Don't Know Much About History

Quite a line about World War II from a history book for children.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

The Australia story reminded me of something I posted about several years ago, from the first sentence about World War II in All About World History (1999), a history book for children:

In 1939, Hitler (see below) sent armies to invade Czechoslovakia and Poland; Britain, France, and Russia decided to help the Czech and Polish people defend their lands.

I did not know that! In fact, I still don't. Yikes.


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  1. Lots of people don’t seem to realize that France attacked Germany rather than the other way around (even though it was a reasonable response to Germany’s attack on Poland).

    And yeah, that has all sorts of problems: the partition of Czechoslovakia was in 1938, it didn’t involve military battles (although there were some partisans), etc

    1. France declared war on Germany, did they end up ever attacking them?

      1. Yes. The Saar Offensive. It wasn’t much of an operation as France withdrew after Poland fell so fast before they encountered serious resistance.

        1. In any case, that counts as France helping Poland. The inaccuracy is in stating Russia helped Poland when Germany invaded.

          1. Also, that there was a country called “Russia

            1. I thought Russia was a continent! 😉

        2. It’s a good thing they retreated so quickly. Wouldn’t want to obliterate a skeleton German military that couldn’t have held their line for more than a day or two. The French military will never live down how utterly craven and pathetic they were.

          1. WWII was not a good showing for the French military, but it showed that the French could retreat better than anyone else.

            Germans: We have the pinned in Dunkirk, they can’t possibly 300,000 people in a couple of days.

            French: Hold my champagne.

    2. The only reason the partition of Czechoslovakia was “bloodless” was that the cowardly French and British governments basically threatened the Czechs with an attack if they dared defend themselves.

      1. There was nothing cowardly about what the British were doing. If they had listened to Churchill we would all be speaking the proverbial German now.

        The British needed to buy time to remilitarize. Even with that remilitarization, they were only able to defeat the Germans with the help of BOTH the US AND the Soviets (who took millions of casualties).

        The Munich agreement looks craven and pollyannish, but Chamberlain knew enough to build up the British military during the period it was in effect. Losing a war with Germany over Czechoslovakia might be more morally satisfying to hawks, but it wasn’t a better outcome.

        1. I recall reading that Churchill had a kinder opinion of Chamberlain than the people who mocked Chamberlain over the “peace for our time” Munich Agreement over the Sudetenland Sep 1938; he appreciated Chamberlain did it to buy time to get new generations of fighter planes, battleships, and aircraft carriers into British service. Whether Hitler would have backed down if Britain stood up in Sep 1938 will not be known. But I suspect Britain at that time did not have the military strength to impose its will on Germany.

          1. It’s true that the British increased single-engine fighter production to more than the Germans between Munich and the outbreak of the war, and stayed ahead right through the Battle of Britain and beyond. Having more Hurricanes and Spitfires than the Germans had Bf109s is how the Battle was won.

            The other problem was that France was not prepared militarily or psychologically to launch an offensive into Germany to protect an eastern ally – either Czechoslovakia or Poland – against German aggression.

            The Saar offensive wasn’t a moral failure in the way people suggest, but a failure of the military imagination. France had no planning for a war where they had to launch an offensive, and their army, when ordered to do so, just had no idea how.

        2. I was taught that the orders as Germany rearmed the Rhineland were to disengage if they met any force.
          So appeasement early is what made conflict inevitable, but once that threshold passed then appeasement became necessary to buy time.

          But once it was time to go to war, I do find it hard to imagine a leader better fitted to maintain British morale than Churchill.

          1. I’m kind of a WWII history buff, and that’s certainly the standard version. I’ve yet to find any printed sources that disagree.

            Germany was surely getting ready for a big expansion, e.g. training pilots in gliders. But that kind of preparation isn’t much good against an invasion by real troops right now. The German generals were petrified during the reoccupation of the Rhineland and Sudetenland; they knew they couldn’t stand against a French intervention.

  2. Seems strange that subject would be in a children’s book. In our school, when asked what the swastika was in 4th grade, the teacher said “you aren’t old enough to know about that”, you’ll learn later.

  3. Prior to Germany invading Poland, Russia signed a neutrality agreement with Germany, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The pact gave the Russians around 50% of Poland. Russia attacked Poland approximately 15 days after the Germans.

    1. Said pact was kept secret from the Russian People. There is an argument that when it was revealed under Perestroika it dealt a blow to the Soviet sense of global identity that was a factor in the fall of that regime.

    2. Yes indeed. Poland was attacked first by Germany and shortly thereafter by the USSR. Two years later when the USSR was at war with Germany and allied to the western powers that fact more or less went down the memory hole. Pete Seeger even pulled his anti-war songs once the West was aiding the USSR.

  4. Few know that Australia became independent January 1, 1901, and Queen Victoria passed away a mere three weeks later. Took that long for the news to reach her, no doubt.

    1. Australia was linked to the world by cable in 1872.

      1. Yes but unfortunately the cable was still fully occupied transmitting Kinetograph video from the Wallabies vs. British and Irish Lions rugby match played in Sydney in 1899, so the news had to travel by packet-boat instead.

        1. Sydney to London in three weeks? In 1901? Whoooosh!

          1. Only as far as Colombo, the international undersea cable network (or Inter Net as it was also known) offered additional capacity there and the rest of the distance was covered telegraphically. It was quite a Net, Al Gore’s grandfather may have had something to do with its development.

  5. In my History and International Affairs class in 2014, students who had been to Russia noted that their host families were usually pretty surprised that there was any American involvement in the “Great Patriotic War” that occurred between Russia and Germany in the 1940s.
    And Japan?! Coulda knocked them over with a feather.

  6. Actually the USSR invaded Poland instead of helping them.

    1. I’m sure no one got that before you posted this

    2. I heard it was a rescue operation to help the Polish people throw of the yoke of their capitalist oppressors.

      The 110,000 Poles the Russians killed were of course a regrettable excess.

      But I’m sure the USSR made up for in in the 45 years they helped rebuild Poland after the war building a more equal society.

  7. I get a much better sense of history from documentaries presenting the overall flow of events, backed up by historical quotes of leaders, diaries, and interviews with those on the ground, giving context to the facts and figures presented, and give a comprehensive understanding of the situation from all sides.

  8. “History is myth agreed upon by men.” Napoleon

    Finding inaccuracies, often gross misaccuracies, in history books, even in history texts used to teach high school and college students, is child’s play. Generations of American school children have been taught that the Gilded Age was an age of Robber Barrons and grotesque income inequality; few are ever taught about the huge increases in standards of living which accompanied the industrial advances of the Gilded Age. Generations are taught that FDR was a hero who saved us from the Great Depression; few are ever taught that it was the insane monetary policy of the Federal Reserve Bank, growing the money supply by nearly 60% between 1921 and 1928, then shrinking it by over 40% between 1928 and 1930, that was the precipitating cause of the Great Depression, or that FDR’s incompetent policies made that Great Depression longer, deeper, and much more damaging than it should have been.

    1. I’d argue that the Robber Barons did more good for the US than our current industrial wizards today are. Carnegie got WAY more people employed and helped far more people than Zuckerberg has dreamed of.

    2. “few are ever taught that it was the insane monetary policy of the Federal Reserve Bank, growing the money supply by nearly 60%”

      that was also the primary reason for the financial crisis of 2008. Not the lack of regulation or sub prime lending.

      loosening of credit standards always follow increases in money available for lending, never preceeding increases in funds available for lending. – Cart always follows the horse.

  9. few are ever taught … that FDR’s incompetent policies made that Great Depression longer, deeper, and much more damaging than it should have been.

    Good, because Amity Shlaes notwithstanding, that is false.

    1. The truth is just a Google search away.

      Best economist’s estimates are that FDR’s policies killed employment by 25% or more and at least doubled the length of the Great Depression.

      1. Those are…not exactly disinterested sources.

        If you start with an economic model wherein economic government intervention is harmful, you conclude that FDR’s economic government intervention is harmful!

        Then all an Internet commenter need do is discount conventional wisdom as liberal propaganda, and presto! The only True Narrative is Clear!

        1. Well, conventional wisdom, can’t argue with that.

          But just looking at it logically Sarcastro, wouldn’t you say an economic policy that destroyed food to raise prices when people are starving, or at least very hungry isn’t the way to create jobs?

          I’m going out on a limb and say that a policy where “For example, the federal government bought 6 million hogs in 1933 alone and destroyed them” was going to destroy jobs too. If you make food so expensive that people who are even still working have to spend every penny to eat, it doesn’t leave any money over to stimulate the economy.

          I find it totally believable that FDR’s economic policies cut employment by 25%.

      2. Cole and Ohanian have been beating that drum for a while.

        Perhaps you are unaware that there are many economists who disagree strongly.

        So, an opinion? Yes. The truth. No.

  10. Is that the same book that said the U.S. Civil War was fought only to free the slaves?

    1. Maybe that’s not why the war was actually fought, but its 90% of the reason it started. For 30 years before that just about every national crisis was due to slavery. The Missouri compromise, the Fugitive Slave Act, Bloody Kansas, John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry raid. The birth of the Republican Party which was founded as a single issue abolitionist party, and its first elected President Abraham Lincoln precipitated the South to secede.

      Fear of abolition is why the South seceded and started the war, even though it may not be the reason the North fought it.

      1. Well, you’ve got some tiers here, declining in popularity as listed

        1) stopping slavery from spreading
        2) freeing slaves
        3) equality for blacks/former slaves

  11. “The constitutive theory of statehood defines a state or country as a person of international law if, and only if, it is recognized as sovereign by other states.”

    So I guess the real question is, do other countries recognize Israel, oops I mean Australia as country.

  12. Well, you could perhaps make an argument, taking an expansive meaning of the word “help,” that Britain and France “helped” Poland by declaring war on Germany, even though they then proceeded to take a nap. I’m not sure what kind of thinking allows them to say that Britain and France helped defend Czechoslovakia, since such help basically consisted of telling Hitler, “We don’t care about Czechoslovakia, but don’t go any farther!” As for Russia, perhaps they meant to refer to 1941, when Russia heroically defended those parts of Poland that it had invaded in 1939.

  13. A few things–the South didn’t seriously invade the North until 1863 in the Gettysburg campaign; two years into the war. Tough to say the South was the instigator when nearly every shot fired was on southern land. Some border states seceded when it was clear Lincoln intended to hold states in a voluntarily created Union through force. Additionally, slavery was an issue used by politicians for both sides (more successfully by northern politicians) to swing the pendulum of power in their favor. Lincoln was the first President elected without help from a southern state. South Carolina saw the writing on the wall. With a majority in the House, Senate, and electoral college, the north could make, enforce, and interpret the law. S. Carolina was understandably troubled by that prospect, given its past showdowns with the federal government which had nothing to do with slavery. In the 1830s, she interposed against a federal tax-imposed and collected despite a surplus and no federal debt. The issues, as framed by South Carolina, were whether (1) tax & spend clause permitted Congress to impose a tax for purposes other than revenue; and, (2) whether a State, through its own constitutional convention, can nullify a federal law within its own territorial jurisdiction-because the law encroached upon the reserved powers of the states (as opposed to disfavored federal policies). Its principles were on full display; SC never accepted a dime of the “surplus” returned to the States. I digress.

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