In the empire of lies, real historians have to do something else to make a living

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”(F. Scott Fitzgerald)

“The worst thing to happen to Lincoln – aside from the unfortunate incident at Ford’s Theatre – was to fall into the hands of Carl Sandburg.” (Gore Vidal)

I maintain that the issues around the Civil War are complex, involving power centers, economics, Great Britain and geopolitics. While slavery was also an important issue, it was not something anyone would fight a war about. Abraham Lincoln virtually tore apart the Constitution, invaded the South, and when all else failed engaged in a scorched earth campaign to bring the area into submission.

He did not do that for the sake of the slaves, any more than NASA runs a Mars mission for the sake of science. Something unstated and much bigger was in play.

But historians in this country fulfill a state propaganda function, so that we get the Band of Brothers – Team of Rivals treatment of history. Complex men like Lincoln get Spielberged, that is, reduced to soap opera players.

We know from the Church Committee hearings that CIA keeps journalists and pundits on its payroll to give us our news. But in addition, Church also told us that CIA hires “independent scholars” and secretly finances their work. It’s a safe bet that Barnes and Noble shelves are littered with charlatans paid to walk backwards through time with us, rearranging the past more to CIA’s liking.

But that’s cynical. People want to make a living, enjoy some comfort and a little fame. In the history trade, diligence, openness and honesty do not get it done. So most historians occupy slots in colleges and universities, or do something more productive to pay the bills.

I suspect that Doris Kearns Goodman was at some point faced with a career choice: to present us with a complex but far-sighted Machiavellian character named Lincoln – a man who judged that the ends justified his means – or to give him the Spielberg treatment.

She took the path of least resistance, which includes the Georgetown cocktail circuit, TV appearances, visits to the White House, a Spielberg movie, and private shelves all over the country prominently featuring her unread books.


Dave McGowan is not a trained historian. Consequently, he notices things. He’s done a fascinating series on Lincoln, and like his Laurel Canyon series, it just might be a book someday. In the meantime, he makes his living as a psychologist in Los Angeles. He is disrespectful of official verse, and has a wonderful sense of humor.

I eagerly await each installment of his Lincoln series. Here’s but one morsel: On the night that Lincoln was murdered, an intruder in the home of Secretary of State William Seward attempted to murder him too. So it appears. In this installment, McGowan delves into the matter and finds the story fraught with inconsistencies.

Was the attack on Seward staged? Why? It could be because he was one of the plotters behind Lincoln’s murder, and needed deflection.

As Fitzgerald said, there is nothing wrong with walking about holding contradictory ideas as possibilities. Each might lead to something productive.

So the next logical question: Thousands of people all over the country had motive to murder Lincoln. But even in those days, presidential security was good. To get to him required inside assistance, just as with JFK and Reagan. So cast aside all of the motives of all of the others who wanted Lincoln dead, and ask an important question: Why would Seward want him dead? He had means and opportunity. What would be the motive?

Follow that thought, see where it leads. You’ll be thinking like a historian. A real one.

And don’t quit your day job.

About Mark Tokarski

Just a man who likes to read, argue, and occasionally be surprised.
This entry was posted in American wilderness, History, History as it is rewritten. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to In the empire of lies, real historians have to do something else to make a living

  1. JC says:

    A friend of mine told me a few days ago that you cannot change the past, but you can change history. So true…

    As such (and I’m going sideways with your history theme here… sorry), I’ve been reading some Avrol Manhattan, an excerpt out of his book “Vatican Imperialism in the 20th Century”. You being a recovering catholic and all, Mark, should appreciate this look at history.

    We often think that we’re up on current events as they’re framed by certain memes, but then a piece like Manhattan’s puts into perspective how the almost two millennial battle of the Vatican against Orthodoxy–framed within the geopolitics of the last century up to 1965 (when his book was written)–drives (and/or exploits) the march to WWIII..

    It becomes crystal clear that the happenings in Ukraine, and the rise of Ukrainian Nationalism (neo-nazism) as an expression of the desire to label the Holodomor as a genocide, is being driven by Pope Francis. Andrew Korybko, the young historian who wrote the latter article escaped the U.S. to Russia in order to research and write his materials and not be subjugated to the western press.

    But the fascinating part of all this is that it takes nothing more than the drive of the Catholic church to destroy and absorb the Orthodox church over the last nearly two millennia to explain the driver of modern and current geopolitics in Europe, Russia and the Middle east.

    Of course, the oligarchs and MIC get to come along for the ride, and do a lot of the dirty work, but the drive of the Pope(s) to rule christianity has been as cruel, deadly and dangerous as that of any Caliphate, czar or dictator.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks JC. Another avenue of inquiry?


    • That’s a powerful piece of work, JC, another view, and one that seeps and fills in a lot of gaps in understanding. You call me a “recovering” Catholic, but truth is I simply put them on a shelf and forgot about them.When we visited the Vatican in 2011, I could not escape the feeling that I was inside a military fortress, that that there “was” once immense power there. (I was also curious that their predecessors had cut the genitals off of the statues they liked so much to collect.)

      As a youth I was deeply sucked into their mythology, and once outside viewed them with great curiosity, as they seemed to be secretly involved in the affairs of mankind. But I had no sense of what power actually existed there. Are they tolerated, or is the Vatican a Skull and Bones kind of openly hidden society where real power gets to meet in private? I don’t know, of course.

      And the Orthodox Church, the great schism, all a mystery, never discussed in my twelve years of Catholic schooling except as “them,” it just sat there like the moon, with no discussion that there might be a vibrant civilization living on its dark side.

      DM Murdock, who is probably terminally ill with aggressive cancer now, opened my eyes to the origins of the symbology of the icons in ancient Sun worship. This work by Manhattan adds another fascinating dimension.

      Thanks JC, as always. I intend to pursue it.


  2. steve kelly says:

    Killing the initial story makes it pretty tough to reassemble the evidence years later. More daily crap from the NYT.


    • Remember that joke about a border crossing where new trucks kept rolling by? The guards were sure that there were drugs being smuggled in the trucks, and so they quarantined each one, examined every nook and cranny, even disassembled one, but found no drugs.

      The guards never did figure out what was up, what was really being smuggled into the country: Trucks.

      All of this talk about “collateral damage” serves to disguise what is the real target: The people that are killed, civilians, kids, women – the purpose, to spread terror, subjugate people, let them know that the mutherfucking US is a monster that will do anything to achieve its objective, all the while saying to the population at home “Oops!”

      Beautiful scam.


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