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

The Past Not Taken: Three Novellas

JDB Communications, LLC, is proud to announce the publication of The Past Not Taken: Three Novellas

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

We make history every day. From one moment to the next, our decisions—small and large—shape our future and, as we travel along that path, shape our past. How do we want it to read? Should we care? Or should we just get on with our lives and hope for the best? The Past Not Taken is three novellas that show that not all “authorities” are authoritative.

Two roads diverge in a yellow wood…

In a small archive, documents that could upend American history are found. Did Jefferson suggest that Washington was an ignorant bumpkin and that America bounded by the Constitution would fail?

We may make history, but it’s the “authorities” –the scribes and narrators of the future–who write it based on what we leave behind.

Curtis is a budding historian at a small university. Meli is a friend-who-is-a-girl…

“How long have we known each other, Curtis?”

“Since the fall of ‘73, so going on nine years,” I answered; she squeezed my hand. She IS pretty

“Do you like me?” Easy to get along withwhat’s with…?

“I do; a lot.” She’s funny, and a good listen…WHAT? I stopped; she took a step ahead, not letting me go. “Are you in trouble, Meli?”

Yep.” She didn’t turn. Her voice was but a whisper above the game, but I heard it as if it were thunder overhead.

“Want help?” WHAT did I say…?

“I need help, Curtis,” she said quietly. “The consequences for Dad would be….” 

“Yeah. If this place were any more straight-laced, we’d need diagrams to tie our shoes.” God have MERCY on me…I’ll be proud to, Missy.

From “The Past Not Taken

The Past Not Taken explores choices, parenthood and responsibility, and how history is written.

Fair warning: History isn’t always based on facts.

A young pregnant woman knocks on a stranger’s door. Her story is inextricably linked with the family behind that door. But the institution that is their livelihood won’t let her stay.

 “Hello?” The voice was young but strangely familiar.

This is Curtis Durand. What can I…?”

Mama had a message so you’d know I was the real deal.”

“OK….”

“No matter what you do, you can be both right and wrong.”

Ho-Boy. That was OUR phrase. HO-boy…Joan and I didn’t REALLY connect, not COMPLETELY, though I was REALLY close THAT time…HO-boy!

She could be my DAUGHTER!

From Daughter By Choice

How “authoritative” are the documents that make up the basis of our history? Just because a document appears to be old and is in an archive, does that make it “proof” of the past?

Daughter By Choice explores how the past catches up to everyone. It also explores the nature of being a parent, and how there’s so many different kinds of families. It, too, speaks of how history is written and how the long-forgotten can become so important so fast.

Whereof what’s past is prologue…

A man appears out of nowhere, both known and unknown. He asks for little, but that little means so much. He says a girl’s future is in peril. And what he asks for can be simply devastating for everyone.

History likes to teach about “turning points.” 1776 is one for American history. But what if…?

“Let’s suppose that we wrote a history of America that pivots on the year1619Think about it. What would its thesis be?  It would have to elaborate on why that year….” 

“When the first Africans were landed in the English colonies.”

Yes; August 20th, 1619, on Point Comfort, Virginia—today’s Fort Monroe. The ship was the English privateer, White Lion. These lawful English pirates traded twenty or thirty Angolans—the record is unclear as to how many—for supplies. Suppose we wrote a history that said that those people were intentionally brought here for the sole purpose of being enslaved in 1619. How would we, writing such a thing, continue such a story?”

From “The Past and The Prologue”

The Past and the Prologue is a story of recurrence, sources, narratives, what it is to be a parent, and, once again, how history is written.

The Past Not Taken: Three Novellas is available at your favorite booksellers.

A Message From Our Analyst: This Ain’t Right.

I seem to have written myself into an analytical box. So what else is new?

Those of you who have been following my essays will recall that this is the second EXPERIMENT, the second CASE STUDY to test a method, a way of thinking about how societies/groups fail. My sample case studies depend on rigor, as much as this amateur can provide. I’m trying to demonstrate a method of analysis, not necessarily the research itself… though chicken-and-egg comes to mind rather readily. My model was based on a commonly used engineering method. I’m beginning to see that the model is inappropriate. 

Let’s have a look at the model again:

  • Step One: Determine When, Where and How the Failure Occurred
  • Step Two: Collect Information on Similar Cases for Comparison
  • Step Three: Identify Social/Economic/Political/Environmental Similarities in Similar Cases
  • Step Four: Analyze Each Element/Factor Separately
  • Step Five: Compare and Contrast Like You Did as an Undergrad
  • Step Six: Stop, Think, and Ask: Does This Make Sense?
  • Step Seven: Publish Analysis–and Methodology–and Await Criticism.

Step One feels jumbled and premature in historical studies. Engineers have it easy here: it’s broken; anyone can see that. In history, it’s kinda obvious that the Roman Empire petered out, that Spain is no longer the preeminent world power, that Babylon is now just some ruins over there between where the Tigris and Euphrates are. The when, where and how are three things we’re trying to figure out, thank you.
Step Two seems premature for historical analysis. If Step One is wrong, Step Two can’t be right. Step Three depends on Two…and that’s a problem.

Now, the rest of the steps seem OK, but it’s those first two that seem wrong. But, based on the work I’ve already done, I will submit a new model.

Step One: Define the Failure

In our two case studies so far,        

  • The Southern Confederacy failed 1) to achieve meaningful and lasting political and economic independence from the United States, and 2) maintain the institution of chattel slavery;       
  • Germany failed…to what? What was it that Germany tried  to do? THAT question is what we need to answer before we analyze the why of their failure.

Now, this is where we’ll probably see a great deal of argument stemming from the “but they…” kind of argument. But what’s essential to our failure analysis model is that the failure we’re analyzing has to be an apparent failure of either a state or a group with a finite timeline. The collapse of the Roman Empire is nebulous by this definition, even if the fall of Constantinople is held to be the end of the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire. So are the ends of most empires of antiquity. Failure analysis for them might require different tools.

But for more modern states, such as the Southern Confederacy, modern Germany, France in 1940, and the Soviet Union in 1991, this sort of framework might be helpful. But when it comes to, say, the British Empire (which has yet to admit destruction), such a tool becomes arbitrary. 

Whoever said the work of history was easy didn’t have to do it. 

Step Two: Determine the Failure’s Indicators   

This may not be a straightforward as it seems. How did the failure (or failures) manifest itself (or themselves)? How or when did the state, group, or leadership recognize or admit to the failure(s)? DID they ever admit to failure? Remember, we’re talking about people, policies, polities, and organizations, not machines or systems.

Step Three: Identify the Contributing Social, Economic, Political, Demographic and Environmental Causes of the Failure(s)   

States/organizations/polities fail for many reasons. They succeed for the same volume of causes. But while the old saw that success has many fathers and failure is an orphan may feel true, failure can be attributed to causes just as success can. 

Just because it feels true, doesn’t mean it is true

National/polity success and failure can have more causes than just “it didn’t work” or “they had a revolution.” Did the polity itself hold the seeds of its own destruction, like a top-heavy organization? Were there external factors that doomed the country, like geography?     

Notice that we do not include military causes here. It’s not because we don’t want to consider them, but…look ahead. 

Step Four: Identify the Military Factors(s) If Any    

What’s important for this analytical tool is that the military factors that CAN BE factors are NEVER the ONLY factors. Military success depends on everything from voting patterns to the number of rivers a country has, to the length of her national borders to its racial/tribal demographics…even male motility (and yes, that matters a great deal). Build a fabulous military organization with thunderous power and pick a fight with a not-so-hot military organization that can absorb your thunderous power, and you could still lose–just ask Japan. But that level of analysis is finite and does not reach back to why the Japanese did what they did the way they did. That’s why military factors should be studied independently of the others.    

Step Five: Analyze Each Identified Factor   

Isn’t “compare and contrast” the same as “analyze?” I ask ya?

This step needs to stay more or less as-is, primarily because it’s so simple and fundamental to any process called “analysis.” How each factor is analyzed, however, can be daunting. Do we value their impact, or their influence, or their restrictions, or their contributions? Or all of these? How do we weigh each in a balance between the social and the political? Are the economic factors more important than the environmental? How do modern social factors affect contemporary political responses to the contemporary environmental causes of failure?

The analysis is essential, as it can reach the root of the issues that preceded the failure. They are also the most fraught with peril. Tread lightly.

Step Six: Stop, Think, and Ask: Does This Make Sense?   

So often in the historical trade, practitioners often proceed with their evidence-presenting and their conclusions without a thought about their method or if their findings actually add up to anything more than an empty set of conclusions. This is sometimes best expressed by the equation:

A+B=C; Therefore D

Or, 

Evidence that does not support the thesis is to be ignored

Everyone has an agenda, a direction they want their researches to go, at least initially. When the evidence points another way, and you don’t change directions, you stop analyzing and start advocating. My method here might have been flawed, but I’m changing it now. If I continued on the same way as I began to, I’d be advocating, not analyzing.

Step Six: Publish and Duck 

History isn’t an exact science; historians can’t just publish and walk away. They often have to defend their work against critics who have looked at the same evidence and reached different conclusions for different reasons. They also have to protect their work who have not looked at the same evidence and are not inclined to do so…but who knows better than YOU do because, well, everyone knows better than YOU because you disagree with them. This plays out nearly every day; let’s face it. So when a scholar publishes his work, and someone looks at a fraction of it and declares it to be wrong, said scholar needs to duck and ignore said critic…if possible. Sometimes, however, critics have all sorts of publishing credits to their name and hold prestigious positions. Argue with them, will you? You’ll never have lunch in this town again.

So, next time I’ll restart the Germany Before 1945 with the question: What Did They Want?

The Past Not Taken

This is a collection of three novellas with the same narrator, location, and a common theme: What If? They are based on fragments of the author’s life, things that didn’t happen to him, people who did something different at crucial moments, and decisions made in different ways for different reasons.

In the spirit of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” these stories look at roads that a young man did not take.

  • A budding academic makes a life-changing decision in a split-second;
  • A young woman shows up on a doorstep with nowhere else to go;
  • A man shows up on the same doorstep with dreaded demands.

Expect to see The Past Not Taken early in 2022.

Why The Samurai Lost Japan (Again)

Failure Analysis for Germany to 1945 is in process, but just defining that failure is daunting. Hold on until next month.

The seal above is for a Five-Star review that our book, Why the Samurai Lost Japan: A Study in Miscalculation and Folly got on the Reader’s Favorite website. The reviewer, obviously a person of some discretion (who actually read it), declared:

Whether your interest lies in the development of the Japanese nation as a whole, or with the military aspects…you are likely to find Why the Samurai Lost Japan both highly informative and thought-provoking.

Lois Henderson for Reader’s Favorite

The book’s been out for a couple of years, but seeing a new review, especially one so glowing, is gratifying. For those of you who have NOT read our magnum opus…what are you waiting for, the e-book? Yeah, well, end of the year, brother.

The Liberty Bell Files: J. Edgar’s Demons

This book follows two obscure characters from The Trilogy–Julia Parkinson and Dave Clawson–from their graduation from the FBI Academy in 1980, to their induction into the Bureau’s obscure and secretive Special Projects Division, to their role in the climactic ending of The Safe Tree: Friendship Triumphs.

On the way, they work on a mountain of highly-questionable FBI files compiled over the course of thirty years, the dubious products of The Liberty Bell Project, which was ordered by Hoover because he thought there were demons under his bed…and he wanted the Bureau to root them out.

Among the many reports on nut-cases, pseudo-conspiracies, overweight cats, spurious “subversive” organizations with one member only, tax protesters, neo-Nazis/fascists/communists/space aliens and other hard-to-believe pseudo-demons that fill many filing cabinets are the answers to real questions and real cases, clues to solving real crimes–including the trail that would lead to what happened to Jimmy Hoffa. They can’t be dismissed; they can’t be ignored…but many can’t be believed.

This is a serio-comic wind-up to the Stella’s Game Trilogy, and will be out before Labor Day.

The Past Not Taken

Not a typo, but the title of a novella (less than 25K words) you should see this fall. While the story takes cues from Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” it also diverts.

Curtis Durand is a young man who, one Sunday morning, says OK to a friend in trouble, and the direction of his life is changed completely. Over the next seven days, Curtis tries to get his head around this new direction as he defends his doctoral dissertation, tries to find work as a history professor, and finds what might be academic fraud on the behalf of a famous professor–who is also his principal advisor and his future father-in-law.

Along the way, he hears an unborn baby’s heartbeat…and that makes all the difference.

Two road diverged in a yellow wood, and Curtis took the one few would dare travel by, and in The Past Not Taken, he looks back in wonder.