27 April 2009

History is cool.

Learning history in US high schools is bollocks. As I commented elsewhere, my high-school-based knowledge of World War I could be summarized this way: Sarajevo, Franz Ferdinand, Germany invades Belgium, lots of people die, the Lusitania, more people die, and the Treaty of Versailles.

That's the problem with having US history in two years and that being the only major source of your historical knowledge. You don't get the big picture, and you miss a lot.

I learned about the Weimar Republic and how the Reparations dictated by Versailles made the economy of Germany worse, which only encouraged the anti-Semitism (long known in Europe) and hatemongering that allowed the NSDAP to come to power, through my studies of German and reading on my own. There were other factors, of course, but the way history is taught is a gross oversimplification that serves no one.

I'm reading Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August, which details the outbreak and first month of World War I (August 1914). It's very well-written, with insights into the personalities and character flaws of the major players on *both* sides. The battle descriptions kind of bog down, but there are maps. I hope reprints fixed some of the minor problems with regiment number placement on the maps; the copy I have checked out from the library is from 1962.

In that mood already, I picked up my copy of Im Westen nichts Neues. I own copies both in German and English (All Quiet on the Western Front). I got the copy in English for ... AP English maybe? It's got lots of notes in it. The German one was a Christmas gift from a German woman I met when I was living in Marburg. She was from Dresden, and she did an exchange to my college the next year.

There's a paragraph in the frontispiece: This book should be neither an accusation nor an acknowledgement. It is only an attempt to report about a generation that was destroyed by war - even if they escaped the shells.

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