Lessons from history
The idea behind this page is to document the lessons we should be learning from history, rather than just the dry facts. It should eventually be organized two ways: by chronology and by type of lesson.
Right now it is mostly a collection of notes and links.
by date of writing
- 2007-01-22 "The Iraq War and the Sicilian Campaign" by Brent T. Ranalli, Part I and Part II: a lesson from 415 BC, in which Athens, a "superpower" of the day, was ultimately destroyed by over-investment in an ill-considered war (see also Alcibiades)
- 2006-12-03 How Our Civilization Can Fall by Orson Scott Card: offers a reasonable-sounding argument (and perhaps even a workable model) for the US to remain in Iraq, based on historical civilization-wide crashes
- 2002-07-22 The Talent Myth: lessons from Enron and World War II
- 1998-12-22 Miracle Cure, But The Medicine Was Bright Red by Greg Palast: Chile meets Chicago-style economics; hilarious hijinks ensue
- 2006-12-10 Tinker Bell, Pinochet and The Fairy Tale Miracle of Chile revisits the same story, possibly without any new details but at least with a fresh set of reader comments
- History 102: The Social Philosophy of American Businessmen, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison History Department
- How Hitler rose to power in a Democratic country even though his party were very much in the minority
- How the US has recreated the Enabling Act from 1933 Germany
- Able Archer 83, a NATO excercise from 1983.11.02-11, came close to convincing the USSR that a first strike was imminent, in response to which they readied their nuclear forces and placed air units in East Germany and Poland on alert.
by historical date
- 1937: A review of two Trotsky biographies by Geoffrey Swain and Ian Thatcher: "The fear evoked by the Stalinist terror left its mark on the consciousness and behavior of several generations of Soviet people; for many it eradicated the readiness, desire and ability to engage in honest ideological thought. At the same time, the executioners and informers from Stalin's time continued to thrive; they had secured their own well-being and the prosperity of their children through active participation in frame-ups, expulsion, torture, and so forth. ... Stalin's crimes were justified on the basis of grotesque lies, which portrayed the Marxist opponents and victims of the bureaucratic-totalitarian regime – above all, Leon Trotsky – as saboteurs, terrorists and agents of various imperialist and fascist powers."
- 1934, The Business Plot: US Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler testifies to the US Congress that he was approached by a group of wealthy industrialists (The American Liberty League) who attempted to recruit him to serve as the leader of a plot to overthrow president Franklin D. Roosevelt and to assume and wield power once the coup was successful. The devastation of the Great Depression had caused many Americans to question the foundations of liberal democracy, making ideas such as fascism and national socialism seem appealing to conservatives while many liberals dallied with socialism and communism.
- This piece of history offers a possible explanation for the massive debt taken on by the Bush II administration: they seek to trigger another Great Depression, which would naturally make citizens more willing to accept fascism or other flavors of strongman-style leadership in the ultimate interests of big business. (A Great-Depression-like event coming anytime before the 2008 US presidential election (or even after that but before the inauguration) would, of course, be the perfect opportunity for Bush to declare martial law under the NSHSPD.)
- 2007-07-27 Rightwingers and the F Word: more about the coup attempt
- 1921 The Battle of Blair Mountain "marked a turning point in the national movement to better the conditions of working people by demanding the legalization of unions." ... "...mine workers were forced to sign legally binding "yellow-dog" contracts (upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court) under which miners pledged not to join a union or risked forfeiting their jobs as well as the right to live in company housing. In exchange they were paid next to nothing, had no freedom of speech or assembly, and were killed with impunity by mine guards and local politicos in an atmosphere akin to a third-world dictatorship." (from a restricted share)
- 1914 The Ludlow Massacre "was an attack by the Colorado National Guard and Colorado Fuel & Iron Company camp guards on a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners and their families at Ludlow, Colorado, on April 20, 1914. Some two dozen people, including miners' wives and children, were killed. The chief owner of the mine, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was widely criticized for the incident." Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the event.
- 1898-02-15 The USS Maine, stationed in Cuba's Havana Harbor, exploded, "sinking the ship and killing 260 sailors. Americans responded with outrage, assuming that Spain, which controlled Cuba as a colony, had sunk the ship. Many newspapers presented Spanish culpability as fact, with headlines such as "The War Ship Maine was Split in Two by an Enemy's Secret Infernal Machine." Two months later, the slogan "Remember the Maine" carried the U.S. into war with Spain. But Spain didn't do it (it appears to have been an accident), and we could have figured that out at the time if investigations had proceeded properly. There are perhaps some lessons to learn regarding investigations of highly-emotionally-loaded tragedies, such as 9/11 (where the official non-investigation led to the invasion of Afghanistan and later Iraq). At the time, claims that the event was being exploited as a way to get the US into the war would probably have been dismissed as a conspiracy theory...
- 1889-1893 The Johnson County War was a series of conflicts in which cattle companies ruthlessly persecuted supposed rustlers (many of them actually legitimate farmers) throughout the grazing lands of Wyoming, eventually hiring armed gunmen to invade the county and wipe out the competition -- which then fought back.
- a summary via Edward Morbius
- 1294: The credit crunch of 1294: Causes, consequences and the aftermath: the 2008 financial meltdown is often described as the product of entirely modern circumstances (advances in telecommunication and computing), but it nonetheless bears much resemblance to a crisis over 700 years ago
- 70 BC et sequelae: Fake Terror - The Road to War and Dictatorship: "It's the oldest trick in the book, dating back to Roman times; creating the enemies you need." Historical fake terrorism, starting with the Roman Republic.
- 2007-08-31 Making History Available: on the failure to be sufficiently moved by historical evidence
- The title of that piece suggests a topic which isn't quite what the essay is about: "making history accessible", i.e. making historical information easy to find and comprehend – a tool, rather than a sort of fraternity hazing ritual or (at best) competitive sport by which one earns points towards college. But that's a topic for another page. -W.