Category Archives: Barbara W. Tuchman

History Is the Unfolding of Miscalculations

Barbara W. Tuchman? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The popular historian Barbara W. Tuchman crafted one or both of the following cautionary adages:

  1. War is the unfolding of miscalculations.
  2. History is the unfolding of miscalculations.

Sometimes the final word is singular. Would you please help me unravel this mystery?

Quote Investigator: In 1971 Tuchman published “Stilwell and the American Experience in China: 1911-45”. She discussed the strategies adopted by Chiang Kai-shek who was the leader of the Kuomintang of China. His overall plans did not succeed, and he retreated to Taiwan in 1949 after suffering defeat on the mainland. Tuchman wrote the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

History is the unfolding of miscalculations, and Chiang had made several.

QI has been unable to find solid evidence that Tuchman used the variant expression with “war” instead of “history” although the 1973 citation given further below ascribed the variant to her.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1971, Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 by Barbara W. Tuchman (Barbara Wertheim Tuchman), Chapter 6: Vinegar Joe, Quote Page 132, The Macmillan Company, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

Nothing is More Unfair than to Judge the Men of the Past by the Ideas of the Present

Barbara W. Tuchman? Denys Arthur Winstanley? Anonymous?

trojan08Dear Quote Investigator: The popular historian Barbara W. Tuchman suggested that it was unfair to “judge men of the past by the ideas of the present”. She credited this interesting stance to an unnamed English historian. Yet, I have been unable to determine the identity of this astute chronicler; there was no footnote. Would you please trace this statement?

Quote Investigator: Barbara W. Tuchman was quoting the words of Denys Arthur Winstanley of The University of Cambridge as detailed in the 1912 citation presented further below.

Similar thoughts have been expressed on multiple occasions in the past. For example, in 1821 a literary journal printed an article titled “On the Character of Socrates” which included the following passage: 1

…we think nothing is more unfair than to judge of the sentiments of one age by the improved moral perceptions of another…

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1821, The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, Volume 1, On the Character of Socrates, Start Page 555, Quote Page 566, Henry Colburn and Co., London. (Google Books Full View) link