Historical documents are not relied upon, they are interrogated

A commenter scoffed at the idea that Neville Chamberlain might be vindicated for his decision at Munich in 1938 by "relying on" the exact same sources of information that Chamberlain used.

But this is a serious misapprehension of the historical method. Historians do not "rely" upon their sources. They use their sources' words as evidence giving clues as to what happened, not as statements of what did happen. For instance, consider Biston's Inscription, where Darius the Great declared: 
26. Darius the King says: An Armenian named Dadarshi, my subject -- I sent him forth to Armenia. I said to him: "Go forth, that rebellious army which does not call itself mine, that do you smite!" Thereupon Dadarshi marched off. When he arrived in Armenia, thereafter the rebels assembled (and) came out against Dadarshi to join battle. A place named Zuzahya, in Armenia -- there they joined battle. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda my army smote that rebellious army exceedingly; of the month Thuravahara 8 days were past, then the battle was fought by them.

27. Darius the King says: Again a second time the rebels assembled (and) came out against Dadarshi to join battle. A stronghold named Tigra, in Armenia -- there they joined battle. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda my army smote that rebellious army exceedingly; of the month Thuravahara 18 days were past, then the battle was fought by them.

28. Darius the King says: Again a third time the rebels assembled (and) came out against Dadarshi to join battle. A fortress named Uyama, in Armenia -- there they joined battle. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda my army smote that rebellious army exceedingly; of the month Thaigarci 9 days were past, then the battle was fought by them. Thereafter Dadarshi waited for me until I arrived in Media.

29. Darius the King says: Thereafter a Persian named Vaumisa, my subject-him I sent forth to Armenia. Thus I said to him: "Go forth; the rebellious army which does not call itself mine -- smite them!" Thereupon Vaumisa marched off. When he arrived in Armenia, then the rebels assembled (and) came out against Vaumisa to join battle. A district named Izala, in Assyria -- there they joined battle. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda my army smote that rebellious army exceedingly; of the month Anamaka 15 days were past, then the battle was fought by them.

30. Darius the King says: Again a second time the rebels assembled (and) came out against Vaumisa to join battle. A district named Autiyara, in Armenia -- there they joined battle. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda my army smote that rebellious army exceedingly; on the last day of the month Thuravaharâthen the battle was fought by them. After that, Vaumisa waited for me in Armenia until I arrived in Media.
I count about four times the Armenians are "smote." And that is a very good indication that, despite what Darius said, the first three battles were inconclusive. Historians examine Darius's claim, not rely upon it, and they have used his own words claiming a series of decisive victories as evidence that, in fact, the Armenians were giving him a heck of a fight.

1 comment:

  1. I am not the commenter who you refer to in this post. However, I did make a dismissive comment about Chamberlain in the original post, and then didn't go back until after reading this post, so I am only now seeing the two responses you made to my comment. You are right that the Slate article defending Chamberlain cited the opinion of a historian and that this historian has reviewed archival materials relating to the Munich crisis that I have not. But I do not believe it is correct to say that the opinion cited represents some kind of expert consensus on the matter. There are other historians (e.g. R.A.C. Parker) who have reviewed the same materials and yet have concluded that Chamberlain had other options, and that his decisions were flawed. Personally I find the idea that Chamberlain handled the Munich Crisis correctly to be implausible for the reasons I mentioned in my original comment. But I recognize that there are experts on both sides of the issue, and I could very well be wrong.

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