Friday, June 6, 2008

The art of revision

One of the greatest insults among historians, or one of the greatest badges of honor for historians of a certain stripe, is revisionist.

The revisionist's essence is that they rebel against old research, which they believe is ideologically slanted beyond any worth, by creating all new research and a new point of view on the history, which, despite a usual protestation of less bias than the past, somehow agrees with their ideological point of view.

The essential flaw of revisionist in its purest is that they discard all the old research and create history so ideologically slanted that it's almost impossible for those not sharing the ideology to read it without a burst of vomit shooting up their stomachs.

But to be fair, the revisionist is usually correct, to a lesser degree though, about the bias of the old research, and moreover the revisionist often has new research that has a few gems of useful information.

In the end though, I object terribly to any throw out all the old movement, and revisionism is one of them. There are so many points to object to, but I think I covered most of the major ones in my description. My point essentially is that old, consensus research, while biased often, usually has at least some worth that should not be discarded.

Having said all that, let me come to the newest bit of revisionism. Although revisionist usually belong to the left-wing of politics, they also inhabit the right-wing, and this figure belongs firmly in the latter. Pat Buchannan has written a history book that to a greater or lesser extent almost certainly belongs in the revisionist column. Since I've been dealing with essences largely so far, let me get to the essence of his book. WWII could have been avoided if we just let Nazi Germany take Poland.

I have to say I don't have his argument down precisely, you can check it out on if you'd like. I may read it, but I might find that I can only stomach a summary. The key problem with his logic I think, or if not with the logic of his book, the logic of much of his rhetoric, is that he assumes strong nations have the right to sacrifice weak nations.

Morally, that's monstrous, geopolitically, that will cost you in terms of bitterness and the future changing position of countries.

But just to strike at one argument to shoot at his book, without even reading it, admittedly, and if someone has read it and like to shoot this argument down, feel free to:

Nazi Germany was part of the Axis pact with at the time. Even if Germany would have been satisfied with Poland (which it wouldn't have been), other Axis powers such as Italy and Hungary were moving on their own territorial ambitions, notably Greece and Transylvania. It is very hard to imagine that Yugoslavia would not get involved in the mix, and then the European geopolitical situation would be reduced to this:

Portugal, Spain, France, Britain, Scandanavia, Switzerland, Axis powers, USSR. Envision that for a second, and realize that you have there Hitler lying surrounded by passively or actively hostile enemies with very rebellious territories barely under his control. It is hard not to imagine the war widening.

But to attack something further. Pat Buchanan combines in his argument that the reason why WWII was so sad, is because it cost Britain its empire. Screw the British Empire. It did provide some marginal improvement in SOME situations, but it was an oppressive, exploitive regime and it needed to fall.

The Cold War was awful, it really was, but you can't let that get you nostalgic for colonialism and imperialism. Imperialism was just wrong Pat. It was just wrong.

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