Historical Failure Analysis: Aw, NUTS!

Did you ever start on a project that, for several reasons, just wouldn’t go anywhere? 

Yeah, me too.

I had grand plans for my historical failure analysis method. I still do. But it needs far more work than I can put into it right now. This blog was started to sell books. Working on a failure analysis method ain’t doing it. For whatever reason, my connection with LinkedIn has become problematic, so my feedback loop has become muted.

So, what to do?

History is part legend, part fact, but mostly interpretation of those who have gone before us.

Attributed to George Santayana (1863-1952)

JDB Communications, LLC still needs to sell books. I still need to draw reader attention to what the company and I are up to. The blog does sell some books; I know that. Thanks to whoever you are. But that don’t pay the bills very well in and of itself. Most sales come from the initial release announcements; some come later or result from secondary ads after whatever I rave about in front of the plugs for books. I used to work for a marketing firm, so I know what to look for. I hated marketing and have since become marketing/sales adverse–you should hear what I say to telemarketers and the poor peddlers who knock on my door.

I’m a historian of a logical, technical bent, which may not be a good thing but a somewhat unique one. I’m also told I craft good stories, though I wish more people would say that in reviews. In writing and researching my latest novel, The Past Not Taken, I’ve (re)discovered that the writing of history depends not on sources as much as analysis and interpretation. So many sources may not be what they seem to be, as we can see from the 1619 Project and its rebuttals–a topic I explore in The Past Not Taken.

What? I’m here to sell books!

Still with the what to do with the blog issue. OK, I did a lot of timeline stuff at one time before I did a reset in 2019 for personal reasons. Actually, that was March, too. I’ve generally avoided contemporary issues, but I’ve thought about combining my historical bent with my analytical skills and coming up with something newer-ish.

Currently in the works I have a WWII novel, Steele’s Hammer, among other things. It’s about this Ned Steele fella who has a career in the Army and friends in higher places than most. It’s a little riff on Anton Meyer’s Once An Eagle, but with a twist. At the beginning of the war Steele’s wife and youngest son get trapped in the Philippines while he’s an observer in Russia. His daughter and older son are stateside and…well, you’ll have to wait for the rest. At root, it’s a family-related tale of personal sacrifice, daring-do, and loss, both private and not. I could blog about that period, this event, or that. But my interests are more wide-ranging than that. 

One thing I did a few years back was Pearl Harbor Reconsidered that had some success. But how to sell books talking about that? Well, there’s a problem…

Money and Theme

This blog is on WordPress, and to have as much stuff on this website as I do, with the traffic and followers I have, is simply no longer cost-effective. For that reason, I’m going to go “free” on WordPress, and move most of this blog’s entries to Substack (jdbcom.substack.com), where monetization is cheap and straightforward.

And there’s a thematic issue, as well. Sell books, OK. Talk about history, OK. But what about history? Writing The Past Not Taken got me thinking about how history is written and why. It isn’t as simple as “to tell the story of the past.” There’s a great deal more involved in talking about the past than just restating the sources. As we now know from the fallout of the 1619 Project, there are politics involved. Politics of race, of power, of class, and of pedagogy.

Writing history is as much about the present as it is about the past.

John D. Beatty

Telling the story of the past is fraught with current perceptions, past prejudices, and the dangers of self-censorship. There isn’t a major historical event that cannot be interpreted–and presented–more than one way. Much of the success of the 1619 Project, I submit, has to do with the presentation of a complete learning package that keeps the instructor from having to build a lesson plan. Primary grade teachers are already overloaded and often under-compensated. What’s more, teaching critical race theory based on the 1619 Projects assumptions becomes simple…and it keeps the screaming cancellers of pedagogy at bay.

But I digress…sort of. While the 1619 Project is based on false assumptions and the intentional misreading or denial of primary sources on those subjects, it is thought-provoking. Why was it written? Why did so many people jump on the bandwagon so quickly? I submit that its introduction in 2019 was greeted with wild acceptance among progressives who, smarting under the supposed tyranny of Donald Trump, found a new pedagogic model to contextualize their rage against a society that rejected their “truths” about race.

Simple as that…maybe. Of course, it’s just an opinion (a lot of history is just that), but a carefully considered one that fits the evidence. And it’s called…

History Reconsidered

What if someone wrote an utterly wrong history book? What if a text’s entire content was seen through a current political fashion filter? What if I told you that many of them are, have been, and always will be? I refer you to the (possible) Santayana quote above. Do you know another quote that’s not only possible but also controversial?

The difference between revenge and justice is who’s hand is on the rope.

Attributed to Charles Lynch  (1736–1796) 

You see, there was a “Judge” Lynch–a Quaker justice of the peace–whose irregular Virginia court during the American Revolution punished loyalists with fines, forced oaths of allegiance, and forced enlistments. His courts and trials weren’t based on any laws except those he made himself. Note that he never hanged anyone, but the term “lynched” is said to stem from his name and actions, which were legitimized by the Virginia House Of Burgesses after the fact.

A lynching is said to be an illegal–or extralegal–execution. It is accurately attributed to almost any summary punishment. But think about what he’s quoted as saying. Is there really a difference between what private individuals do and what the state does? It could be the same action, now couldn’t it? 

So goes history and its all-too-frequent judgment. A historian should not judge the actions of those in the past, though they often do, usually for political reasons. Case in point: once again, the 1619 Project. Their reinterpretation is based on a fiction: that a handful of Africans were enslaved as soon as they landed in Jamestown in 1619. The object of this fraud, quite possibly, is to prepare the ground for reparations.

So, what’s the future of this blog? History Reconsidered on Substack. Often related to my books, but sometimes not. That AND regular book plugs, of course. Click over, subscribe, join the discussion.

See you there

Britain and the American Revolution now Available in Paperback

JDB Communications LLC is proud to announce the publication of Britain and the American Revolution, another collection of essays by John D. Beatty, author of The Devil’s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War.

Most scholars—especially Americans—when writing about the American Revolution (also called the American War) emphasize the Western Hemisphere when considering the effects.  However, in this scribe’s opinion this view is short-sighted.  Great Britain, after all, is still around, and its Empire indeed flourished a century after it lost its then-largest and most prosperous colonies.  The Empire may have steadily degraded after Victoria’s diamond jubilee gala in 1897, but by the much-ballyhooed “Brexit” from the European Community in 2016, Britain herself was still a force to be reckoned with.

Recent writers, especially Steven Sears in The British Empire, have suggested that the British Empire was really nothing more than a jobs program for the English middle and upper classes.  In some ways, this is arguably true.  However trivial this may seem in the great scheme of things, it was also the largest single influence on human civilization between the fall of Rome and the triumph of the United States and the Soviet Union in 1945.  As these essays argue, this influence was in part because of the sheer genius of hard-pressed Britons to survive on their harsh, rocky islands.

“Changing the Great Game” is an exploration of how the concept of “rights” was grudgingly preserved by dynasty after dynasty ruling the British Isles.  Even if the Scots, Irish and other ethnic groups didn’t recognize it, the rights enjoyed by Englishmen that were unique to their legal system did rub off on them as well, if only in small doses from time to time.  The ancient legends of Arthur, Alfred and the rest of the traditional lawgivers may have been perfected in the 19th century, but their origins are clearly much older.  The legal tradition that no sovereign is above his own laws far predate the Normans.

“Kings, Kin and Killers” is something of an experiment.  Steven Pincus in 1688: The First Modern Revolution talks extensively about the motives of the supporters of the Stuarts and those who…well, did not support the monarch.  They hadn’t yet expressed a desire to throw out the monarchy as they would later, but the non-supporters of the Stuart kings were far more interested in the power of capital than that of land.  Their arguments were eerily similar to those that would take place in America before the shooting started in 1861.  It is almost certain that many of the philosophical animosities in English society between country and town, between farm and workshop, were locked into American society after the Revolution, and hung on in animus for another three generations.

“The Limits of Empire” is explicitly that: an essay into the administrative and technical limitations of imperial administration in the late 18th century.  Law, trade, finance, and community administration all depended on communications, and there was simply no good or reliable way to improve trans-Atlantic communications in the 1770s such that the Revolution, or one like it, could be put down.  Even if India were to become the most prosperous of all of Britain’s imperial properties, it wasn’t yet.  If the Gandhi revolution had come two centuries earlier, by that remove it may have succeeded much faster.

“Copper-Bottomed Wizardry” began as a challenge—a sort of a bet.  This writer was wagered that he could not find enough technological innovation between 1775 and 1805 to explain how Britain defeated France at Trafalgar.  Knowing that coppering became standard by 1783, the research started there and produced this essay.  The carronade, the short-barreled “smasher” that was the terror of small-vessel warfare before the shell gun, was intentionally left out because of other innovations that made British ships not only reliable and easier to handle, but overall better vessels.  Any sailor can tell you that, pound for pound, any well-handled warship in peacetime is worth three that are better gunned.  In wartime, it’s how well the guns are laid and how long they can stay on station, not just how well they can blast a target.

Four essays are hardly a working thesis, but they may point to one: Britain was strengthened by the conflict that resulted in the loss of her thirteen colonies that would eventually become the United States.  Both she and the United States, ultimately, resolved the last of a conflict in Anglo-Saxon society that had raged since the Tudors: Do governments have a right to rule, or a duty?  Is society the master of an economic structure, or a servant or product of it?

Let these essays inform the reader’s viewpoint. Available in paperbound and PDF at The Book Patch. Personally autographed copies will be available at JDBCOM.COM soon.