Lessons from history

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  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.