A Disgrace to the Historical Profession
One of my graduate history professors made a statement in class once I have never forgotten: “Before you study the history, study the historian.” This is indeed insightful. His meaning was simply that historians are people, too, and we are influenced by our beliefs, culture, traditions, etc. like anyone else. A good historian will try, as best as possible, to tell the historical “story” as accurately as he/she can, and such is not impossible. I firmly believe historical truth can be discovered. But there does exist a near-infinite amount of historical data available, and a historian does have to choose which of that data he uses. He can, and often will, be influenced by his world view. But some histories can be trusted because the historian tries to be honest. However, some histories (e.g., Howard Zinn’s) are kitty litterbox lining stuff.
Michael Beschloss has published several historical works; I confess, I’ve never read any of them because they aren’t in my historical field of expertise or interest. Though I have never written any “history” books (I do have two Western novels out, Whitewater and River Bend), I have a Master’s degree in the subject (never finished my PhD) and I did teach history at American universities and colleges in three different countries for almost three decades. Thus, I believe I know a little about the subject, but mostly because I learned (usually after grad school) which historians to trust, and which ones not to.
As noted, I haven’t read any of Michael Beschloss’s books. And I won’t because Beschloss is a diehard Democrat, a contributor to MSNBC’s drivel, and, maybe I am being unfair, but that’s enough to disqualify him as any kind of “objective” historian, in my humble opinion.
To illustrate. Beschloss recently spewed forth the following nearly-incomprehensible bilge on MSNBC: “The story in 50 years from now, if historians are allowed to write in this country, and if there are still free publishing houses and a free press, which I’m not certain of, but if that is true, a historian will say what was at stake tonight and this week was the fact, whether we will be a democracy in the future. Whether our children will be arrested or conceivably killed. We’re on the edge of a brutal authoritarian system and it could be a week away.”
Regardless of whatever else he might have said, this is beneath the dignity of any so-called historian. Beschloss is certainly entitled to his political opinions, but to present himself as an authoritative “historian” and then pour forth unequivocal political propaganda with no sound historical basis whatsoever completely bars him from being called a “historian.” The words above are not only convoluted, they are nonsensical and help dilute whatever little credibility academia has left.
Beschloss is not doing history here, he is doing prophesy. Again, he is entitled to do that, but don’t try to pass yourself off as a historian if you want to be a prophet. Historians CAN try to take history and make some educated guesses as to what might happen; for example, history tells us that the political party which has the presidency usually loses seats in the midterm elections, so there is a pretty good chance that will happen to the Democrats this year. But the conclusion is still opinion, not an absolute, and not historical fact.
And there is no history in what Beschloss does, at least in the quote above. He doesn’t give one, single, solitary historical fact to underpin his views. He says the word “fact” once, about something that might or might not happen in the future, i.e., the end of democracy in America. Democrats do this all the time. “Democracy is in danger!” What do they base this on? What historical precedent? Biden often refers to “our democracy being threatened.” How? Based upon some valid historical model, what are Republicans doing now that is threatening American democracy? It’s not enough to just throw out some vague accusation about “Hitler,” “racism,” or “election denying,” the latter American democracy and freedom of speech gives citizens every right to do. That is not using historical facts to build a paradigm being followed by today’s Republican Party. What are Republicans doing that parallels what Hitler did? I can actually list many examples of Democrats mirroring Hitler (Biden’s DOJ arresting his political opponents, the censoring of the opposition, the government trying to take over as much of the economy as possible, constant lying). If you are going to use “history” to try to find parallels to the “present,” at least give some examples. Beschloss knows this principle. But he’s an ideologue, not a historian.
One of his last statements is almost comical. He speaks of in “50 years…whether our children will be arrested or conceivably killed.” Professor Beschloss, if case you haven’t noticed, that is happening in America, RIGHT NOW, under Joe Biden and the Democrats. We don’t have to wait 50 years for that. Americans are cowering in their homes, robbed of freedom of movement, afraid to go outside for fear of being victims of some violent thug whom the Democratic Party is protecting and turning loose to prey upon the innocent. I guess it is only a “brutal authoritarian system” that protects its citizens from criminals. Beschloss is vomiting out ideology and politics, not history.
To quote my professor again, “Before you study the history, study the historian.” Which is why I would urge readers not to waste time reading any of Michael Beschoss’s books.
Christmas is coming! My 2nd Rob Conners western novel, River Bend, is now available. Honestly, I think it is much better than my first book, Whitewater. Both are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Eliva.com. Get a 10% discount on the paperback at firstname.lastname@example.org. And read some different posts on my blog at thailandlewis.blogspot.com.