Archive for June, 2011

Shattering Myths

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

I seem to post a disproportionate number of pieces complaining about falsification of the problem of falsification of history, but I can’t help myself when I keep being fed new material. The latest evidence: an ITAR-TASS story (hat tip to Johnson’s Russia List) claiming in its headline that “Russian historians shatter WW II myths.”

Here’s the question: where in the piece is there a single specific example of a myth about the war that Russian historians have shattered? I say this not to demean the work of Russian historians, many of whom are doing fine research. I say it to point out a recurring aspect of Russian official and semi-official discourse on World War II, which is that it is plagued by evil-doing historians who mythologize and falsify the war. There’s never any specific indication of who exactly it is that is doing these terrible things, or of what exactly it is they say that is so awful and wrong.

Oswald Spengler, Marcus Aurelius, and PM Dawn

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Not particularly Russian, but this does have some military history relevance . . .

In summer travels, I found myself stuck without a wide selection of reading material, but came across an old Modern Library edition of Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West. Since that’s a book far more often referenced than read, and I didn’t have lots of other options, I decided to plow through it.

The book lived down to my expectations. It’s positively Hegelian in its grand rhetorical flights of fancy about capital-H History, and in its impenetrable style. On the bright side, once you get the hang of what Spengler is up to, the book’s easy to skim through very quickly. I may comment on some of his substantive arguments anon, what struck me was a single line on p. 387 in the chapter on “Philosophy of Politics”:

The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.

Thanks to a youthful flirtation with alternative rap, I recognized this as a line from PM Dawn’s 1991 song “Comatose.” I was pretty sure Spengler hadn’t stolen from PM Dawn, but I found it only slightly less surprising that PM Dawn was citing Spengler. To google I turned . . .

. . . to find to my surprise that the quotation is widely attributed to Marcus Aurelius (for example, here, here, here, and here), both in collections of military quotation and especially in business books. One organization even made it their official slogan, complete with a bust of Marcus Aurelius on the home page.

To add insult to injury, Marcus Aurelius wins the citation wars by a ratio of about 5:1 over Spengler.

The problem is that there’s no evidence that Marcus Aurelius ever uttered or wrote the words in question. It’s nowhere in his Meditations, and no one ever gives a real citation. The dubious prize for earliest misattribution to Marcus Aurelius (at least according to google books) goes to Jay Levinson and David Perry’s Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters.

Of course, in terms of the popularity of the quotation, Marcus Aurelius is a lot better than Spengler. The one is a philosophical emperor, one of the last good one the Romans had. The other was an obscurantist pessimist, and while not the Nazi he’s often painted as being, was no friend to democracy, capitalism, or liberalism. It’s tough to imagine management theorists being quite so eager to Spengler for inspiration.

Dog bites man, rain falls from sky, babies cute . . .

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

And in other news,

Many attendees of large scholarly gatherings complain that sessions in which long papers are read aloud rarely excite the audience. One solution is the “precirculated paper,” in which scholars give out the paper in advance and spend less time reading aloud at the actual meeting, and more time in discussion. The American Historical Association has been encouraging this option for its annual meeting, but announced this week that it was suspending the practice. Among the problems: those who signed up for the option didn’t submit their papers on time, those papers that were circulated weren’t read in advance, and not enough attendees understood the concept.

It’s been a long time since postings–I thought I’d ease back in with an easy one.