Mark Byrnes's Facing Backwards Mark Byrnes's Facing Backwards blog brought to you by History News Network. Fri, 19 Dec 2014 23:35:21 +0000 Zend_Feed_Writer 2.1.3 (http://framework.zend.com) http://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/author/39 editor@hnn.us (History News Network) History News Network Dick Cheney’s David Frost Moment Fri, 19 Dec 2014 23:35:21 +0000 http://hnn.us/blog/153549 http://hnn.us/blog/153549 Mark Byrnes's Facing Backwards Mark Byrnes's Facing Backwards 0 Can Obama Do in Iraq What Nixon and Ford Couldn't in Vietnam? Fri, 19 Dec 2014 23:35:21 +0000 http://hnn.us/blog/153518 http://hnn.us/blog/153518 Mark Byrnes's Facing Backwards Mark Byrnes's Facing Backwards 0 Obama's Playing “Small Ball” in Iraq and Syria Fri, 19 Dec 2014 23:35:21 +0000 http://hnn.us/blog/153508 http://hnn.us/blog/153508 Mark Byrnes's Facing Backwards Mark Byrnes's Facing Backwards 0 What Obama's Critics Are Forgetting: Policy-Making Always Looks Decisive--In Retrospect Fri, 19 Dec 2014 23:35:21 +0000 http://hnn.us/blog/153497 http://hnn.us/blog/153497 Mark Byrnes's Facing Backwards Mark Byrnes's Facing Backwards 0 "He Wasn't A Regular Guy" Fri, 19 Dec 2014 23:35:21 +0000 http://hnn.us/blog/153487 http://hnn.us/blog/153487 Mark Byrnes's Facing Backwards Mark Byrnes's Facing Backwards 0 The Lesson Tolstoy Teaches About Writing History that We Should Remember on the Anniversary of World War I

Tolstoy gave expression to the latter idea in War and Peace:

The further back we transport ourselves in examining events, the less arbitrary they appear to us…. The further back in history we transport the object of our observation, the more questionable becomes the freedom of the men producing events, and the more obvious the law of necessity. 

While the wide, long-term perspective employed by Tolstoy in this passage is familiar to historians, two articles in the popular press prompted by the anniversary of the beginning of World War I show the great appeal of focusing on the individual. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan details the toll taken by the war on the leaders of major states: Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, England’s King George V, Russia’s Czar Nicholas II. In the Washington Post, Graham Allison examines how two of those three leaders (“Nicky and Willy”) tried to prevent the war. 

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Fri, 19 Dec 2014 23:35:21 +0000 http://hnn.us/blog/153460 http://hnn.us/blog/153460 Mark Byrnes's Facing Backwards Mark Byrnes's Facing Backwards 0
Historical Humility

The great temptation that follows from that fact is historical arrogance—an unspoken certainty that because we know it now, we would have known it then. 

The great challenge, therefore, is to impose upon ourselves historical humility, to remind ourselves that the historical actors we study did not have the advantage we do of knowing the story’s end. 

I was reminded of that recently while doing some research at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, NY. I’m working on the role of radio in the Great Debate over American intervention in World War II, and came across some of the countless personal letters people wrote to FDR on the subject. 

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