Saracen bow

Last night we watched the first episode of the BBC’s new Robin Hood. Don’t bother.

But one interesting thing about this new version is that Robin of Loxley returns to England in 1192, back from the 3rd Crusade with Saracen weapons: a scimitar and a compound recurve bow.

Robin tells a very young Will Scarlet that the Saracen bow is curved the way it is to put more power into a smaller weapon.

I have no problem with folklore revisionism; updating the story to fit current concerns is an ancient and well-established part of folklore itself. I like the idea of Loxley returning from the Crusades with a distaste for bloodshed and respect for the Saracens — or at least for their technology.

But is this curvy bow a realistic weapon to put in the hands of a medieval English hero?

I love the web. The answer I found is so much more interesting than I had expected:

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the untimely death of Lev Davidovich Bronstein

When I was a freshman in college, some commies knocked at the door of my dorm room. These weren’t fellow Haverford students; these were activists from Philadelphia, come to sell subscriptions to their red rag, The Somethingorother Worker or The Revolutionary Somethingorother … I can’t remember the title. I was already subscribed to The Truth, a glossy magazine put out by some evangelical Christian group, so I figured a Communist "newspaper" was just fair and balanced, as it were.

(Of course, the Christian glossy rag was free, whereas the commie pulpy rag cost me some nominal subscription fee, so it wasn’t exactly fair and balanced, was it.)

While these commies were at the door, pitching their pulp, I must have said something disparaging about communists I’d already encountered growing up in New York, because they were quick to point out that they weren’t like the commies I might have met.

How so?

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inconvenient history

Tom Woods, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, has written another volume of corrective American history. I look forward to reading it. Sounds like he was able to go into some things in greater depth.

He writes about it at LRC.

What I find interesting about Woods’s approach is that he is not doing revision, technically speaking.

Revisionism is reinvestigation of the Establishment’s pro-state (and usually pro-war) narrative.

What Woods does, it seems to me, is address the rift between that which is generally accepted by history scholars and that which is taught, repeated, and reinforced by schools, the mainstream media, and popular culture more generally.

(See, for example, this recent bit of ahistorical propaganda from Newsweek: “China today resembles nothing so much as the United States a century ago, when robber barons, gangsterism and raw capitalism held sway. Now as then, powerful vested interests are profiting from murky regulations, shoddy enforcement, rampant corruption and a lack of consumer awareness.”)

Now some of Woods’s positions are still at odds with Establishment historians, such as his Austrian School approach to the Great Depression. This is because any analysis of economic history will require more than just facts; it will require theory to interpret the cause and effect behind those facts. But most of what he focuses on are generally accepted facts among historians that are extremely inconvenient to the historical narrative most of us have been taught.

One of the absurd criticisms of his Politically Incorrect Guide was the claim that he was pretending controversy where there wasn’t any. To paraphrase: What professional historian would disagree that the Civil War was caused, in part, by a complex combinations of factors, including economic concerns other than the question of slavery?!

Well, the answer is probably that no respectable historian would deny a complex array of factors behind any big event in history. But that argument is a straw man. Woods wasn’t saying that his claims would be considered controversial among historians; he was saying that they would be considered controversial among almost everyone else, and he was clearly correct, as proven by all the fallout from both the old Left Establishment and the neocons. The history we all think we know is not the history that historians know, and it’s that very discrepancy that Woods addresses in his books.


Here’s Tom’s reaction to this post:

By and large I think that’s what I’m doing, though while reading it I think you’ll find that in some cases I’m doing both the things you describe here. The Establishment’s pro-state narrative is extremely shaken, I think, by the time the book ends.

Now I’m even more anxious to receive my copy of the book.

expensive ignorance

Another confession of my own historical ignorance (but not agnorance this time):

Charley Reese writes on LRC today about the “Expensive Ignorance” of today’s college students. He starts out with the unsurprising results of a recent survey. These things have been coming out for years and the media loves it because it gives good sound bite: e.g., “Some 75 percent couldn’t identify the purpose of the Monroe Doctrine,” and “nearly 50 percent didn’t recognize the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence.”

My confession is that I had to double-check the Monroe Doctrine. My wife had a similar reaction. Manifest Destiny, wasn’t it? expanding across the continent?

Well, yes and no. The result was territorial expansionism, but the doctrine is simply the claim that European activity in “the Americas” is the business of the US government. This seems to be an explicit rejection of George Washington’s warnings against foreign entanglements.

Like so many other examples, the doctrine was seen as liberal because it was anti-colonial. The result of course, was the Roosevelt Corollary and the Truman Doctrine.

I wonder if my poor memory of the specifics is a product of time and laziness, or if I get to blame this one on my teachers. The fact that my wife’s semi-memory was the same as mine — “something about expanding across the continent?” — implies to me that it’s the teachers.

Charley Reese blames them explicitly:

I think this is a residue of the 1960s and 1970s. If you ever wondered where the Vietnam Era’s anti-war demonstrators and hippies went, the answer is to universities and media offices. They were of a mind that it is more important to knock America than to explain it, but education should be about explanation, not polemics or politics.

I need to think about that. The thesis strikes me as right but not entirely right.

I know that the Civil Rights era of the 20th century changed how the so-called Civil War was taught. (Apparently the claim that it was “all about slavery” would have seemed cartoonish to students in the 1950s and earlier.)

But did the Baby Boomers really shift the whole emphasis of history and foreign events from complexity and explanation to taking sides and jumping to conclusions?

Libertarian Revisionist History [pamphlet cover]If American students in the 1950s perceived the war of the 1860s as complex, I don’t think they had the same perspective on the war of the 1940s.

Historical Revisionism as a movement goes back to the 1920s, where its emphasis was to critique the Establishment claims of the Treaty of Versailles. You don’t get much more dumbed-down black-and-white than Woodrow Wilson’s version of events.

I’m not ready to dismiss Reese’s thesis, but the history and economics of schooling seem like plenty to explain an ignorant mass of college students. The “Vietnam Era’s anti-war demonstrators and hippies” are neither necessary nor sufficient.

how to homeschool history

The day after the elections, I had this exchange with a friend and former colleague:

friend (9:21:07 AM): So, with all of the election mayhem, I keep hearing the phrase “All politics is local.” Well, if all politics is local, then why do we need a federal government?
bk (9:21:18 AM): funny
friend (9:21:49 AM): I would argue that “politics” is *so* local, we shouldn’t have any government at all.
bk (9:22:19 AM): I don’t think I can help you on that one. Unless you want to know more about the history of the centralization of government.
friend (9:22:53 AM): Ideally, I should know more about the history of government in general.

Well, Gary North’s article on LRC today, “Teaching American History,” is really great on this issue, and I highly recommend it.


I would deal with the post-1765 era in two parts: the creation of a national republic and its evolution into an empire. This of course would guarantee a commercial failure. The public school establishment will not consider the word “empire” in relation to the United States, except as something America battles internationally. The Christian school establishment agrees entirely with the public school establishment on this issue.

It is the central political issue, and both establishments get it wrong. Self-realization is the most expensive realization of all.

So, being a marketer, I would follow the example of state-history textbook author William Marina. I would use the word “centralization” in place of “empire.”

It’s great for me in another way, as well, because my current after-hours obsession is my son’s homeschooling in history. Yes, I know we have at least another 5 years to worry about it, but my impression is that the task is monumental.

With every other subject, so far, I’ve gotten the sense that there’s good homeschooling material already commercially available, but history seems to be uniformly bad.

Gary North recommends I sent North this query:

Looking over his reading list, I started to wonder if Dr. Robinson’s curriculum doesn’t have a particular Hamiltonian (nationalist, imperialist) bias:

The Life of George Washington by Josephine Pollard
Our Hero General Grant by Josephine Pollard
Four Naval Heroes by Mabel H. Beebe
Boy Knight: A Tale of the Crusades by G.A. Henty (which I’ve begun to read and am enjoying, but Henty was a famous British imperialist)
Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant by Ulysses S Grant
Life of Washington by Washington Irving
Diaries of George Washington by George Washington
Life of Lincoln by L. P. Brockett
The Soldier in Our Civil War by Frank Leslie
The Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt
Memoirs of William Tecumseh Sherman
My African Journey by Winston Churchill
The World Crisis by Winston Churchill
Lincoln’s Speeches and Letters by Abraham Lincoln
Fifty Years in the Royal Navy by Admiral Sir Percy Scott

I realize that a history student needs to know the Establishment version before he can really grasp historical revisionism, but I’m not confident that’s the approach that this curriculum has in mind.

North’s reply:

There is no such thing as a curriculum without this bias. There never has been. The winners write the textbooks.

I forwarded that exchange to a history professor I know who also plans to homeschool his kids. He replied:

One thing I know for sure is that no matter how good a homeschool program is, I’m not making my kids waste their time and warp their brains by reading volume after volume of TR/Churchill ideology.

A decade from now, there will be at least a few Austro-libertarians homeschooling: Bob Murphy, Stephen Carson, Tom Woods …

(Who else?)

I’m hoping we’ve come up with some good materials by then.

Radio Free Austria

My great grandfather was the president of Radio Vienna in the 1930s and 1940s. So family lore tells me.

[My mother corrects me: the name of the company was Radio Austria, not Radio Vienna.]

Also, according to that same lore, he was arrested during WWII, by the Nazis, for not being a Nazi. Then, after the Soviets drove the Nazis out of Vienna, he was arrested by the Communists for having been a Nazi. You just can’t win. I know very little about my great grandfather, but anyone who was arrested by both the Nazis and the Communists — the right- and left-wings of socialism — can’t have been all bad.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S. of A., government coercion of radio broadcasters was taking place more subtly.

Now, we all know — all of us who took 8th-grade Social Studies — that in the early days of radio, all these different broadcasters, amateurs and professionals, were trying to transmit in the same frequencies at the same time, interfering with each other’s signals, etc., right?


It was an anarchy of the airwaves. But then the Federal Government came to the rescue, creating order out of chaos, first with the Radio Act of 1927 and the creation of the Federal Radio Commission, then later with the more powerful and more orderly Federal Communications Commission — the good ol’ FCC.


That’s what I believed, not through bad assumptions or some other form of intellectual laziness, but because I was explicitly schooled to believe it! I remember being told in grade school that “the people own the airwaves” because early radio was chaotic and that television and radio could not exist as media without the intervention of the Feds.

Is it possible that electro-magnetic spectrum would be more justly and efficiently managed under a common-law private property system?

Please see Radio Free Rothbard and Jesse Walker’s Radio History for some sobering historical revisionism.