Why the capture of a Russian T-90M tank matters (The Economist)
Something good can be drawn from even the worst military history. A skeptical reading of the past sharpens critical thinking skills, like how to pick out between really good and really bad military history. It’s all about lumpers and splitters.
What are lumpers and splitters? In an essay entitled “The Burden of Proof,” historian J. H. Hexter described what makes for bad history. First, there are the lumpers; they collect all the stuff that supports their conclusions and just ignore or dismiss the rest. The splitters, in contrast, fixate on a particular piece of evidence and, from that example, draw broad generalizations.
Lumpers and splitters have one thing in common: they act like a prosecutor who gets to decide which evidence both sides can present at trial. Consequently, both lumping and splitting yield the same results: deterministic and reductionist verdicts on the past, not critical analysis.
Cherry-picking the past gets peddled as history all the time. Take the recent case of the 1619 Project, awarded a Pulitzer Prize for its contention that America was founded on racism and remains racist to its core. People took this “history” as gospel until real historians started to point out how project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones had stacked the evidence to make her case. In the end, even Hannah-Jones acknowledged the “project” was not history. Instead, she claimed it was an “origins story.”