is much more nuanced. While he signed off on the ever-expanding wars brought on by the samurai, even absolute monarchs fear for their lives from time to time.
The excesses of the militarist/samurai drove Japan to the brink of annihilation.
But how did they get there? Did they wake up one morning and decide to take on the entire world?
Sorry; read the book.
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On 18 June:
In 1815, they fought the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium, between France under Napoleon Bonaparte and… just about everyone else in Europe. While the French lost, it would be another three months before Napoleon abdicated for a second and final time.
In 2018, the United States Space Force was authorized by Congress. Frankly, the less said about this, the better, when consolidation of the armed forces would make more sense. Why the Navy still has infantry and air assets is a mystery for the ages…
And today is NATIONAL WANNA GET AWAY DAY. So, what’s stopping you?
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