Saturday, March 28, 2020

Gerhard Weinberg and Hari Seldon

On page 29 of A World at Arms, Gerhard Weinberg writes, “The personal element was Hitler’s fear of an early death for himself or, alternatively, the preference for leading Germany into war while he was still vigorous rather than aging.  Identifying Germany’s fate and future with his personal life and his role in its history, Hitler preferred to lead the country into war himself, lest his successors lack the will to do so.  He also thought of his age as a factor of importance; it is impossible to ignore his repeated extraordinary assertions in 1938 that he preferred to go to war at the age of forty-nine and in 1939 that he would rather lead his nation at the age of fifty than go to war when fifty-five or sixty years old.  In this regard one enters a realm yet to be seriously and reliably explored by psychohistorians. . . .”

I’m obviously not far into Weinberg’s book, but I’ve already encountered several comments that have puzzled me.  The above is one of them.  What Hitler is doing here is, it seems to me, little more than “counting the cost.” 

            For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.  [From Luke 14]

I have been doing something like this for a long time in regard to my dogs.  I haven’t had normal hearing for a long time and so appreciate having a dog who can warn me of various things on hikes and more recently when Amazon or UPS is delivering a package downstairs.  Earlier last year I was counting the ages of my dogs: Ben and Duffy both turned nine.  Jessica turned three.  There was nothing physically wrong with me, and family and friends thought I would live to a hundred.  Shoot, maybe I would, in which case I might even out-live Jessica.  I was definitely slowing down, maybe the dog after Jessica should be less energetic . . . that was my thinking before one or more of my dogs knocked me down from the stairs and I ended up with a broken patella which doctors didn’t want to repair because of my age.  And while no other ailment has been discovered, I do feel less permanent and have quit worrying about what dog to get after I lose Jessica.  I think more nowadays of which one of my kids would be best to take Jessica when she outlives me.  

Don’t most of us do this sort of thing?  Do we all need psychohistorians? 

Or . . . is Gerhard Weinberg making a joke?  I haven’t heard the term “psychohistorian” since reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation.  I thought of that and Hari Seldon, but then I thought, surely not.  Surely Weinberg is being serious.  Someone I read said historians keep advancing (or something like that).  Maybe modern historians use the term (knowingly borrowed from Asimov) to refer to historians who delve into psychological elements of a major-person’s history.  Shoot, I don’t know. 

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