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Things need not have happened

30 May 2015

Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and adventures are the shadow truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes and forgotten.

Neil Gaiman


15 Comments to “Things need not have happened”

  1. “Things need not have happened to be true.”

    Thought this was the beginning of a political rant by one of the 545.


  2. There’s ‘true’ as in ‘that stuff that actually happened,’ and ‘true’ as it ‘stuff that people believe and that motivates their actions and sometimes laws,’ which ironically then becomes ‘true’ since the narrative is now a phenomena behind real world movements.

  3. Am I the only one who finds that notion chilling, or at least depressing? That we’re doomed to be ruled by ghosts of the past – ghosts that don’t even have ‘bodies’ to autopsy?

    The essence of Thanotocracy…

  4. Good thing this guy’s not a history teacher.

    • He could be. History is a collection of agreed-upon lies. The lies change with the times.

      Once it was fashionable to repeat the lie of George Washington and the Cherry Tree. We knew it was a lie, but that lie taught something worth learning.

      Then our betters decided we should learn that the Founding Fathers were gods with feet of clay, and they taught the lie that George Washington took ill returning from a tryst with one of his slave women. (I confess that I never saw the value in this lie, but I learned a great deal about those who taught it. What I learned made me want to vomit.)

      The Japanese lie to themselves about their history. They have reduced World War 2 to two incidents: 1) Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Japan and 2) Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender to the Japanese people on the radio.
      Perhaps I am not the one to judge, but IMO the Japanese do themselves a disservice teaching this history.

      The War of the Triple Alliance was fought between Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay on one side and Paraguay on the other from 1865 to 1870. Francisco Solano Lopez led the forces of Paraguay. To give you some idea about this man, his father sent him on a tour of Europe. He spent his entire 3 weeks visiting France making daily visits to the tomb of Napoleon.
      At the end of the war, 90% of the male population of Paraguay was dead; that is, Paraguay was almost eliminated as a country. For many years after the war, polygyny was mandatory.

      Do you think the history of this conflict is identical in Paraguay and Brazil? I have read the histories of this conflict both in Spanish and Portuguese, and I assure you it is not. In Paraguay, Lopez is still lauded as a national hero. In Brazil, he is a devil.

      History is propaganda. I do not see this as cynicism. To me, this is a realistic view. The question is whether the propaganda is useful for a stated purpose.

      The purpose of teaching history is to build good citizens. George Washington and the Cherry Tree — myth and lie though it was — did that. George Washington the whoremonger did not. The first history is useful and, therefore, should be taught. The second history is destructive and, therefore, should not be taught.

      • Agree but with some caveats. The cherry tree story was meant to be a fable for children, that they’d eventually grow out of, so teach it as that. Just like Santa Claus. The whoremonger thing was meant to be believed by everyone as fact.

        The whole point of the cherry tree thing wasn’t so much to idolize Washington, I think, but to take a person who was respected and build a story around some activity that he probably didn’t do in order to promote a virtue like honesty.

        But I’d question how useful it really is to portray and promote an admirable man as infallible and godlike. It certainly didn’t help General Arthur St. Clair, one of Washington’s top generals and a heroic figure in his own right, but St. Clair’s patriotism and service was ignored and nearly forgotten, swallowed up in the propaganda that made the Washington myth.

        • So we tell the ‘fable’ of George and the Cherry Tree to children to teach them the value of accountability and later we teach them that the man after whom we enjoined them to model themselves was a whoremonger? Yeah, that’s gonna motivate ’em to follow his example.

          Too many years ago, when I was a 1Lt in the Air Force, I briefed MGen Donald Henderson. After my briefing, his deputy, Col Owen (last name omitted), objected and proposed changes. In response, General Henderson said, “Owen, I agree with you, but . . .” and proceeded to disagree with everything his deputy said. That is when I learned that ‘I agree with you, but . . .’ really means ‘I disagree with everything you said.’

          Read Terry Prachett, Hogfather. We teach our children lies about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny so that later they will swallow the lies we tell them about honor and loyalty and justice.

          History has a purpose. Stories that serve that purpose must be told to our children. Stories that do not serve that purpose must not be told to our children. Leave them for the wonks in grad school.

          PS You think Arthur St Clair was a hero? Look up Joshua Barney. Joshua Barney was a superman. And you will still find lies about him. For example, Star Spangled History says Barney “served for the Continental Navy during the American Revolution.” This is false. Barney served in the Pennsylvania State Navy.

          The information online about Barney is scanty. Some is accurate, some is inaccurate. The man was phenomenal. Really.

          • Perhaps it would’ve been more accurate to say that I agree with your facts but not your conclusion.

            As for history serving its proper purpose, all well and good until the day you become an inconvenient fact that needs to be rubbed out.

      • George Washington and the Cherry Tree was mere fabrication, but he was an amazing man. The biography by Ron Chernow seems to have been meticulously researched (it includes a lot of primary sources), and wow! George Washington has been my hero ever since I read that book. 😀

      • Suburbanbanshee

        Actually, most of the tribes of Paraguay had always practiced polygamy. What was new was that there weren’t enough young men around to provide wives for women who didn’t want polygamy, and there weren’t enough Catholic priests around to discourage the practice. (You’ll also see things saying that Catholics got a dispensation to be polygamous, and that’s not true either. The tribes just ignored the rules, that’s all.)

        Also, I’m pretty sure that the main thing that ruined St. Clair’s reputation was St. Clair’s Defeat.

        It was America’s most total military defeat in our entire history up until today; 25% of the US Army was killed. So it was a good thing for St. Clair’s memory that people have forgotten him, instead of just hating him.

        When President Washington heard the news, he thanked the messenger, participated calmly in a party, got all the guests out of the house, and then exploded with rage, calling St. Clair “worse than a murderer” for ignoring his warnings against being surprised by tribal forces. (And then he leashed that temper back again.)

        • The Wabash defeat: St. Clair had been put in an impossible situation without the support he needed, and he was an old man at the time with no business being there. St. Clair was close to 60 at the time of the conflict and was faced with the tasks of recruiting in areas where citizens having won their Independence wanted to settle down and cease fighting. Combat occurred during an inopportune time of year.

          On top of all that, Secretary of War Henry Knox extorted the budget to cover losses on a bad land investment. A Congressional investigation after the battle found Knox to be the single individual most culpable for the defeat.

  5. I like this. There are things that are factually true. And then there things that are archetypically true. Cool!

    You don’t want to get them mixed up, of course.

    Some things are both archetypically and factually true, but not all. 😀

    • Given time, myth becomes fact and fact becomes myth.

      The accepted view was that Troy was a myth until Heinrich Schliemann found it in the 19th century. (You will find some lies about Schliemann at Wikipedia. That’s what passes for history.)

  6. Things can be true before they have happened, or where were they before they had happened?

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