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Month: August 2012 Page 1 of 2

Introspection # 4: “The Importance of Accurate History”

History is fundamental to our understanding of the world around us. Through the study of history, we can discover why the world is as it presently exists: our world in its current state is a direct result of the developments and events of the past. Every action taken in the past, every idea and concept thought of and acted upon, every war and treaty, every great leader and villain has contributed to the collective sum of developments which have molded our world. History is the build-up of actions taken in the past, and as we go about our lives in the present we contribute to that accumulation. Our choices today will directly affect the future, just as the choices of the past directly affect our present. We are, right now, making the history of the future.

Thus, history is an immensely important subject to study and understand. It provides the answers to why the world is like it is. An inaccurate understanding of the past, therefore, will present the incorrect answers as to why the world is like it is now. This is incredibly important: having the incorrect answer to why the world exists as it does presently means that the consequences of choices made in the past, or the reality of the development of the past, will be lost and unknown. This means that, as we move forward into the future, we will be unable to truly understand our own place in history and the nature of the changing world around us. Further, incorrect readings of the past can lend support to ideas or beliefs which don’t actually have a historical basis. Such misinformation about the past can provide people inaccurate assumptions about the world around them.

It is lamentable, then, that history is so often either lost, deliberately misconstrued, misunderstood or misinterpreted, or entirely fictitious. Much of our understanding of history, and the stories presented to us, do not accurately describe actual events in the past. We therefore often cannot truly understand the nature of the world around us. Much of early recorded history is rife in inaccuracy, legend, and fable. This, of course, is a result of the nature of early human civilization: writing was uncommon and in its early stages of development, history was told through word of mouth and legend, and such a medium for the recording and telling of history easily allows for the true history to be changed, altered, and reinterpreted. Yet history has also been deliberately falsified to provide support or justification for various positions or beliefs. As with any other type of knowledge, history directly influences and shapes our perception of the world, our beliefs, and our ideas. Because of this, the telling of history can be a powerful tool to provide justification for some concepts or ideas, and rewriting history can discredit others.

There are many examples of these inaccurate histories, and some of them are quite prolific and influential in the way various societies and civilizations perceived the world. These inaccurate stories of history range from legends and myths about the origins of civilizations and societies, such as the legendary founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus, sons of Mars, which gave the Romans a perception of their civilization as being divinely inspired and thus destined to greatness, to stories about great events in a countries past, such as Paul Revere’s supposed ride to warn the colonists that the British ‘were coming’ which, in reality, never happened but created patriotic fervor amongst American citizens. Further inaccurate histories can be seen across theology, as almost every system of religion claims to be the sole descendents and adherents of the one true god or gods. Not every religion can correctly claim to be the only true faith, and thus the histories that each present must somehow be falsified.

As students and scholars of history, we must thus pick out what we discern to be the most reliable sources of history, and be skeptical towards all claims and stories which attempt to tell the past. History is an immensely important subject which contributes very heavily towards our understanding of the present, and as such it is vital that we understand it as correctly and completely as possible. The misconceptions and misinformation about the past which is prolific in modern times lends support to inaccurate understanding of our present world, but hopefully the diligent study of and reporting on accurate and correct accounts of the past will help us finally understand the true nature of our here and now.

A Napoleonic Struggle (A N:TW Darthmod AAR)

In early January, 1805, near the Alpine town of Trient, a small skirmish was fought between the Empire of France and the Austrian Empire. The French army, lead by Jean-Andre Massena, consisted of an artillery battery, two regiments of foot, and a cavalry regiment. Massena was an incredible military general who had fought brilliantly in Napoleon’s Italian campaign. The Austrian army attacking him was composed of a larger infantry force, more cavalry regiments, and an artillery battery. It was led by Karl Von Osterreich, considered one of Napoleon’s most formidable opponents.

The two armies met at an opening near a small village. The Austrian infantry line marched towards the French, who had made their line near the village. Massena sent his cavalry to flank around and engage the Austrian battery. It was guarded by Hungarian Hussars enlisted into the Austrian army. They made up a formidable cavalry regiment.

(Click on pictures to enlarge)

The French cavalry flanked around and charged the Austrian battery, which had not yet unlimbered. The Austrian cavalry rushed to the defense, charging the French.  In the clash which ensued, the French overpowered and defeated the Austrians, and annihilated the artillery battery.

Meanwhile, the French had their own battery set up and engaging the Austrian force. It had deployed on a hill to the left of the French line, and had a good line of sight on the Austrians as they marched towards the French line. The bombardment of the Austrian troops was deadly, taking them down as they crossed the field.  In response, they swung a regiment round to move against the battery.

The two forces met and clashed. The French line waited until the Austrians came into range and then opened up with full force. The Austrian lines responded in kind, and many troops fell on both sides. Massena sat saddled in his horse behind his line, shouting words of encouragement and passing orders to officers.

The Austrians, larger in size, decided to try to overwhelm the French and charged their lines. The melee was brutal, hand to hand combat with bayonets is a deadly and gory business. The French Fusiliers, through courage and valor, managed to overcome the assault and push back the Austrian assault. As the Austrians fled, they formed into defensive formations and prepared for further attack.

While the Austrian infantry was in melee battle, their cavalry charged the French lines, trying to weaken the defense and send into disarray. The charge was powerful, and the thrust broke one of the lines. The Hungarian Hussars were courageous in their assault, but the French, secure in the square, were still stronger and repulsed the attack.

Protect the colors!

The Austrian infantry reform against the French, and engage them with musket. The French force is strong, however, and manages to withstand the incoming fire. They return fire, and after some back and forth of volleys the Austrian force was again shattered. It fled from the battle.

The Austrian assault was repulsed. The Hussars attacking the French were retreating, and the Austrian foot infantry was as well. The French cavalry, which had down the fleeing battery troops, had now returned to catch the Austrians in flight. They rounded up surrendering prisoners, and cut down those who refused to put down arms. The battlefield was covered in the fallen.

Massena saw the Austrian rout and wanted to get in on the action. He ordered his bodyguard detachment forward from behind the lines and into the thick of battle. As he rushed in, he helped bring down the fleeing enemy. Not all the Austrians were caught in disarray, and one of them brought down Massena’s horse with a bayonet thrust as it passed. Massena, knocked senseless from the crash, was seized by some of the enemy and killed.

The bodyguard, having fought for and recovered Massena’s body, now fled the battle. The Austrians had more cavalry to bring up, and the French infantry, cocky from the recent victory, was charged by another Hungarian regiment. As the charging horses approached, the French let off volleys of fire that brought some of their enemy down.

This fresh regiment of cavalry put up a fight, and they brought down a number of Frenchmen with their swords. The infantry not engaged in melee took upon their musket to shoot down the horsemen, and the Hussars were soon depleted in numbers and disengaged from the battle. The French cavalry attacked the Austrian bodyguard, which had moved close to the fight.

The horsemen fought brutally with each other, slashing with sword and shooting with pistol, Karl von Osterreich was in the middle of it. A bullet from a French pistol caught the general in the shoulder, and he was knocked off his horse. A bodyguard of his nearby immediately rushed to the fallen general, hoisted him upon his horse, and rode off from the battle. The French tried to follow in pursuit, but could not disengage from battle.

The French infantry brought down any stragglers and fleeing troops which passed within range. The battlefield was a bloody scene. For the French, the day had been won. The fleeing Austrian troops were in full retreat, and their troops were dispersing across the Alpine countryside and into the forests.

The day was a victory for France. In a battle which placed 2500 Austrian troops  against 2000 French, the French had killed or captured 1300 of their enemy while the Austrians only 400. The Austrian force was in flight, and would no longer pose a threat in the region. Its general, a man of quite some military renown and a considerable threat, was placed out of action for the considerable future. His injuries were of quite severe extent. However, the loss of Jean-Andre Massena was an enormous loss for the French, who lamented heavily over their slain hero. He was a man who would have contributed heavily to the future campaigns Napoleon intended, and his loss was a serious setback.


Introspection # 3 “The Insights Gained From History”

We live in a complex, complicated, and constantly changing world. The study of this world around us reveals much about its nature: insights about our societies, our governments, our ways of life, the environments we live in, the conditions we face. Studying these things in their present shape and form may help us better understand why and how they are now, but betrays a key question: how did they get that way? Indeed, a complete and accurate understanding of anything relies upon an understanding of its formation, its evolution, and its development. Without this knowledge, our understanding of the world is quite blinded: we may understand how things operate now, but not why they operate as they do now. We may learn the structure and function of the world around us, but clueless as we are to how this structure and function came to be, it is impossible to draw on precedents to guide us and impossible to chart the evolution of the future. The entirety of our current world, of our present day and place, is a result of the collective choices, decisions, and events of the past. The study of history, thus, is perhaps one of the most powerful sources of insight and knowledge an individual can gain about the world around them, their place in that world, and why that world operates as it does.

Consider, for example, meeting a new person. You may learn that they are socially awkward, that they like cows, and that they’re overweight. This is all important information, it all reveals the character and traits of this new person, and it is all discernible at the present. But when you search into this persons’ past, you learn that they were bullied in their childhood, that they grew up on a farm, and that they once had a health problem that caused weight gain. Suddenly, the character of that person has taken a new depth, and their traits’ true natures are revealed. The bullying in their childhood prevented the person from developing social skills, growing up around animals meant that the person developed a fondness for them, and that the persons’ weight is a result of their old health problem. Without a knowledge of the person’s past, you could understand how they are like they are now. With a knowledge of their past, you gain insight as to why they are like they are now, a much deeper, much more complete, and much more revealing insight than otherwise. You can now draw from precedents set in their past, learning lessons such as ‘bullying can disrupt social development’, and make predictions for the future, such as ‘having grown up on a farm, this person will also like horses’. Finally, you can discern the reasons behind the person’s qualities from a knowledge of their past and therefore disregard incorrect assumptions. For example, ‘this person is overweight because they had a health issue, not because they don’t exercise’.

This example is an easy visualization of the strength of insight provided by a knowledge of the past, but this sort of insight is applicable to the entirety of the human experience. Everything has a history, and that history can be studied. The development of everything can be understood. The insight gained into the world can be enormous. Political institutions, economic theories, scientific insights, country borders and militaries, they all have a process of development and evolution. Understanding this process explains why they now exist in their present state. The lessons learned from the past, the bad ideas and broken concepts that were tossed aside, altered, or fixed, can help us contribute to the future evolution of what we study. Precedents set in the past can be studied, so that our knowledge of them may help us deal with similar issues or events in our future. Predictions for the future, based on a knowledge of and the precedent set by the happenings and developments of the past, can help us prepare and plan for what lays ahead. Discerning why the world is as it is now through the past can help us disregard ideas, concepts, or arguments which fail to explain the true nature of the world or which aren’t rooted in past example. A knowledge of the past is a incredibly  indispensable tool for understanding the future.

A knowledge of history provides more than just explanations for the present and examples for the future, however. History is beautiful, expansive, and exciting. More than just names and dates, history tells us the stories of great heroes and terrible tyrants, of periods of great turmoil and conflict and times of great peace and stability, of empires that rose and fell, of triumph and glory and failure and defeat. History is like good literature, complete with developed characters, rife with plots and subplots, full of build-ups, climaxes, and draw-downs. Most amazing, however, is that this history is the real story of real events in the past, and these stories are the reasons why our world is like it is. Everything that influences you, the country you live in, the technologies you use, the society you operate in, is a result of the choices and events of the past. As you move around, the places passing directly underneath and around you have had a long, varied, and complex history. Some cities, for example, have histories spanning thousands of years. You can walk the cobbled streets of Rome, the same streets used by legions of an empire’s finest troops two thousand years before. The idea of this is beautiful, and is astonishingly real.

Perhaps what I find most amazing and beautiful about history is that it is being made, all the time. Even our own present is the future’s past. As evident as that may seem thinking about it, the true implications of it, to me, are breathtaking. I wonder if, just as I can today follow the footsteps of a two thousand year old Roman citizen living in ancient Rome, two thousand years from now someone can follow in mine. No doubt hundreds of years from now we will be a chapter in a history book, just as how we now read in our books about the times of the past. Like the artifacts of a museum or old works in a gallery, what we now possess, worship, and enjoy will one day be a source of wonder, intrigue, and perhaps amusement  for future historians and knowledge seekers. What will the future think of us? How will our decisions now impact the future? As we make our future’s history, will we have learned from our own?

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