One of the problems with conventional histories is that they are narratives designed to show a particular sequence of cause and effect. But when there are multiple causes there can be a dispute over which of these created the observed effect. Take the Western Allied air campaign against Nazi Germany. No one can dispute that Germany was beaten, but the extent to which the air campaign caused that defeat, or even subsidiary parts of it are disputed to this day.
In an era when only 20% of US “precision” bombing fell within 1,000 feet of a target and most of British bombing was in fact directed against area targets what, in terms of brute arithmetic, contributed most to the fall of Nazidom. Was it the attack on enemy industrial targets? The diversions of thousands of artillery pieces that might otherwise have been used to resist the Soviets to serve as flak? Was it the destruction of the oil supplies of the Third Reich? Was it even the fact that it drew the Luftwaffe into the air where they were eventually destroyed by long range fighter aircraft?
No one will ever write the last word on it. The truth is immured in 70 years of time and grows more distant by the day. All that we know is what the planners of the air campaign intended. Whether they achieved it or not is another matter altogether. There are three videos below which form a snapshot of USAAF thinking during the period and readers may find them entertaining if not informative.
Just how powerful narratives can be — and how fragile is our hold on them — is illustrated by Spengler‘s latest post on Robert Spencer’s new work: Did Mohammed Exist? Spencer contends — and he is not alone — that Islam was simply concocted as a rival “product” to Christianity and Judaism adjusted to suit an Arab audience.
Lest anyone be overly shocked, Spengler notes that many have long argued that neither Moses nor Jesus existed either. However — and this is Spencer’s point — there is far more evidence to suggest this about Mohammed than for either Jesus or Moses. Here is how Spengler puts it.
Why invent a new religion? There have been efforts since the 18th century to recast Moses as a renegade Egyptian priest of a sun-worshiping sort of monotheism who became the leader of the backward Hebrews. We find this canard repeated from Schiller’s essay “Moses’ Mission” to Freud’s 1938 Moses and Monotheism. But Judaism is not monotheism as such, but a human relationship with an infinite God who loves and suffers with his people. Vast amounts of scholarship show similarities between the language of the covenant in the Bible and earlier legal documents in the region, or parallelisms between Ugaritic hymns and the Psalms. These are interesting but have no direct bearing on the astonishing innovation of Jewish revelation: nowhere in earlier history do we hear of an infinite and eternal God who also has a personality and engages human beings with love.
Serious scholars no longer argue that Judaism is somehow descended from an Egyptian sun cult. No-one has yet explained, moreover, why an ancient tribe would invent a history that portrayed its ancestors as slaves, or itself as conquerors of a land rather than as its autochthonous and legitimate inhabitants. In short, there is neither a literary, nor an historical, nor an anthropological, nor an archaeological argument against the Jewish claim that the written and oral laws were given to Moses at Mt. Sinai.
Christianity proposes to extend the Jewish covenant to all of humankind. After countless academic lives have burned out in the “search for the historical Jesus,” no reputable scholar claims to be able to demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth was a fiction. One can argue about the reliability of different accounts of Jesus, but not the existence of Jesus himself. The Christian doctrine of Jesus’ resurrection cannot be refuted. One believes it, or not.
But Islam is an entirely different matter. We have extensive archaeological evidence in the form of coins and inscriptions from the 7th century, and there is no mention of a new religion in any of them until 70 years after Mohammed’s supposed death, as Nevo and Koren showed in their 2003 book Crossroads to Islam. Two centuries go by before an account of Mohammed’s life is circulated. The Koran itself is evidently a compilation that draws on contemporary Jewish and Christian sources, in a language that often does not resemble Arabic.
Leaving aside the fact that the possibility that all three monotheisms are ahistorical and therefore proof that a narrative can be manufactured to endure for millenia, why invent a new religion indeed? At the moment I am reading Leonard Susskind’s The Black Hole War. It is an account of how Leonard Susskind and Gerard t’Hooft contended with Stephen Hawking over the question of whether information can be destroyed. The book “is the thrilling story of their united effort to reconcile Hawking’s revolutionary theories of black holes with their own sense of reality-effort that would eventually result in Hawking admitting he was wrong, paying up, and Susskind and t’Hooft realizing that our world is a hologram projected from the outer boundaries of space.”
But properly read, it is also a book about why men are almost compelled to think religion. In the course of the narrative, Susskind, who is a liberal atheist, finds himself allied or meeting with brilliant physicists who are evangelical Christians or worse, people who are Mormons and finds himself wondering how such mathematically adept and intelligent individuals could conceivably believe as they did. In a certain scene, one of his key allies tries to prove with 95% probability that Jesus was the Son of God. Susskind finds himself vexed by the “Darwinian mystery of irrational faith [that] had wormed its way into my brain”.
He might have asked himself what his co-physicists thought of his “irrational” commitment to atheism from the other end of the telescope. But then irrationality is one of those things we see more easily in others than in ourselves. Perhaps there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy, speaking as one hologram to another. The total information content of the universe is probably on the order of the smallest particle in it able to hold a given state — therefore representing a bit — times the number of such unit particles in the universe. How many bits are there in the universe? A big number — certainly even more than I can grasp at once, maybe even a number even bigger than the Federal deficit.
The sheer size of reality — and therefore God — is such that if He were to appear before me, it would be literally impossible to recognize the fact except in suggestion, like a vista whose sweep could never be taken in at a single glance. The problem with all definite pronouncements about the Truth is “would we recognize it — could we recognize it — if we saw it?”
And with that we can perhaps the forgive the architects of the Strategic Bombing of Germany for falling short of doctrinal perfection. They thought they were doing something. And perhaps they were.
Think about it. Susskind and Gerard t’Hooft are happy they beat Stephen Hawking, but the 8th Air Force was content to claim they made a large contribution to beating the Luftwaffe. Maybe that is all we know and all we need to know.