I have been reading some excellent historical books lately: John Ferling's accounts of the War of Independence, and Shelby Foote's awesome history of the Civil War. What has become blindingly obvious to me is that history is unbelievably complicated. Even understanding the various causes of a war, say, is very complicated. Ignorance of history tends to produce overly simplified accounts of what happened that do not accurately portray the events. Ferling believes, for instance, that Washington and other leaders of the War for Independence were much more complex and mixed characters than people often assume. Ferling does a great job, incidentally, of detailing what was going on in British politics during this time. The Civil War is not nearly as simple as saying North=abolitionists and anti-slavery; South=tyranny and mean slave-holders. The Northerners were the slave-traders. They were the vast majority of those who went and got the slaves and sold them to the South. Of the thirteen original colonies, Massachusetts was the last state to abolish the slave trade, and South Carolina was the first. Again, not everything is so clear-cut as today's people would like to assume. In fact, the more one reads in the history of the Civil War, the more complicated everything gets, and the more difficult it is to parse out who was justified in doing what. Lincoln faced so many difficult decisions, and history either lionizes him or demonizes him. Is there room for a middle option, that he was muddling along like everyone else, and had great natural skills, but didn't always make the correct decisions? In short, that he was human? Today's generations want everything laid out in laser-like simplicity and accuracy. The problem is that this cannot happen in short compass. It takes an enormous amount of digging and perspective to arrive at historically accurate portrayals. I used to be more interested in general histories of the world, but I now find them rather boring, precisely for some of the reasons listed above. If history is so much more complicated than I used to think, then I now want history books that seek to acknowledge this level of detail and complication. What I am finding is that I learn a whole lot more history from the specialized types of books than from the generalized books. The specialized books can put me right there where the action is, and can give me a strong view of how difficult it nearly always was for people to come to various decisions. We need to beware of this over-simplification problem! It is currently leading to some of the highly problematic almost mob-like tendencies of various people demonizing the South. Do I think slavery is biblical? Absolutely not. But take the uproar over Robert E. Lee's statue. First of all, Lee wouldn't have wanted any statues put up of any of the Civil War leaders, North or South. He thought that once the war was over, the hatchet needed to be buried, once and for all. He was not proud of the Civil War. Secondly, after the Civil War was over, Lee did what he could to promote reconciliation. The story of him I like best happened when Northern soldiers were going to force a white church to allow a black man to take communion in the white church. They were doing so at gunpoint (and don't even get me started on the Northern "Reconstruction"). They had the black man at the rails to take communion, and were gearing for a fight when down comes Lee to the rails, and puts his arm around the black man and takes communion with him, thus defusing the whole situation. I have my own thoughts about putting up statues in honor of people, but the people who want to take down Lee's statues aren't necessarily doing it for historically accurate reasons. And take Colin Kaepernick's asinine rejection of Betsy Ross Nike shoes. Kaepernick, Betsy Ross was a Quaker! Which means she was an abolitionist! Ignorance of history means that America is in deep trouble. It's not the only reason America is in trouble. But as the cartoon says, "Those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it (a la George Santayana), but those who do remember history are condemned to watch others repeat history."