33 Questions About American History
You're Not Supposed to Ask
by: Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
What better way to start the New Year than with an Old Book about really Old Stuff that's Politically Incorrect?
Ok. Let's start with the writer. He specializes in politically incorrect books - but, his C.V. reads much like another famous person's, though not necessarily in the same order: B.A. Harvard, M.Phil. and PhD., Columbia. Oh, and he's a libertarian, small l. Other than that, I can't attest to his scholarship.
The book is a publication of sub-title of Random House, so, again, reasonable though not guaranteed scholarship.
And, full disclosure (I love that expression): I did not go through and check each item against other publications on the topic but merely read for amusement, entertainment, and inquiry.
Now, to continue that disclosure: I was not educated, in the formal sense, in the last 20 years. And I do think that makes a difference. An FB Friend mentioned that his dad had a habit of reciting a long and rhythmic poem, and that put me in mind of a man I knew who did the same. I realized they'd probably both been educated at around the same time, when recitation was still done in some schools - kids were expected to learn a poem or reading "by heart" (what a wonderful way to put it!) and then stand and recite it in front of their appreciative elders, as kids today will... oh, never mind.
My point being, I grew up with a certain set of stories about American History - you know, like "In fourteen-hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue," as opposed to "Columbus was an Oppressor from Europe who sailed to the New World bent upon the destruction of the Indigenous Peoples who had never done anybody any harm and were living in Eden." Ok, perhaps that's over-stating the dichotomy, but you get the picture. What kids are taught in school has a lot to do with what is popular culturally - history be damned. And neither story is necessarily "correct."
Every day, we re-interpret history; sometimes this is based upon new things that turn up (Kinnewick Man, for example), or upon a new way of "reading" things right before our eyes (is the Confederate Flag the secret sign of slavery, or a symbol of a rebellion, or both - depending upon who you are?).
What fascinates me is the information that you either must dig for, or that appears based upon some scholar digging into original (source) material (a friend spent his graduate days in dusty volumes of Early Spanish, learning what people like Columbus were writing about their adventures at that time) and trying to make sense of it in the context of all the other material that has surfaced.
Then, there are writers, like Woods, who try to popularize this information - that is, make is "available" to both the intellect and the education of the average person. And do so, I believe, honestly.
For I do get the impression that Woods, while, as a libertarian-small-l, he may have a smallish axe to grind, he is intellectually honest. He seems to bat both ways, though, depending upon whose darling is being killed, he will seem to be on "the other side."
I have a friend with whom I fight the Civil War, endlessly. I have to admit to having lost as many battles as I have won, but what's of great interest to me is that perhaps the people who were living in those times were as certainly-uncertain of why they were going to war as we who try to figure it all out are today.
Woods deals with that in the question of Virginia's State Constitution and Jefferson's idea of "state's rights," and whether this was, or was not, a defining issue of the Civil War. (See Chapter 19, and how and when and under what conditions Virginia agreed to ratify the U.S. Constitution.)
For each point of debate, you can read "The Myth" (the popular idea of the subject) and "The Truth" (or his reformation on the subject).
As I said, it's important to read each subject with the necessary grain of salt - and do some research of your own. If he'd perhaps divided his chapters into "The Common Story," and "The Uncommon Story," I would have felt less nervous about accepting the stories with which I agree with him, and dismissing the stories with which I disagree.
What's fun is, the book will make you think. And the fact that it was published a few years ago (and I'm just getting around to it, which tells you a bit about my pile of reading!), because so much of the history is relatively old (heck, even Bill Clinton, whose presidency is one of the issues, is 20-odd years ago), the issues he raises, as they have not been settled yet, are unlikely to have been settled by the time you get to reading this book.
For your consideration, some of the topics:
Did Martin Luther King Oppose Affirmative Action?
Were The American Indians Environmentalists?
Was the "Wild West" Really So Wild?
How Does Social Security Really Work?
What Really Happened in the Whiskey Rebellion?
And on it goes.
For your reading, and arguing, pleasure!