Was “World War II” Just a Myth?

The following is excerpted from “Letter from a Higher Critic” by Stewart Robb, which appeared in pp. 239-244 of the collection Analog 6, ed. John W. Campbell, Conde Nast Publications 1966, 1968; Pocket Book edition 1969.


May 5, 2415

[To:] Mark Livingstone,

25 The Standards,

Verneville, Alassippi

Dear Mark:
in your last letter you made one palpable hit, but only one: I admit that the atomic wars of the Twenty-first Century and the cataclysms of the Twenty-second Century destroyed so much of our cultural inheritance, including nearly all our Nineteenth and Twentieth Century history, that there is very little we can turn to of those times that is authentic. Apparently that is the only point we will be able to agree on.

I cannot possibly believe, for instance, as you do, that there ever did exist an Abraham Lincoln as so glowingly portrayed by our two or three surviving “history” digests; nor can I believe there ever was a World War II, at least such as they described. Wars, yes – there have always been wars, and a World War II may have occurred – but certainly not with such incredible concomitants.

In short, your history is much too fictional for me.

So pardon me if I prove my point by doing a hatchet job on this medley of stuff you seem so sure of, this history which is about as reliable and as imaginatively romantic as the Bible myths. My method of demolition will be identical to that of those commendably clearheaded iconoclasts of earlier days, the Higher Critics. What they did to the Bible, including the Moses and Christ legends, I shall do with our nearly equally revered American history, so-called, and perhaps more thoroughly.

Let me begin my act of demolition by making an analogy, one that is possible thanks to the fortunate survival of that now famous Lord Chumley collection of English plays. In browsing through some of these playwrights of the Elizabethan, Restoration and even later periods I noticed that they had a cute habit of giving names to their characters that fitted the parts they played in the plots. For instants, Sir Giles Overreach was overreaching, Abhorson was a nasty fellow, Sir Fopling Flutter was an effeminate dandy, Wellborn was a fine young gentleman, and so on.

Now it is precisely this fictional method of applying names that dismays me when I see the obvious evidence of it in our so-called American history, and thus I am led to the inescapable conclusion that what so many of us regard as history is not history at all but pure romancing by flag-waving minstrels, though it has come down to us as sober fact. Not that this legend-building is anything new. The Song of Roland and the deeds of Arthur and the Knights of the Grail were all once considered historical. Those romances, with a little history mixed in, or simply the troubadours’, skalds’ or minstrels’ exploitation and exultation of their respective heroes and lands.

Now let me get down to brass tacks with higher criticism and start in with “World War II”. This terrific conflict, so the story goes, resulted in the victory of right over wrong, of decency over tyranny, of the Anglo-Saxon peoples (mainly) over the wicked Teutons! There was a big bad wolf in this fairytale named Adolf Hitler, a German ogre who burned people alive in ovens by the millions and nearly conquered the world! Now don’t you think that whoever made up this part of the yarn knew that the name Adolf in Old High German means Wolf Prince? And isn’t it a coincidence that he descendent like a wolf on the fold of the innocent sheep nations of Poland, Czechoslovakia and other helpless countries? This name is a fancy of the poets, surely!

Let us proceed. The great nation France is beaten to its knees by the mighty marauder, whereupon a folk-hero named De Gaulle arises who fights on against all odds, and later, with the coming of peace, assumes rule over a united Gaul. His name was beautifully tailored for his part. Note that it means “of France” or “of the French”, indicating that he was a true patriot, French of the French.

The names of the Russian leaders in this war also indicate the poet’s imaginative pen. The Wolf Prince meets with real resistance in his invasion of Russia, because the opposition here was headed by Stalin, which means Steel, and his head henchman Molotov, which signifies Hammer. (Probably the names also represented the Hammer and Sickle, symbols of the Communist cause.)

This mythical invasion of Russia by the German tyrant is no doubt simply a furbishing up of the earlier yarn of an invasion of the same land by the equally fabulous Napoleon, that is, Apollyon, the Destroyer, which the name means in Greek. Both conquerors invade with mighty multitudes, and both conquerors were trounced. Justice must triumph!

Now across the channel, at the outset of the Great War, so the story goes on, the British Empire was ruled by a mere servant-leader, fittingly named Chamberlain. But so desperate did the danger of the Wolf Prince’s invasion become that the chamberlain was forced to give way to the Master Defender of the British Isles, Churchill, the Church on the Hill, of course, representing the staunch, unshakable faith of the stubborn bulldog British. This name was clearly chosen for its positive, spiritual sound.

And across the Atlantic, where the Giant Ally of the Church on the Hill was preparing for war, the names of the protagonists were equally descriptive of their functions. As America was one of the good nations the names were selected for their affirmative sound. The great war-time president was Roosevelt, which is Dutch for Field of Roses. A name of excellent odor! Fabled to have written the presidents wartime and other speeches was Rosenman, that is, the Rose Man, the gardener who takes care of the flowers of speech of the Field of Roses. And the secretary of the treasury, the man who had had charge of the finances that kept the nation functioning was Morgenthau, symbolizing that he supplied the refreshing morning dew for the roses. And the secretary of state, that is, the ship of state, was of course good old Hull.

Well, I could go on and on, for our romancing historians enjoyed the creation of such curious coincidences. Here’s another obvious one: just as they had dusted off the Napoleon Apollyon legend to reapply it to the Wolf Prince, so in like manner they borrowed a still earlier so-called historical event, reversed it to disguise the source, and applied it to the Great War. In 1066, so it was fabled and generally believed, Normandy invaded England. At the head of the invading troops, so the minstrels reported, was a minstrel-warrior named Taillefer, a hero who struck the first blow of the war. So our latter-day minstrels fabled just had as Normandy invaded England, England and the Allies now invaded Normandy. And to the leader of the conquering forces the poet historians gave that same name of Taillefer, only this time they translated it first into German, Eisenhower. Both names, you are aware, mean Iron-Hewer, a most fitting epithet for men of war!

Now let me ask a rhetorical question. Do you really believe that these names: Adolf Hitler, De Gaulle, Molotov, Stalin, Chamberlain, Churchhill, Roosevelt, Rosenman, Morgenthau, Hull and Eisenhower could have sprung up by chance? And yet if they are real historical names, chance and chance alone must have operated in their selection. Therefore, I say that this history, that you and so many others credit as true history, is as legendary as the Bible stories, and for similar reasons. True history is meaningless and springs by happenstance from a meaningless world.

I note that you also mentioned in your letters, and frequently, that American folk-hero, Abraham Lincoln, and you actually seem to be convinced there was such a man. I, too, should certainly like to be able to believe the human race capable of producing so noble a being, but here is just another instance where the facts firmly forbid me to do so. As usual, let us first analyze the name. Abraham was well chosen. It immediately suggests father Abraham, the Bible patriarch. The name in Hebrew means Father of a Multitude. All this Lincoln was. He loomed above the Civil War like a Colossus, holding the nation together and keeping it one and indivisible. Preserver of his nation, saviour of his people, he was veritably the father figure of a multitude, was he not? And a father figure on which the conspirators could vent their malice.

Notice, too, how frequently he is likened to the Savior of Mankind…Our poet-patriots made up a perfect parallel between him and the solar myth savior of mankind. As follows:

Christ was a martyr.
Lincoln was a martyr.

Christ was slain on Good Friday.

Lincoln was slain on Good Friday!
So Lincoln joins the crucified saviors of mankind.

Now whatever the story is, it is not history. It could not possibly be. It stands to reason that the assassins of Lincoln would not have liken him to the All Good Man, so they could not have martyrized him on the one and only day that would in the minds of mankind ineffacably symbolize him as a type of Christ. Understand the story for what it was, a sentimental, Bible-type legend, and the creation of such a parallel is poetically, beautifully justifiable – though, of course, extremely far-fetched even for fiction.

No, sir, Abraham Lincoln is to be added to Moses and Christ as another myth!…You see, friend, a great deal of what has survived of our American history is, in my opinion pure legend, created by very human poet-patriots, whose burning desire was to show our nation in the most favorable light possible…Such bosh warms my heart but it splits my head. It’s beyond reason…

As ever,

Your friend,
Frazer Boughton


About ScottBuchanan

Ph D chemical engineer, interested in intersection of science with my evangelical Christian faith. This intersection includes creation(ism) and miracles. I also write on random topics of interest, such as economics, folding scooters, and composting toilets. Background: B.A. in Near Eastern Studies, a year at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a year working as a plumber and a lab technician. Then a B.S.E. and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Since then, conducted research in an industrial laboratory. Published a number of papers on heterogeneous catalysis, and an inventor on over 80 U.S. patents in diverse technical areas.
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9 Responses to Was “World War II” Just a Myth?

  1. josephurban says:

    Is this letter serious or is it supposed to be a joke?

    • Joseph, I was not able, in a brief internet search, to find out much biographical information about the author, Steward Robb. Since he was publishing back in the mid-1960s, he may well have passed away by now. He published books on Nostradamus, and on Wagner’s works, in both cases doing his own translations from the original languages. He seems to have been interested in spiritualism; I found no evidence he was an orthodox theist of any particular stripe. He seems to have been intrigued by all the name coincidences for leaders in WWII. I think most or all of what he points out there is genuine. Whether he himself believed in the Bible stories, or whether he just leveraged that angle to make his essay more controversial, I do not know.

  2. A very witty piece, but one that fails in its main objective, as a satirical critique of biblical textual criticism, and of the scholarly rejection of Exodus. The reason for rejecting the Exodus account is, not that we have too little recorded history of the period, but that we have too much. It beggars belief that the rich Egyptian record would be silent about such catastrophes as the sudden death of all the firstborn and the loss of the Egyptian army in the Sea of Suf. Or that the wanderings of the Israelites across the much-excavated Sinai peninsula would have left no trace. Or that, as shown by Finkelstein and Silberman, the language used in Exodus to describe Egypt matches the seventh century BCE rather than the thirteenth?

    And let me be more provocative. Why would anyone even want to believe that these things are true, especially when, according to Exodus itself, they depend on YHWH intervening at crucial moments to “harden Pharaoh’s heart”?

    Grains of truth built into the narrative? Yes, and here the jesting reference to the Song of Roland is spot on. Roland is historical, but was not killed in conflict with the Moors. There really was a destruction of the Cities of the Plain by fire from Heaven (meteorite airburst), but a few centuries before the time attributable to Abraham. There really was a sacking of Jericho, but again a few centuries too early for the biblical narrative. The skies may well have darkened after the explosion of Thera, and no doubt there was on occasion serious flooding in Sumeria…the

    • Paul, I think the author’s main point, which seems to me a valid one, is that we should not be too quick to dismiss an ancient story on merely literary grounds. For instance, the fact that Abraham (“Father of Nations”) or Moses (“Draw Out” [of the Nile]) have names that fit their roles or personal histories is not of itself reason to claim that later pious writers must have made up these narratives.

      That said, I fully agree with you that independent historical evidence (inscriptions, artifacts, other ancient literature, etc.) should be considered in evaluating the historicity of biblical stories. And I agree that the independent substantiation of the Exodus story is problematic, and does not seem to be getting stronger as more data is accumulated.

      My interest here is more in the New Testament historical issues. There, in contrast with the Exodus and patriarchal stories of the Old Testament, many of the confident skeptical pronouncements on these sorts of literary grounds by scholars of the nineteenth century have been overturned by archeological discoveries in the twentieth century. ( I discuss some of these instances, e.g. the Pool of Bethesda, in https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/historicity-of-jesus/ ).

      BTW, Your comment seems to have been cut off in midstream – – you were sharing some interesting observations about possible historical antecedents to other O.T. stories. I hadn’t heard about the meteoric airburst theory for the Cities of the Plain.

  3. JimV says:

    Excellent example of a superficial analysis. I think a deeper analysis would find that most names have heroic associations, and were created originally and later re-assigned for those associations, so finding lots of heroic associations among a random collection of names is not amazing. It reminds me of Dr. Gelman’s “Garden of Forking Paths” statistical fallacy.

    I think I read that anthology and vaguely remember the short story. If its point was to suggest that improbable coincidences are not a good basis for disbelieving ancient legends, and specifically Bible stories, I think it fails in two ways: 1) the example it chose was not well-analyzed as suggested above; and 2) that example is largely irrelevant to the historical accuracy of Biblical stories, which are not improbable due to the names used, but due to the lack of logic, science, and collaborative archaeological and historical information.

    For example, as far as I know, Egypt has no archaeological evidence or cultural memory of the Moses story, except as it repeats features of older legends (abandoned babies in reed baskets). The story conflicts with known science and contains logical contradictions (after seeing ten plagues and the parting of a sea, 30-40% of the Israelis decide they can make a better god to protect them out of melted trinkets; and after receiving a direct command not to do murder, other Israelis murder them with no consequences). The first time I heard this story at about ten years old I found it unbelievable (although a dramatic and interesting story–which needed a good script doctor).

    (In fairness, most made-up stories in novels and movies do not make total sense. See Jenny Nicholson’s YouTube review of “Fantastic Beasts 2” for another bad example.)

    • JimV, the only other abandoned baby in a reed basket that I know of was Sargon of Akkad (his own claim). Which was Mesopotamian, in line with the idea of Mesopotamian influence on the Pentateuch. But I would really like to learn about others

    • Hi Jim, thoughtful comment as usual. Re your first point, I disagree that the essay fails to make the point that improbable name associations (of themselves) are grounds to dismiss historicity. You are right to point out that many names could be taken to have heroic connotations, but the Taillefer/Eisenhower connection, the fearsome Wolf Prince, and Roosevelt/Rosenman association, Secretary Hull, and Abraham (Lincoln) all go beyond being merely “heroic” names.
      Lots of seemingly improbable things do occur in this world, which *could* include an historically accurate Bible character such as Abraham or Moses , or Jesus (“Jehovah Saves”); I think statisticians have actually demonstrated that there is a high chance of individual events or coincidences that seem wildly improbable to our intuition. So I think the author’s contention stands, that a literary issue like a targeted name is not of itself a reason to reject historicity.

      As I noted above, I fully agree that Bible stories should be subjected to historical/archaeological/scientific analysis to help decide if they actually happened. As you know from my articles on this blog, I have looked pretty hard at the evidence surrounding the Genesis creation story, and found that this story simply cannot be taken to be literally true. (I get intense criticism for this from my fundamentalist brethren, but I have to call it as I see it).

      As for the rest of the Old Testament (post-Genesis) narratives, I am not sure what to think. For the Exodus, as you and Paul Braterman point out, the archaeological and documentary evidence that conservatives hoped to find seems to be lacking. Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence, but if you find the Exodus story not credible, I cannot argue otherwise.

      On the other hand I have looked at the New Testament narratives, and found them to be generally well-supported, at least as much as one might reasonably expect for ancient history. The late nineteenth/early twentieth century “Higher Critics” made various arguments on literary grounds that, for instance, the Gospel of John was written as late as mid-second century A.D. and that the Book of Acts was all a fanciful yarn. As I noted above, later archeological evidence has shown that this cavalier, wholesale dismissal of New Testament historicity by the Higher Critics was unwarranted.

  4. josephurban says:

    I guess I missed the satire. Sorry. I often consider historical accounts to be questionable. I mean , look at modern America.
    We have actual factual data and that does not stop many from denying reality and constructing their own myths. One example, Barack Obama was born in Kenya ! Even though there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate otherwise, there are many folks who believe that.
    If we can demonstrate a fact and it is still rejected, how can we trust historical accounts from 1000 or even 500 years ago? Which accounts survived? Which didn’t? While, as you noted, these accounts may have a “grain” of truth, the story depends on who decides to bake the grain into what kind of bread. And which bread survives.

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