True & Honest Fan
- Jun 29, 2013
Historical records is a long game of telephone purple monkey dishwater. Pass it on.
Take Stalin as an example. Total asshole, but he was a total asshole that made the USSR a somewhat functional state before WWII, which, historically speaking, probably saved all of us because a basketcase Soviet Union couldn’t have kicked Hitler’s ass.
I mean, maaaayyyyyybe? Stalin did decimate the Red Army of competent command staff in the lead-up to the war. I personally think the USSR may have been better off underneath Leon Trotsky. Admittedly, it would be a shit show for anyone in the country regardless of which one ran it.
I would argue that Hitler lost as soon as the war began. Even without the USSR, Germany couldn't outproduce or outman the United States. American manufacturing might during the war was insane. There was a B-24 bomber rolling off factory lines every hour. Even if we couldn't have stopped Hitler by conventionally bombing him into the figurative Stone Age, after 1945 we would have nuked the shit out of Germany with impunity. The war might continue on for another year or two, but Berlin's just gonna get a dick that's red, white, and blue rather than just all red.
Like any story, there is typically a hero and a villain. This is a common technique in creating a way in which we are able to conceptualize the underlying meanings and beliefs the people in the story hold. Just as we know who a protagonist is supposed to be based on their actions, we do the same thing for villains. We can do the same things when discussing historical people.
Are these historical figures truly the villains?
Are these people we view as bad not entirely bad?
Oftentimes, it’s easier to imagine people in simple categories of good and bad. For instance, in current day discourse, Christopher Columbus is a very polarizing figure. Many people will say he’s a horrible person because he was a murderer and a rapist. By all means, he is bad, but was everything he did bad? For instance, his “discovery” made it possible for Europe to have contact with the Americas in a way that was unprecedented. Without him, many of the people who live in the United States would not be here otherwise. This is where things get uncomfortable for people, because we have to acknowledge that even in bad people, good things can come from them.
Another example I could use is Henry II of England. He is mostly known for having a fit and Thomas Becket getting murdered as a result. This same man was also responsible for creating an Exchequer, which is a person that prevents the sheriffs (12th century version) from stealing money. He created eyre courts as well, which were royal courts that travelled around the country. These courts allowed for more impartial judges and created a fairer judicial system. This just goes to show that even a designated bad person in history can do good things.
I am in no way defending the bad some people have done, but merely offering another perspective. When we are forced to look for the good and the bad, we get a clearer picture of who the person actually was. The trend in modern academia leads us to believe that we can simply categorize people as good or bad, sometimes based on an ahistorical viewpoint. It’s easier to dismiss someone by just saying “they murdered”, “they were a racist” or “they were a sexist”. In doing this, we are creating new villains but failing to look at things more closely. Whether it’s the case of Columbus where good things come from bad actions, or the good being overlooked in favor of the bad in the case of Henry II, we can all agree that to simply write someone off as the villain in a historical perspective is ahistorical. I want to close by saying that the modern trend of creating villains in historical figures actually leads to less historic literacy. The same can be said for creating heros. Everyone is made up of good and bad, and as such, real people in different time periods need to be looked at the same way, since they were and are just as human as we are today.