Great Man History


Word to the wise this gets a little depressing…didn’t intend it that way – thought of a throwaway joke for the opening and followed it through.  Here’s a little secret – writing about fly fishing – there isn’t that much to write about which is why I enjoy the game of tying things to it.  I write about stuff so unrelated to fly fishing, and then tie it in.  It’s fun.  This time I didn’t feel like it – I had planned to segue into historic flies – I may do that later – for now I’ll just assume you were not entertained…


I love the Monday after the NFL season ends.  It’s a day when a cartoonish number of head coaches get fired.  I love it so much I almost wish they made it illegal to fire a head coach on any other day.  Some sport writers have taken to calling it “Black Monday” which is stupid and kind of racist when you consider that the NFL has the Rooney Rule.  For those of you with a life, the Rooney Rule requires an NFL club to interview a minority candidate for head coaching positions.  The idea is that this will lead to more minority head coaches…but it’s become kind of a joke.  In general, an interview does little the owners know who they want before they fire the sitting coach anyhow.  If the league really wanted more minority head coaches, they would require Bill Belichick have more on his staff.  Because it seems sooner or later everyone on his staff gets a shot at a head coaching positions…that they inevitably fail at.  They should call the day “Pink Monday,” as in pink slip.

So why do so many coaches get fired? Gary Kubiak was the head coach of the Texans for 7 and a half seasons.  In that time he was considered for Coach of the Year Honors, coached the Texans to their first non-losing season and 5 total non-losing seasons (the Texans sucked before Kubiak), and before their hubris and subsequent punishment by the football gods before the Mighty Patriots (who were subsequently punished for their hubris) the 2012 Texans were the dominant force in the AFC if not the entire NFL.  This season the Texans won their first two games, then lost 9 before the coach was fired.  Of those 9 loses, 3 they got spanked the rest were very close games – footballs bounce weird…

“A football is an oblate spheroid…how many of you know what that means?”

Coach Perkins

All told Kubiak was about .500 as a coach, yet easily the best in Texans history. He’s is a forgettable part of NFL history.  Mike Shanahan got fired too.  He was the guy holding the clipboard when John Elway decided to stop being a moron and won two Super Bowls. Guess what his win loss record is without those seasons? About .500…But what was the real reason they got fired???

Great Man History of course.

Great Man History…

“Don’t you mean Great Person Herstory…”

Feminist Interrupter

“No, no I do not…and the kitchen is that-a-way…”

The Flyosopher

Great Man History is a theory that most if not all of history took place because of the actions of great individuals – and great meaning influential not necessarily “good.”  Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, and Adolph Hitler would all be considered “great men.”  But did the Civil War, World War II, and the end of Apartheid happen because of these individuals, or were they just standing there when the larger forces at work happened?  It’s impossible to know for sure, but say a KKK guy built a time machine and killed baby Lincoln (Yeah I know horrible, but how many versions of “Kill baby Hitler” are there…) would it have changed anything? My guess is not really the abolitionist and secessionist movements were firmly established, an anti-slavery Republican appealed to the states with the greater number of electoral college votes, and lest we forget, the South was gone before Lincoln took office and did anything.  It’s arguable that a different president may have allowed European powers to recognize the South as a sovereign nation, or appointed worse generals and lost the war but that’s doubtful – Lincoln’s first generals were pretty horrible to start with.  The North had railroads, factories, and boatloads of people showing up daily…all without Lincoln.  I think Great Man Theory losses.  And did you picture Baby Lincoln like Baby New Year with a beard because I totally did.

baby new year

A lot of people – mainly feminists – get all butt-hurt over this Great Man notion and think that this was the dominant opinion of centuries of dead white men.  But that’s not the case, like most academic theories it sprang up, and was shot down relatively quickly and never given all that much attention.  It persists to this day though, because people started allowing female Grammar school teachers to teach history, and people like talking about people. (Ok that’s my personal theory but it passed the sniff test)  History, opposed to military history, is relatively new.  There was a long time when educators knew more about the ancient Greeks than they knew about people living just a few decades before them.   It’s a lot more fun to discuss things in terms of heroes and villains – rather than the more influential socio-economic trends of the time.  Teachers used this tool to make learning more fun, because it is fun.


History class 1:   Year XXXX Group A fights Group B Group B kicks their ass, in the year XXXX group C appeared and kicked Group B’s ass….

History Class 2:   Is a lot more like TMZ with crazy celebrities, bizarre sex scandals, incest, and did you know Tycho Brahe had a gold nose…


Come on!!! Class 2 rules

“Ok what you blamed on female teachers you just admitted to doing yourself.”

Feminist Interrupter

“Fine I’ll make my own sammich.”

The Flyosopher

Tycho Brahe had a metal, possibly bronze or copper, nose, and yes he lost it in a duel.  Before you ask they weren’t fighting over a woman.  He was fighting over math.  Open a math class with that little tale and see if you don’t get the little brats attention.  Then put up a 468203476936640 +  521486313021259 (assuming they are little kids) and when they see they can do that (nothing is over 10) that’s empowerment.   And you didn’t even have to teach them about Tycho Brahe’s pet moose with a drinking problem….yeah that was a thing.

If all this seems like harmless fun, it mostly is, but not entirely so.  Most of history is largely unimportant – and that’s coming from a guy who loves it.  It is interesting to consider how people lived long ago, to see how we are similar, and how we are different, but at the end of the day if a student asks why they have to study about it – I’d have a hard time giving a solid and honest answer.  Unless of course we were talking about the horrible parts of history, the rotten parts of history are always worse than we know. The “Kill Baby Hitler” question hides more sinister history than you may be aware of and asks us to believe in a very dangerous myth.

So what is the very dangerous myth – that Hitler was the only evil man, and the source of all the evils of his day.  Strangely, the cliché question of whether or not a hero should travel back in time to kill Baby Hitler to purge the sins of the world kind of equates him with Baby Jesus – bet no one ever told you that its creepy that it’s true.  The myth assumes that killing Baby Hitler prevents death camps, World War II, the Rise of Stalin, the Cold War, the Rise of Mao…to name just a few of the mass death dominos.  If there was no Hitler all the hate, death, and inhumanity of that era could have died in the crib with him.  It’s a compelling myth – if one considers just how much death there was in so many areas of the world one has to – has to – at least consider that all of humanity is evil.  World War II ended when two nuclear bombs were dropped on civilians – two communities completely destroyed – by the good guys.


By establishing Hitler as a “Great Man” and make him the effigy for all the hate and evil, we forgive and forget far too much.  The Germans weren’t the only ones with death camps – they were practically common at the time.  The Japanese inflicted horrors on the Chinese, as did our allies the Russians upon themselves, as did the British, as did the United States – the lesser evil is still evil.  So much of this has been forgotten – but to illustrate consider this single question?

How many people were killed in Nazi Death Camps?

Unless you are incredibly well-informed you probably answered 6 million…6 million it’s a staggering number.  I don’t think we can conceive of it.  Texas Stadium seats approximately one hundred thousand football fans.  If all of them were killed after a game…a hundred thousand…it would take 60 games (seven and a half seasons if we assume the Cowboys never make the playoffs – which is a safe assumption.)  That should frighten the hell out of you, that a government, any government could do that, has the ability to do that…but the number is wrong.

The 6 million figure has been burned into our collective consciousness because so many well-meaning people were afraid that the 6 million jews killed by the Nazis would be forgotten, forgotten or hidden away by history.  It was not an empty fear, many people, some not even insane, have claimed this never happened.  So the number is repeated, it’s discussed, it is known.  It comes up in movies books and other media entertainment and what have you – if you still subscribe to the Hitler as a Great Man Theory you have to admit the fiend’s war was responsible for an awful lot of entertainment.  It has worked.  Ask 100 educated people how many died in Nazi concentration camps and you’ll get the answer “6 million” 95+% of the time…

But the answer is 11 million…efforts to remember the 6 million have allowed 5 million to be forgotten.

And that’s why we study history…

~ by flyosophy on January 6, 2014.

One Response to “Great Man History”

  1. With a degree in history I’m of the thought that movements develop and in an effort to explain them we did what our hunter/gather ancestors did around the camp fire on cold nights, make stuff up. Have to make the story interesting. There has to be heroes and villains. The good guys have to prevail. The truth is complicated. Simplify.
    WW II ended 69 years ago. Disturbing details are still emerging. Japanese forces systematically resorted to eating prisoners. The Imperial government issued bullets, fuel and weapons. Ground forces had to live off the land. My uncle was a Marine in the Pacific he reported finding captured dead Americans with their legs and arms hacked off. Officers told them it was torture. The Military suppressed the canabilism practice because we needed the Japanese as allies in the expected post war difficulties with Russia.
    In the European theater, the allies carpet bombed the area around Calais killing hundreds of thousand French civilians. This was done to convince the Germans the allied invasion would occur there. Then there is the fire bombing of German cities. The allies prevailed. The so called Greatest Generation myth made everyone happy.
    What I do know is there is and has been evil. My responsibility is not to contribute to it.

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