History, My Opinion

THE TROUBLE WITH HISTORY

Of all the scholarly endeavours attempted by mankind History is perhaps the most subjective and biased. Each Empire, Nation, Peoples, Tribe, or Clan has its’ own version and it is rare that they will all agree on the same event. The problem with History in its’ recording is that emotions tend to get in the way and sometimes it is hard to distinguish truth from legend. Perhaps the greatest distorter of History is the Movie Industry with its’ constant jumbling of events and its’ romanticism. It seems that there always has to be a love interest. Well Hollywood, love and romance might have a place in History but it is not the be all and end all.

When it comes to the recording of History it is amazing how two individuals can see the same event at the same time and place and yet have different versions of what occurred. Two people same event but let’s say one is English and one Scottish, both present at Culloden, both observers not participants and I guarantee you they will give far different accounts of that ill-fated battle. To the Hanoverian English it was a great protestant victory over the Catholic Highlanders and the House of Stewart. To the Scots it was a Glorious Battle, and even though they were defeated it gave rise to the myths and legends of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” and the Jacobite cause. In honesty it was a battle that should not have been fought then and there but the Bonnie Prince would not heed the advice of his military advisers so between 1500 and 2000 Highlanders lay dead or wounded on the field while “Charlie” fled and the English on the order of their commander, William, Duke of Cumberland committed murder upon the Scottish wounded. Even though I am a Scot I find that we tend to be very emotional and romantic about our History and in most cases would rather believe the myth than the truth. Warlike we were, perhaps one of the most warlike people on Earth but we were doomed to continually repeat the mistakes of the past and never really united but for a few times against our common enemy the English.

In Canada the History of our country is, depending on if your English or French descent, another example of different versions of the same story and for many, many years the most biased. The most controversial event id the Seven Years (French and Indian) War in which England defeated France and gained possession of French North America (Canada). Still after 250 years there is still division in how the war is portrayed. To the Canadians of English descent it is conception of what we think is the greatest nation in the world. To the Canadians of French descent it is referred to as the “Conquest”. A prime example of this difference of History is the “Siege and Battle of Quebec City” about which much has been written and mythologized by both sides. Perhaps C.P. Stacy, a Canadian Historian, came the closest to writing an unbiased account of that moment in time. His book “Quebec 1759, the Siege and Battle” published in 1959 is an excellent account for the time it was written but over the ensuring years new evidence has emerged which broadens our understanding of this crucial point in our History. As every schoolboy knows Wolfe, the British Commander, and Montcalm, the French commander died either during the battle or shortly after. This event plus the charge of the Scottish Highlanders have been the most romanticized in myth and legend especially perhaps turning Wolfe into a greater man than is warranted.

Even the wars of the 20th Century have not escaped the biasedness of its recorders. It is true that the Victor writes the History and being such are going to denigrate the loser and applaud themselves. Read the History of any of the allied victors and they will differ in the telling of what occurred and of course the loser will have their version. It all depends on ones’ perception and what their public and political masters want. War is mankind at its’ best and worst and in the majority of cases unwarranted but sometimes it is necessary when it is used to stop utmost evil from prevailing. Perhaps the last necessary war was “World War Two” but that will definitely be for future historian to decide. It is still too early for the generation that was involved to say as they were the participants or the victims.

History is a potpourri of Myth, Legend, Romance, and Emotions. It is the perception of who is writing it. Tell the Highland Scots that they deserved to lose at Culloden and it is pretty certain that a second battle will happen. Tell the French that Napoleon wasn’t really that great and you might not get out of the country unscathed. Tell the Americans that they are not the greatest people on the planet and they are liable to nuke you just to prove the point. History is our story be it written or oral it is the record of the diverse peoples of this world we call home. Perhaps the designation should be changed from “History to Ourstory”

 

 

 

 

 

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History, My Opinion

LITTLE GLORY OR REMEMBERANCE

I love the study of History and I believe I have stated before my three areas of fascination, Ancient Greece, War of 1812, and World War 1. As you can see all of these areas include War but that does not necessarily make me a war lover for I am not. The reason for this is I have fought in a war and their is no glory just fear, filth, pain, mutilation, and death. What fascinates me is the men and women in this most brutal of mans’ endeavours. When one reads history it is usually about the great heroes and leaders both militarily and politically. That is all fine and well but without the so called common soldier or warrior there would be no one to fight the battles. All to often those of the rank and file are overlooked. It is they who bear the brunt, the ones who do the dying, are wounded or succumb to disease or worse.

The greatest epic of course is Homers’ Iliad about the Trojan War. It is a master piece, but Homer tells only of the heroes, Achilles, Hector, Ajax, Odysseus, Menelaus, and Agamemnon. I believe only twice he mention the names of common soldiers, Thersites and Sinon. Thersites because he is supposedly the ugliest Greek at Troy and Sinon because of his convincing the Trojans that he is a deserter and talking them into taking the Trojan Horse into the city. They should have listened to Helen when she said “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”. To Homer and most Historians of the Ancient World how many names of the hoi polloi or common Legionnaire are recorded. Alexander the Great, perhaps the greatest military genius of all time but certainly in his day claimed to care for his men yet he pushed them to the point of mutiny when he reach India.

To Alexander it was all his Glory and Fame that he really cared about. Caesar in his “Gallic Wars” only mentions two of the lower ranks Varanius, and Pullo. It has been the lot of the foot slogger from the first recorded war in 2700 BCE up to the 19th Century to be forgotten and ignored. Yet these are the true heroes who fight and die on uncountable battlefields with little or no say as to their fate.

 

The recording of the individual soldiers’ name became more prevalent in the late 18th century then on through the 19th and 20th and especially now in the 21st. It took historians long enough but they finally recognized that these individuals were just as important if not more so than the Kings, Lords, and Generals. It was the Tommy, Doughboy, G.I.Joe, and the Grunt the infantry man who fought and died in the dirty and man made hell that won the battles. The Politicians might have started the war, the Generals planned it but it was the common soldier who won it. To-day after centuries of playing minor roles it is also the women of the armed forces who stand sholder to shoulder with the men in Harms Way.

 

There are many books out there of the Wars of the 19th and 20th centuries that are full of letters, notes, diaries, and journals of the common soldier brimming with information of how they lived or died on the Battle Field. Thankfully Historinas are looking more and more into these private documents to learn about these warriors that marched off in defense of their nations,homes, and loved ones. These young men and women from the farms the towns, the cities, and the universities who answered their counties call. It makes no difference whose side they were on the believed themselves to be in the right because their Nations’ Leaders said it was so.

Politics is the game of old men and it is Politicians who start the wars and call on the young to fight and die. Perhaps as the saying goes if these politicians had to fight the wars they start it would put a quick end to it.

 

I am neither Dove nor Hawk. War is an intregal part of our cultures and if that war is just and necessary then it must be fought. Perhaps in the last 100 years the only War that could be considered total necessary was World War Two. This war had to be fought because the evil fueling it had to be destroyed. Now in my seventh decade it is my ardent wish that neither my daughters or my grand children ever have to face the prospect of another Global War. In the meantime though I will go on reading and studying and being fascinated by the people who answer the “Call to Arms”.

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