murph's Reviews > The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History

The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History by Thomas E. Woods Jr.
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's review
May 19, 2008

did not like it
bookshelves: thought-it-was-a-joke-at-first

You could shorten the title to simply "incorrect."

Usually the words politically incorrect announce someone who is proud of having gone against the grain. Thomas E. Woods is here to show us that a person can be unusually proud of committing all the sins he purports to denounce.

Woods' aim is to correct the cherished myths of American History that are advanced (without evidence!) by Liberals/Political correctness/people who disagree with Woods. The problem is in order to do this, Woods does exactly the same thing.

If you're going to point out the inadequacies of the established historical narrative, you might want to put some time in research. Woods' bizarre characterization of the Civil War as a justifiable assertion of States rights to nullify Federal law is Exhibit A.

Any treatment of the Civil War that sidesteps or dismisses (as Woods does) the topic of slavery is so clearly ignorant of the facts as to be a farce. You could argue that there was a State's rights dispute - but the chief right the southern states wanted was the right to own people. Don't believe me? Okay, but you'd have to ignore the Mississippi , South Carolina , Georgia , and Texas declarations of Secession - for starters. It would be fair to argue that there were more issues than slavery but to dismiss it?! No serious scholar could do that.

Woods might be tired of slavery dwarfing all other discussions but that does not give him license to artificially add weight to factors he's more interested in.

If this was the only misstep in Woods' book, it would be fatally flawed. Sadly, there are many more.

To be true in Woods' eyes all a theory needs is to be out of favor with the people he dislikes. There are certainly sacred cows in academia and theories that have gaps, inaccuracies or out and out fraud (J. Ellis, I'm looking at you...) but Woods doesn't bother to tear these down with facts. He's sure he's right - and so he just screams out his message - adding volume instead of clarity.

In denouncing the cherished myths of academia he creates his own mythology. Those who embrace that mythology may enjoy the book, but they will have learned nothing.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
May 19, 2008 – Shelved
June 5, 2008 – Shelved as: thought-it-was-a-joke-at-first

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Deb (new) - added it

Deb Seksay Because clearly you made an exhaustive research of all of the items cited in his bibliography, and since at the ripe old age of where ever you're at you can clearly hold a more knowledgeable view of history than a man that has dedicated his life to studying the subject. Obviously, your ability to fact find on the states should make your opinion more important than that of a Ph.D, having studied for at least sixteen years at such violently Conservative educational facilities as Harvard and Columbia University.

I note that, though you mention slavery, you don't really have a means to argue the point soundly. Citing things from a time period when slavery was legal as discriminatory is like pointing at the sky and saying "See? BLUE!! I told you so!" That doesn't change the fact that slavery was a threat to the North because of the jockeying for power in the government: You just try to make it go away by pointing to an historical atrocity, like that makes the seizure of state rights in favor of centralization OK. I note you fail to mention that Lincoln directly broke the law in starting the war by placing embargoes on the south without the consent of congress, not to mention a whole host of atrocious abuses of power to keep it going. You don't mention how many thousands of people had to be killed in the process, but that's OK! We're getting rid of slavery! Which by that era was evaporating and declining around the world.

Any book of this kind will have some kind of bias, as it is pretty much impossible for any person to write without their predispositions, or unread all they have read. You will need better credentials than a snarky attitude and do-gooder tone to convince me that he doesn't bring home sound points. No war has ever, and I repeat, ever, been fought for anything but power, whether it be the power to be left to your own devices or whatever.

murph My issue with Wood's treatment of the causes of the Civil War is not that he hasn't raised good points - it has to do with his hypocritical premise that a biased view of history is distorting the truth of what happened.

Woods answer to a biased view is to act as if his own selective reading of events is some kind of golden road to the historical record.

It is a fine point to say that Northern soldiers did not march into Bull Run to free slaves – they went to crush a rebellion. More people need to understand this – but Wood seems to think that southern armies mobilized in defense of something as esoteric as their rights under the 10th amendment.

Woods focuses on the Northern motivations for war – ignoring Southern motivations entirely. In beginning his chapter, he details how seven states seceded before Lincoln took office – and then briskly moves on with his discussion of other topics.

Now, why did those states secede anyway? Let's ask Mississippi:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.
Mississippi Declaration of Secession: January 9, 1861

Wood's apparently doesn't want to discuss Southern motivations. He'd much rather focus on the question of whether or not Southern states were allowed to secede.

His answer is a succinct "They did."

Woods offers the tired old saws of the 10th amendment and the fact that a few states like Virginia included opt-out language in their written ratification of the US Constitution. He offers no counterpoint and writes as if there is no debate on this issue.

If only that settled it.

James Madison would (and did) take issue with this view of the 10th amendment when he predicted with horror that it could lead to questions of nullification. Andrew Jackson would likewise, considering as he had to put down the nullification crisis.

If the right of secession was as self-evident and Woods would have it – you'd have to wonder why the South didn't advance their argument with means other than what they ultimately chose. At Ft. Sumpter, they didn't use trade sanctions – they used cannons.

The war's origin is a mess: slavery, economics, hypocrisy on both sides – as well as the common delusion of a quick victory masking the danger of total war. Assigning blame to one side or the other is a chicken and egg problem.

Woods answer to that is to pretend there is no egg.

David I read the first few chapters and agree... It's a shame to see propaganda billed as history. Out of curiosity, what's the problem with Joseph j Ellis?

message 4: by Johnny (new) - added it

Johnny Peters Secession and the civil war are two different issues.

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