What Is your View of History?
Che Guevarra (left) and Fidel Castro of Cuba. Drawing from history, Che might have thought he could liberate Latin America like what Simon Bolivar did earlier.
History consists of arts and science
We are fond of reading history. We like to tell history. We draw lessons from history. We predict the future by means of history. What do we mean by history?
History according to a Filipino historian
Let us see what a Filipino historian, Teodoro A. Agoncillo, said about history. T. A. Agoncillo, Ph.D. Honoris causa, is a National Scientist in History.
(I had the privilege to write his short biography included in the book “Filipino National Scientist 1978-1998.” He retired as professor in history in the University of the Philippines, Diliman campus.)
National Scientist is the highest honor the Philippines can give to her citizens who have achieved excellence in their respective fields in the arts, science and humanities.
TA Agoncillo said history is not science. History belongs in the humanities, he wrote.
Since history is not science, there no such thing as historical law, like second law of motion of Newton.
However, history has a part that belongs in the arts, and another part that belongs in science.
Accounts in historical event belongs in science. For example, the assertion “Lincoln called on the law enforces and military to enforce the laws of the United States on the combinations in the south.”
In popularized terms, Lincoln called on the police and military to enforce the law on the secessionist southern states.
The assertion of facts in history belongs in science, says Agoncillo. Another example, “Gen. Charles Cornwallis of the British expeditionary force in the American colonies surrendered to the armies of Gen. George Washington and the French expeditionary force. This was the last battle in the American revolution.”
Another example: “Gen. Douglas MacArthur was the Allied Supreme Commander of the occupation of Japan upon Japan’s defeat in World War II.”
Arts in history
What is the part of arts in history? For example: “The lone scrambler in Pearl Harbor manned by the US navy fleet was switched off so that the American navy failed to intercept Japanese coded commands to attack the American navy on December 7,1941.”
A premise to this statement is that the Americans had already broken the Japanese code days before the Japanese attack in Pearl Harbor.
I have not read a report on the investigation of the attack that says the scrambler was switched on. If it was switched on, and the Japanese code had been broken, the American navy commanders in Pearl Harbor could have moved all four battleships docked there out to the open sea and prepared for defense against the Japanese torpedoes.
Only one warship, USS Pennsylvania, suffered a minor damage; it was in drydock and out of reach of torpedoes.
The statement “The lone scrambler in Pearl Harbor manned by the US navy was switched off on purpose” is a plausible speculation.
The reasoning is that if the scrambler were switched on and the Japanese code had earlier been broken, the American admirals could have read the Japanese codes of attack directed at Pearl Harbor. These admirals knew they would be subject to court martial if they allowed the Japanese attack without a preventive counter attack. The American admirals were found guilty of some snafus but they were never punished.
"The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was allowed by higher American officialdom to arouse the American public to enter World War II" is a plausible explanation of the failures of American admirals in Pearl Harbor. This is a statement in history that belongs in the arts.
"A few days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor USA entered WWII" is a statement that belongs in science.
Lapu-lapu killed Magellan
Another statement in history that belongs in the arts: “Lapu-lapu killed Magellan in the battle of Mactan.”
The premises in this statement. Magellan led the assault against the natives in Mactan, an island in Cebu province, Philippines. Lapu-lapu was the chieftain of the natives that defended against the assaulting group comprised of native warriors and Spanish warriors. Magellan led the Spanish warriors. Magellan being the chieftain of the Spaniards, and Lapu-lapu, being the chieftain of the native warriors, sought each other in a fight by swordsmanship.
Pigafetta, the Spanish official chronicler, surmised it so.
Lapu-lapu and his native warriors did not have an official record of the battle. They did not have a record of Lapu-lapu killing Magellan. It was a plausible folk tale. A statement that is not scientific. It is a statement in the arts. That statement belongs in history.
A student of history, or an expert historian can find several statements in history that belong in the arts and that belong in science.