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What Happens When A Historical Claim Is Proven Wrong?
Not much...or a lot...or it's hard to tell...
The slaughter in Ukraine goes on…and on. Kind of remarkable that we’re all still here.
Not something that historians consider a possibility, given what I’ve said before in these brief messages. Scholars, duffers, buffs, and dilettantes write and broadcast based on their research, making this statement and that one to clarify or amplify, to restate or reinforce what we already know. Rarely does anyone make new claims about the past. Why? Because it can be dangerous not to the record or pedagogy or the profession but to the individual.
Say something new and be reexamined like a grad student defending a thesis…normally.
Timing is everything, as they say. Many scholars have thoroughly refuted the 1619 Project, with its demonstrably false claims about race and slavery in America. But the creator, a journalist with no historical training, was appointed a tenured professor of history. Furthermore, her thesis is now being taught at all levels.
Without a time machine, we cannot prove that this claim is wrong.
There are elements of fact that turn the Project on its head, like the claim that the American Revolution was about the preservation of slavery in America because Great Britain was about to abolish it. They didn’t abolish slavery in the Empire for another generation, though they talked about it a great deal. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence didn’t mention slavery because they removed the clause condemning the institution to get the Declaration passed. These and other errors of fact or interpretation taint the entire work…but it’s being taught in American schools.
Not the only wrong historical theme being taught, but it’s the most recent.
Some teachers still say that Woodrow Wilson agonized over his decision to go to war with Germany—that’s wrong but popular in some circles. Schools in the southern US call the American Civil War the War of Yankee Aggression, among other misnomers. Those same schools argue that occupying Ft. Sumter was an act of aggression. That’s more an interpretation, an opinion than a claim of fact. Some say that the American Revolution was a wrong-headed, overly aggressive, and unneeded conflict begun by the wealthy and fought by the poor. But “rich man’s war and poor man’s fight” is a claim made by many as far back as recorded history goes. Just ask the late Howard Zinn, whose People’s History is riddled with undocumented and untenable claims based on myths, folklore, and undocumentable “everyone knows” sort of “information.” Still being taught, though. Populist themes sell well because they resonate with some audiences. That does not make them accurate.
There are many new claims, but historians readily accept very few at once.
Scholars might examine fresh sources like the Hitler Diaries for a while before they dismiss them. In that case, a popular-but-poor pseudos-scholar named David Irving accepted the Diaries whole cloth before other scholars exposed them as a hoax within weeks of their first publication. A “new race” of humans was “discovered” in the Philippines in the early 1970s, but they too were hoaxes revealed in the ‘80s. History isn’t rocket science, but it depends on rigor. But, once again, the record is ambiguous and depends on interpretation. Therefore, some of the “history” we talk about is nothing more than someone’s opinion.
What do YOU think? Are new historical claims all worth exploring?
This Redhead: A Dialogue
As some of you know, this is a work in progress…and progress it does, if slowly because it’s a literary form with which few people are familiar, comprising only outer dialogue. Even the brief excerpt you’ll read here requires some explanation…
This story is a dialogue between two characters: Red and Blondie. You will see no quotation marks. There are no "he said" or "she sighed" or "they shouted" tags. The only italics or ellipses you will see are for emphasis. There is no non-verbal, internal dialogue or observer narrative of any kind. You will read of no facial expressions that they don't talk about, no unspoken reactions, or unvocalized thoughts.
From “On Style” in This Redhead
To catch you up, the year is 1980, and both characters are about 25. Red is renting one room in the two-bedroom townhouse that Blondie rents. He works as a writer; she’s a barmaid. She has at least two dates a week; he doesn’t. Red lives hand-to-mouth and barely that; Blondie is deep in debt, which is why he’s renting out a room in a place he doesn’t own. They are not sharing either a bed or lives. Red answered Blondie’s ad in a newspaper; they hardly knew each other before she moved in.
In the scene you are about to read, they have lived in the townhouse for nearly two months, friendly but not friends. In the scene before this one, free-spirit Red offered to “relieve” some of uptight-Blondie’s apparent stress with some innocent necking in the safety of their shared living room.
You’re still…interested in my…?
Stress? Sure. Clothes on; standing up; downstairs; no commitment; five minutes.
So c’mere. Mmm…oh, I could get used to you, Blondie.
I’ll open my robe for ya. Better?
That leotard looks tight.
And there’s nothing under it. You’ve still got at least two minutes on my meter. Now…try…just…touch…flick…mmm…yeah. You could break hearts, Blondie.
I’m single, not by my choice, but still…a choice.
Me, too, big guy.
But you’ve had dates.
I've been on the market so long I went on clearance.
You set the prices, though.
Rub it in, pal. Little hug?
Their day ends soon after, in separate rooms.
With no “stage direction,” no shade of a possibility for a flashback, and only two characters talking, dialogue has to describe everything from the weather to their attire to their attitudes to their emotions to the furniture they’re in or not in. While the reader’s imagination is supposed to run wild—filling in the blanks with their own experiences—letting the reader fill in as many blanks as necessary still requires me to constrain more fantastic flights of fancy. I can’t leave too many blanks between scenes, which could be minutes or weeks later, depending on the story’s action. And there is action. All that the reader gets from the story is what Blondie and Red say to each other. Their imaginations that I hope to augment, not replace, take up the slack.
There are no models to follow.
Some writers say that a book written like this is not only unique, but it is unreadable and unmarketable. Not encouraging.
I might finish This Redhead before the end of the year, or maybe not. Drop me a line and let me know what you think of this narrative experiment.
Normandy 1944 Reconsidered
Who Put The Dip In The Dip Da Dip Da Dip?
On 28 May…
1914, Gavrilo Princip killed Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofie in Sarajevo, Serbia. The furor that followed gave us WWI, the Russian Revolution, WWII, the Cold War…and on and on.
1923, the Attorney General of the United States declared it was legal for women to wear trousers everywhere. Ain’t that nice, ladies?
And Monday is MEMORIAL DAY in the United States. Please take a moment to remember those who gave their lives for your freedom to cook out, veg out, and ignore their sacrifice. Freedom, after all, isn’t free; it ain’t even cheap.