My advanced placement, European history teacher told me that the use of
analogies was not legitimate historic writing. I have written with that in mind ever since when dealing with historical subjects. Like many truths, it has limits.

A historian—even an amateur—must develop the ability to narrate events and culture flatly yet with verve, a tall order.

There are things for which adequate analogies do not exist. As Dan Carlin rightly says, “every analogy has a silly aspect,” and one must be able to sort those. However, when describing events to people who are not versed in the history under question, analogies work.

The two analogies I use the most are these.

In Plantation America, non-slave owners all had to work slave patrol. Yet men who held large gangs of slaves were exempt from slave patrol. As a grocer, I have used the analogy supposing a law that demanded that small scale food retailers must gather the shopping carts for Walmart. This is a perfect direct analogy of the economic juxtaposition of the non-slave owner competing with the slave owner. However, equating a slave to a shopping cart is quite silly.

In describing the Zulu war machine versus the British garrison at Rourke’s Drift, I said yesterday:

“Imagine training the NBA in close combat. Then forbidding them to have sex, even with their wives, until they have killed in battle. Then sending them after a small town police department with spears.”

Maintaing Balance

Well, in describing the rise and fall of the Japanese Imperial Empire, Dan makes credible use of analogies to supplement his direct narrative.

His primary analogy is describing nations who embark on the imperialistic path as akin to a bodybuilder addicted to steroid use. He also plumbs the very stark limits of racialist reasoning.

One needs to strike a balance. A study of the rise and decline of the modern Japanese, is a stark lesson in perspective balance and the peril of generalization taken to human extremes.

Both the Japanese and their opponents engaged, by turns, in race-based reasoning. They suffered terribly for misjudging their enemies and themselves.

From the Russians who sneered at the Japanese as “yellow monkeys,” and the Japanese war planners who referred to North America as a potential “brood home for the great Japanese race,” and its American occupants as “jabbering mongrel hordes” easily swept aside by a “martial people,” [1] disaster awaited grinning in the darkness cast by their own blind thoughts.