On History

I always think of this when I read about the relentlessly negative portrayals of historic American figures, destruction of their statues, and the like. It's the other side of a coin we were much embracing in the 1950s.

Bowie was indeed a bold man, and adventurous as far as that goes. He was also a rather infamous practitioner of land fraud, so much so that the US Treasury had -- if historian William C. Davis is to be believed -- a whole section devoted to him and his family at one time. Of course he was also engaged in the slave trade.

Once we celebrated such men without great discretion; he was Achilles to Travis' Agamemnon in the John Wayne version of The Alamo. (Wayne's own Crockett was Odysseus, of course.) Now we can't see the good in them.

We might take a lesson from others.
Huanglong said to the great statesman Wang Anshi:

Whatever you set your mind to do, you always should make the road before you wide open, so that all people may traverse it. This is the concern of a great man.

If the way is narrow and perilous, so that others cannot go on it, then you yourself will not have any place to set foot either.

Zhang River Annals
I always thought that particular lesson worthy. Jim Bowie was a man, and he did some great things and some awful ones. Mostly he did noteworthy things: even in fraud, he was greater than most. I wonder who among the critics today is as great as those they criticize, either in worth or in shame. But the great worth and the great shame often lie in the character of the same man. Like Bowie; like Jefferson; like others.


David Foster said...

The John Wayne version was beautifully-done, but I thought the more recent film, with Billy Bob Thornton as Crockett, was probably a closer representation of what the quirky David Crockett was really like.

David Foster said...

I have some related thoughts at my post The Assault on American Identity and Cohesion:


Assistant Village Idiot said...

MLK did some terrible personal things. But he had some genuine moral feeling and a remarkable instinct for knowing when the time was right.

I would not be in favor of tearing down statues to him, unless some further revelations were amazingly bad. We celebrate what people did right.

Balto may have been a vicious cur. So what?

Grim said...

Thank you, Mr. Foster. That was a good post -- and a nice bonus to see some once- familiar names, like Sgt. Mom and Lex.

David Foster said...

Sgt Mom is still very much around, she just posted a good piece on the encouragement of snitching. Lexington Green posts rarely but does show up every month or two.

Ymar Sakar said...

I don't judge humans based on what other humans say about them. I have my own triangulation methods.

The history people were told about is mostly a fabrication. It is pointless then to determine what is or isn't truth, when the data people have is fabricated. To get to the truth of what really happened, requires additional constructs.

jabrwok said...

Of possible interest: The Death of Bowie Gizzardsbane.