Monday, March 29, 2021

George Armstrong Custer and the Judgement of History

George Armstrong Custer

Is it possible to write “objective” history? Every writer is a prisoner of his/her own time and personal biases (both intentional and unintentional). “Good history” is as subjective a term as “good law”, both are subject to the shifting values of the times and subject to the vagaries of advocacy. Just as there is “Enough law for every client’s position”, so too there appears to be enough history to serve a multitude of worthy ends if one doesn’t insist on one eternal, immutable and knowable Truth. Worthy ends such as: (1) History as art (fact based expositions of the human condition much like the fictional exposition of the human condition found in novels), (2) history as predictive tool (e.g. military after action reports), and (3) history as an instrument of socialization (an inclusive and expanding public mythology for an immigrant nation). History is not an immutable thing, but a process and a set of relationships…fragile, contested, unstable, and sometimes explosive. Robert M. Utley perhaps said it best in remarks made at the ceremonies commemorating the centennial of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. “The fact is that history, like life, is complex, contradictory, and ambiguous. There are few genuine heroes or villains in real life, merely people who are sometimes heroic, sometimes villainous, but most of the time simply human.”

The Tragic story of Marcus Reno

Custer’s Last Stand: Portraits in Time

Since his death along the bluffs overlooking the Little Bighorn River, in Montana, on June 25, 1876, over five hundred books have been written about the life and career of George Armstrong Custer. Views of Custer have changed over succeeding generations. Custer has been portrayed as a callous egotist, a bungling egomaniac, a genocidal war criminal, and the puppet of faceless forces. For almost one hundred and fifty years, Custer has been a Rorschach test of American social and personal values. Whatever else George Armstrong Custer may or may not have been, even in the twenty-first century, he remains the great lightning rod of American history. This book presents portraits of Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn as they have appeared in print over successive decades and in the process demonstrates the evolution of American values and priorities.




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