History books

I’ve been wondering about this for a while. How do your history books talk about wars you’ve started or lost? Specifically, I’m wondering:

What do german textbooks say about WWII? What about Japanese books? Italian?

For that matter, what do the German or austrian texbooks say about WWI?

What do those history books in England say about the American Revolution?

In case any of you wonder, our books here in the States hardly mention the Vietnam War at all. The longest i recall is a paragraph or two, I don’t recall too much detail. I think it was the Government’s excuseand maybe a few numbers.

And i’m talking about the books you read in school.

Interesting question, I’m wondering about the same. I can’t answer your question, though, since we haven’t started any wars since the Viking Age (Unless you count Denmark’s participation in the Napoleonic Wars when we were under their rule).

I don’t reckon the Korea War is mentioned in your history book either? Though the cold war is perhaps glorified tome degree?

Anyway, if I’m allowed, here’s a follow-up question: How are you taught to look at history?

What do I mean by that? Recently we had a girl from the States (visiting another girl in our class)with us during history class. During that particular class we were studying the events leading to WW2. One of the main-frame questions was “Why did Hitler come to power?” The American girl wondered about this and said that at the same history level in the US, they didn’t ask questions like that. They were taught that things happened then and then and so and so. Our teacher asked why they didn’t ask questions about or reflected on history. She didn’t have any good answer, but added that at higher education they might.

So, where am I going at? Do you think reflection upon history is important? Were you ever told that it was during class when you were 16-19? Why? Why not?

Personally I heartily believe that reflection and questions concerning history are important. It’s okay to know that something did happen, but if you search for the reasons as to why it happened, you can prevent (bad) history from repeating itself. The two prime examples are WW2 and 9/11:

If you knew why Hitler came to power, how the chain of events led to his dictatorship, you are able to notice those same outlines later in history - when you’re writing history yourself. For instance, he was rather charismatic, he had his strong belief and a will to bring glory to Germany. He gave people work, either in factories (war equipment, among other), or working on the infrastructure, etc. He bought prosperity to the country in a time of depression. This gave the people confidence in the man, and once confidence, loyalty and power reached their highest level, he could do pretty much whatever he wanted. (This is, of course the short form of it, and only taken from the top of my head.)

The reason I’m mentioning 9/11 when talking about history and understanding history isn’t to rip up any old wounds people might have, but to give a very practical example of how ones history view comes too short. As I understand it, the consensus in the US today is that going into Iraq wasn’t such a good idea after all. I don’t want to speculate how this is so, but I suspect things surrounding these are beginning to be a little clearer for the Americans.

Okay, on with the example: The world’s superpower no. 1 is under attack. What does the news say? Terrorist attack, hijacking, etc. They’re reviewing the details concerning the attack over and over again. People are saying: “How did this happen? Why us? How could this be? We never did anything wrong.” A more correct thing to say would be: “Ok, this is the brutal reality. It did happen. But I suppose we had it coming, more or less. The question that remains is how do we prevent this from happening again?” or something along those lines. (I’m not saying all the innocent people lost that day deserved it, I’m just stating an example of history reflection here). If you, as an American, started to raise questions about your nation’s behaviour and actions internationally and in the middle east for the past decade or so once the attack was a fact, you would’ve found out that an attack like this could’ve happened any time. The ironic thing here is that at my side of the Lake, professors, peace researchers and experts weren’t even slightly surprised. But still, USA had the whole world’s sympathy. They used it to go to war and look forward, not taking a little time to contemplate on their navel. While the sympathy was well justified (I’m by no means saying anything else), it should’ve been used better. Anyway, before I tumble myself into something too big to swallow, read this: Understanding Oil, it’s a rather good essay.

To finish what I’m trying at with all this 9/11-history thing: If you ever watch the movie World Trade Center, you’ll notice that no questions are asked about the attack, the story is centered around two people talking to each other under a pile of rubble and their family. There is so much more the director should’ve included, thousands suffered and when making a film about such a tragedy without asking any questions to it is a waste. Watch the movie. Watch it not because of its quality (which is plain horrible), but too see how shallow one can make a movie about a historic event. Then, afterwards, you can watch Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, Supersize Me and eventually Al Gore’s new documentary for some quality (true, they’re documentaries and WTC is not, but that’s not the point).

I’ll wrap up:

Ragnarok’s question: How do your history books talk about wars you’ve started or lost?

My follow-up: How are you taught to look at history?

Our history books are fairly neutral, boring, full of different analysis of situations by historians for example and very very very in-depth about WWI and WWII with many sources. Many. (Like, speeches from politicians, extracts from contracts, bills, constitutions and treaties and so on and so forth)
Mostly focused on Germany of course, but normally, each country has its chapter and there are a lot of graphics and statistics showing the relations between the countries and Europe worldwide during the certain times, viewpoints economically, ideologically, politically etc etc. I could scan a few if you’re interested. Note that they’re in German.

I could scan a few if you’re interested. Note that they’re in German.

That kind of neutrality would seem quite German, indeed. (I take it you’re from Germany? Oder was?)

Oder was. xD Yes, I am. And yeah, obviously they’re very careful when it comes to statements. There aren’t really any noticeable sympathetical tendencies towards the US/ USSR/ France (duh) / whatever. Mostly, they try to show every relevant perspective that comes into question. At least my history books.

Well, we got a very steeply priced “victory” in WWII, seeing we didn’t lose our hard-earned independence.

We did lose a bit of credibility over getting some help from Germany, but it was a lose-lose situation any way around: Either get into another war with the Soviets, or drive out the very German troops we were allied with.

Result: Anything burns, even Lapland.

Although it was a pure miracle we didn’t get overrun in the two wars that were instigated by the eastern neighbour. And not to mention the fact our guys almost went to Leningrad when we started advancing over the lines, taking back the land we lost during the small time of peace… (Germans had an idea that we should take it, but it would’ve caused a bit too much agression if we went too close.)

I’m pretty sure the American history books would omit the time they failed to beat Canada. It was a stalemate, but the British did burn part of Washington DC while the Americans burned York (Toronto).

The War of 1812 was fought between the United States of America and Great Britain and its nearby colonies, Canada and Nova Scotia, from 1812 to 1815 on land and sea. The Americans declared war on Britain on June 18, 1812, for a combination of reasons— outrage at the impressment (seizure) of thousands of American sailors, frustration at British restraints on neutral trade while Britain warred with France, and anger at British support for native attacks along the frontier[1] which conflicted with American expansion and settlement into the Old Northwest.

The Americans were not prepared for combat at land or sea, in contrast to the British army and navy that had been fighting the French for almost two decades. The American plan was to invade Canada and some historians believe to use it as a bargaining chip rather than to expel Britain from North America which was their stated aim. The war started poorly for the Americans as their attempts to invade Canada were repeatedly repulsed. Later in the war, American land forces proved more effective. The Royal Navy lost some early single-ship battles but eventually their numbers told and the naval blockade of the eastern seaboard ruined American commerce, and led to extreme dissatisfaction in New England. The Americans gained naval control of Lake Erie and Lake Champlain, preventing the planned British invasion of New York. Following the American raid and burning of York (now Toronto), the British raided the Chesapeake Bay area and burned parts of Washington D.C. but were repulsed at Baltimore and withdrew. The Americans destroyed the power of the native people of the Northwest and Southeast. With the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, and the stalemate on the battlefields, both nations agreed to a peace that left the prewar boundaries intact. Before the news of the treaty got back to North America, the Americans defeated an attempt to capture New Orleans at the Battle of New Orleans. Canadians remember the war as a victory in avoiding conquest by the Americans, while Americans celebrated a new spirit of national unity.

Of course the subjects mentioned vary by book, but I don’t recall the Korean War being talked about to much depth. I believe it was used as an example of an undeclared war (along with Vietnam and possibly the current war) but nothing about why or the results or much else. And our books are fairly neutral, so it didn’t take sides about the Cold War.

Good question. We really aren’t. Not by the books, anyway. I took magnet classes since the second grade (magnet being between normal and AP classes) so my courses were a little more intelligent in terms of discussing the subjects at hand. While our books are neutral, stating just the facts and focusing on the wars that shaped our country (the revolution, the civil war, and the war of 1812, and such) they don’t go about analyzing history much. However, I’ve had two teachers who did make us look at history and talk about the how, and the why of the why (an example, though we never got this far in the class, WWII came about because of Hitler. Why did Hitler come about?).
So the analysis is pretty much left to the teachers rather than the books.

They must have, 'cause I never knew about that. When it comes to the war of 1812, the books talk about the impressment of our sailors and something about trade, the burning of the Capitol (including the White House) and they end the war talking about a victory at New Orleans after the war ended. I didn’t know we tried to invade Canada, but I heard from the History Channel that we lost the war. The books looks at it more like a stalemate (though it never actually describes the end as such).

Every history (barring the semester of Black History I took) in high school either shoved the Renaissance down our throats (it’s great, we got it the first 6 years) or how we kicked Nazi ass and blew up Tokyo.

We got some brief European history, but the only time the eastern world was mentioned at all was if we had bombed the hell out of them. WW1 was covered in maybe a paragraph one year. Korea, Vietnam, and countless other shit we had our hand in was never mention at all.

The War of 1812 was concluded in 1815 following the Battle of New Orleans (in which General Andrew Jackson of the US Army defeated the British forces). The battle is often remembered as never actually having to have had to take place as the peace treaty had been signed for two weeks prior to the battle, but due to the poor speed of telegrams the battle was never called off. And yes, during the Siege of York the British invaded Washington D.C. and burned down the White House just after President Monroe could evacuate with his new Monroe Doctrine.

Well, I took magnet classes and moved onto AP classes in high school and that jump was exponential in terms of questions asked. The original example of “Why did Hitler come to power?” is a verbatim example of a discussion question in my AP US English class that I took in the 11th grade. To top it off it’s tone is very reminiscent of a college level class, and sounds like questions I’ve had to answer in my college history courses.

So far nobody has mentioned any event in United States history (such as the War of 1812 or the “Time America Lost” as Zero put it) that wasn’t taught to me in a generic US history text book, that particular fact being taught in the fourth grade I believe.

There are many things omitted about peoples character, in our history books, where as events are generally portrayed accurately. For example, Woodrow Wilson, a former US president, is often cited as one of the most racist people in US Goverment history. He’s the only president to try to segregate government jobs and reportedly loved and endorsed “Birth of a Nation” - the most racist film ever. Helen Keller was also a registered socialist during the time of the red scare. In terms of things like this, theres a book called “Lies My Teacher Told Me” which is excellent in pointing out little discrepencies such as these.

Well, Sweden hasn’t started - or been in - a war since king Karl XII (Charles XII in English - I recommend reading that article, he had a fascinating history), in the 18th century. So we’re far enough away from it to treat it without shame even if we lost bigtime in the end. Pretty amazing though. We used to be something like the Scandinavian Roman empire for a little while!

What you’ll seldom see in our history books is the fact that Sweden’s neutrality in WWII wasn’t quite so neutral. The Germans could pretty much go anywhere they wanted here, using any transportation required and asked for. That, on the other hand, critical authors of novels have heydays with.

All my history teachers in high school, especially the AP ones, have encouraged question asking as a way to understand history, and make damned certain one does not misunderstand it. The most prominent example coming up is a thorough quesitoning of why Western Europe came to military and economic dominance of the world, since there is the idea it is because of inherent white cultural superiority. However, when one looks into events, it’s hardly superiority so much as geographic-crap-shoot that determined it; civilization as it is seen is dependant on sedentary agriculture, which is heavily dependant on sedentary agriculture, which is in turn dependant on certain crops and domesticated animals. The only large, apt domestic animal native to the Americas was the llama. In Africa, there were none; Zebra are inherently impossible to dominate, unlike horses, it seems. In oceania and polynesian regions, only the pig. In Asia, there were enough, though less, of the right animals, to develop a powerful civilization. The Middle East outlived its fertility and was pulling its resources out of its vast holdings under the Abbassid caliphate rather than try and squeeze nutrients from the desert sands. It wasn’t suitable for many crops, and those it was, the growing season was abysmal by the time technology had progressed as to make world travel possible. Due to the cultural exchange of the mongol hordes, both Western Europe and China were in an easy technological position to create a global economy, and if they so desired, empire. China, actually, more capable in sheer numbers and technical finesse than Western Europe. However, China’s cultural focus had been inward throughout most of history, while Europe, even in the Northern Renaissance, where it was beginning to advance beyond Rome in nearly every way, still culturally looked up to the dead empire, and outside source. Additionally, the powerful but nautically apathetic Ottoman Empire pushed their backs to the wall, the luxury demand that had been growing since the Crusades dried European coffers in value-different trade, and fighting amongst the region forced more from the treasuries to go to armies that were killed for little financial gain. China’s internal cultural focus, renewed with fervour in the generally conservative Ming dynasty, and lack of need for outside aid to maintain itslef didn’t give China the incentive to mount large voyages to the outside world. A few were made, but as the novelty wore off, they were discouraged and not governmentally financed. Europe, in need and with a cultural focus on the world and a gain in power and conquest, was much more willing to set out. It all came down to historic luck of the draw on a globe, essentially.

In American History books, our losses and draws are actually mentioned much more than some of the things we have done to win wars. Our attempts to genocide the people of the Philippines in the Spanish American war and the fact that we entered it in revenge for a lie and to defend the Spanish mistreatment of the Cuban people (which, by the way, did not include attempts at Genocide) is generally left out. The shady dealings of the Panama Canal are ignored, only that the canal was built is mentioned. American History books seem to ignore the "Why"s when they are unpleasant things to say about ourselves, and go for a more general view, while zooming in on the "Why"s that would minimize a failure or poor decision. The racism of many of our presidents is ignored, and anything that was covert, even if later discovered and proven, is kept well-hidden in history books. Nixon’s anti-semitism bordering on paranoid psychosis, Wilson’s blatant racism, Grant’s outright ban of Jews in his cabinet, and both Reagan’s cocaine/arms dealing scandals and his endorsement of the WCC (make any joke you want about Bush’s grammar and linguistics, he at least knows how “KKK” is properly spelt) is generally ignored. The World History text I’m currently using mentions some of America’s actions against communist and revolutionary governments in South America, but generally in a phrasing of “sided with despite brutal, human-rights violating fascism far worse daily than the whole revolution has encompassed” not “sided with and used international cocaine trade to provide for despite brutal, human-rights violating fascism far worse on a daily basis than the whole revolution has encompassed.” We also never, ever hear about Abraham Lincoln’s tendancy to take political prisoners of anybody who disagreed with the Civil War (called such as if nobody else ever had one) for any reason whatsoever.
Also, the fact that probably the only reason we won the revolutionary war is because the French sided with us (or, rather, against the English, as they were want to do back in those days) is generally ignored for purposes of pride; we never needed them cowardly froggies.

Brazil had a very minor role in WW2 - a few soldiers and planes were sent to fight in Italy, more to represent good will towards the Allied Countries than to fight anything. Even back then, the bulk of people here sadly didn’t know what they were fighting for. The train of thought that led us to war is what many history books teach to this day: “there was this bad guy who was an enemy of the nations that were our greatest friends, and that’s why we joined the fight against that guy”.

Only recently people have been more aware what that was all about. In some schools there are discussions about how Hitler got his power, and why Italy and Japan joined forces with him to form the Axis. The holocaust is another topic that gets a lot of attention. Still, sadly, these are a minority of schools.

We had to read some books on WW2 in the school I went to. Interestingly enough, one of them was The Diary of Anne Frank.

Ditto. The germans arrived with Swedish trains during their invasion of Norway…

A disturbing truth. However, it’s not like we could do much. Our army was absolutely not ready for war against a powerful country like Germany. Our only direct way to stay “neutral” was the fact that they wanted the trains and the iron from our mines. If they invaded, either we’d blow the stuff up or RAF would. They’d lose it, and they couldn’t afford that. We were just too practical on our own.

And besides, we were rather friendly with them anyway.

Well, I was as I would have been concerned, circa 1961, Honest Abe could have done whatever he wanted.

American history teaching in grade and high schools fails immensely in not reinforcing the glorious nature of the Glory That Was Rome.

Very interesting question Rangarok, and very interesting replies, I must say.

Reading Soviet history books could have been a fascinating experience for someone educated on the west side of the Berlin Wall. It’s almost like diving into some kind of alternate reality - where the events that took place in your world, also happened in this dimension, but with a slight twist. Here, the good guys are bad or not that good after all; the major players in your reality are only members of the supporting cast or even simple stagehands.

A few items that could be learned from the Soviet era history books about WW II:
-What is known as the World War II, in the USSR/Russia that conflict was taught, from the early childhood, as the Great Patriotic War.
-The USSR was treacherously attacked by the Nazi Germany and it’s “vassals” (Italy, Hungary, Romania, Finland etc).
-A deal between Stalin and Hitler to split Poland and other European states never happened.
-The bombing of Britain and action in the Pacific were barely mentioned, but the nuking of Japan was given a lot of attention.
-USA decided to enter the war only after USSR broke Hitler’s back.
-Etc, etc…

Well, you guys are good warriors.
The Battle of Suomussalmi was quiet a humiliating experience for the Soviet Army – about 1000 casualties on the Finnish side vs. over 27000 on the Soviet side. What a slap in the face!

And not to mention the fact our guys almost went to Leningrad when we started advancing over the lines, taking back the land we lost during the small time of peace… (Germans had an idea that we should take it, but it would’ve caused a bit too much agression if we went too close.)

And that was a wise decision by Mannerheim, taking defensive positions 160 km from Leningrad. When the tide has turned, the Soviets advanced past their borders, and started “liberating” future members of the Warsaw Pact; Finland could have joined the club.
Or maybe standing on the shore of Lake Ladoga, Mannerheim had flashbacks of his military service in the Imperial Russian Army: Chevalier Guards, Nezhin Dragoon Regiment, then his promotion to Major General and command of Life Guard Uhlan Regiment? Maybe he just remembered his beautiful Russian ex-wife, Anastasia Arapova?
In any case Leningrad/St. Petersburg survived the siege, but the casualties were tremendous (over 1 million dead, most from starvation).

I meant to post this before, but I forgot. I asked a German member of another board I frequent how WW2 is perceived in Germany a week or so back.

In the German school I went to, while we used our Greek history books, many of the texts and books in the hours devoted to German were Nazi-related. At least it was a far cry from the “OMG! Demons manifested as Nazis, we whooped them, Hitler funny mustache lol ok it won’t happen again” treatment of the subject which overwhelms the net and some “analysts” and politicians’ minds.

What RC posted is pretty accurate. It’s obvious Germany lost a lot of patriotism after the war and became extremely apologetic. If you even so much as put a flag on your car or something people would already give you funny looks. Last summer it got a lot better because of the soccer world cup, when people could finally shout for their country without having to be afraid of being called Nazis again. It was very healing; you can still see some “leftover flags” hanging around in the country. Definitely helped. An “open patriotism”, as in with official statements etc. like in the US for example would still be absolutely impossible though.