Stefan K. Beck, Privatgelehrter und Projektemacher

On my work about the Independence of the Bolivarian countries in South America

Cogito, ergo sum. (René Descartes)

Anyone interested in the history of South America will encounter the necessity to deal with the subject of Independence. It is doubtless an enthralling succession of events, which offer in detail and ample context of a wide variety of opportunities for research. It is my intention to create a preferably large number of interested persons for the subject, by writing an exciting book, maybe like Gregory of Tours. It courts my resentment, being obliged to do fundamental research in not few cases. Even worse, I doubt that changes are desired at all.

But I admit that it gives me pleasure to read in old documents and the works of the first historians of the Bolivarian countries. Because this is what I limit myself to, since I cannot lose more time, filtering out genuine information of the tangled mass of interpretation in newer works. Surely, every researcher lives on the interpretation of his results, but if the information takes a back seat, I am ungracious. In my time as a structural geologist, I always stated that the study of outcrops is obligatory until the beard is grey, in order to achieve the right to launch overall interpretations. Already during my time as a tutor at the university, when I felt obliged to correct professors and doctors for the sake of the students, I was dedicated to the humility of Plato that was inherited by Socrates: "I know that know nothing". The field work of the historians is the visit of archives, that are at least protected from atmospheric exposure, including the study of original manuscripts, considering that there are no further differences. The integration of labours of the colleagues is generally uncomplicated. But the works created uniquely on this base are only good for further discrediting of humanities.

The amount of possibilities committing errors in the field of Independence is almost unlimited for various reasons. Therefore it would be a miracle, if I would have found all of them and thus be able to write error-free myself. My mistakes though, are on the level outcrops, which make the results still valid for large-scaled interpretations which I do abstain largely. Following, the most important reasons for errors are mentioned in order to contribute to the mitigation of the most established sources of errors. Even if it is only be to fortify the thesis of Sir Karl Raimund Popper: "We do not know, we guess...".

For the first source of errors, my lector found a nice metaphor: visiting a party, you leave early and ask in the following days other participants of the party, what happened afterwards. The answers will surely differ, even though it was the same event that everybody attended. If the party took place not only a few days ago, but a lot of years, there is a growing chance for a serious debate and controversy on what happened that day. This is one reason, why even reports of an event, observed by persons of the same attitude may differ. In this category surely fit the dozen different manuscripts of patriots in Bogotá, who were in town on 20th July 1810 (which is now national holiday and the beginning of the local independence process). In my knowledge these have not yet lead to a unified representation.

Another important reason is the embellishment of all participants without exception, in their reports of their military operations or later on when they author books. Therefore it does not make sense to exclude single authors, especially for there are neither authors capable to sustain their exaggerations and even lies for the purpose of self-manifestation, nor those who always report veridical. In these cases, only the comparison of as many representations as possible of an event by both parties will result in an accurate view. I read texts that I only understood completely after I knew the version of the opponent. An example here would be the accusations of the British Thomas Alexander Lord Cochrane and William Miller in the service of the patriots, against the Spanish officer Andrés García Camba. All of them published their memoirs. García Camba owned the right to comply potential requests of his mates to incorporate his eloquence into the reports for their superiors. However, just the chronicler of Ferdinand VII., Mariano Torrente, confirms involuntarily the allegation of embellishment by the two British, who exposed themselves to the same reproach, by taking in the reports of Spanish officers. Because he does not confront them with the necessary distance and criticism.

For the vastness of the field of investigation, it would make sense to compare the first editions of the acts of the first historians in order to find out, who adopted which Information from whom, since the convention of cites in references was introduced later. Here, more sources of errors should be found. There were only few chroniclers, on which the founders of history in the Bolivarian countries refer to. The study of these fountain-heads surely will unearth new insights.

For the traditions of the motherland Spain play a formative role in all countries and since the patriots back then had to collaborate in order to survive at least in their entirety, also today a transnational cooperation is necessary to achieve a profound comprehension of the history. I talked to historians in South America who revealed profound knowledge for their native countries. Nevertheless they were unaware of some events which significantly effected their countries even though they were only a few kilometres behind their borders. In this sense, the integration of Spanish historians is desirable. They are also able to contribute as participants of the process to the objective clarification of the circumstances.

The next cardinal error is to limit on texts from and about Bolívar and his henchmen. Because these provide in lots of cases only the function of propaganda. During the war this was a legitimate media to strengthen the moral of his troops and to cause undecided parts of the population to take sides with the patriots. Afterwards, especially the vanquishers had no reason, to preserve factual untenable representations. Nevertheless, there are missing decisive parts of the war, without which a complete understanding cannot be possible. This leads to a question, why this happened. Bolívar was surely very interested in a glorious representation for the ensuing ages, but he did not actuate this systematically. For this purpose he annihilated documents or ordered to do so, when they did not fit in his image. But this does not explain why he was stylized posthumously to a superhuman, even though he was nothing but human.

Simón José Antonio de la Santissima Trinidad de la Concepción Bolívar y Palacios achieved the liberation from the colonial reign and therefore deserves great respect. It is nothing but normal, if not everything went according to plan, because the patriots had to exercise their experience first, and in many cases this is acknowledged. Besides all commanders possess, as mentioned, the inclination to exaggerated self-manifestation. Due to his inadequate dictatorial governance after the war, Bolívar easily fell into oblivion until his abiding General Rafael José Urdaneta Farías was able to transfer him after more than ten years from the cemetery of Santa Marta into the cathedral of Caracas. Once again over thirty years passed by, till Bolívar found his last resting-place in the National Pantheon in Caracas, as recently as two years after its inauguration. Such profound was the animosity against him and his policy during his last years. Thus, it is intelligible, that the Venezuelan Government commissioned an act, dignifying his lifework appropriately. Twelve years after his final burial, in the year 1888, the memoirs of Bolívar's Irish adjutant, Daniel Florence O'Leary were published by his son, bearing the first names Simon Bolivar. The 32 volumes consist one half each of narration and hand-picked documents. The act has undoubtedly its academic value, but without comparison to further sources, the use is only recommended with caution. This representation served primarily the purpose to raise the reputation of the Liberator to an adequate level.

Thus, it resulted an inadequate exaggeration of Bolívar, to which lots of authors, surely not enthused without good reason, adhered unexamined. In case the error was detected, it remained unmentioned. In other words, this means nothing else that posterior authors expanded Bolívars reputation beyond the reality, proved in the works of the first historians and documents. These writers lauded themselves indeed, but contributed primarily to degradation of Bolívar by excessive exaggeration. This phenomenon can also be observed with authors accentuating their native countries by means of abbreviated representations. During my investigation, I did not find more negative aspects than positive ones, rather vice versa.

And finally, it is not enough for writing about war just to be interested in the subject, it requires special skills. Nevertheless, I know texts, also upon other wars, where accurate work with sources by regular historians provided good results. However, usually military historians or historians with a preceding military career are the most qualified authors in order to really understand the events on historical battlefields. It all starts with the attitude towards the by far most important motor of history, the military conflict. Those who consider it simply as a necessary evil, will never be able to write meaningful things about war. The elation about successful military operations is a basic prerequisite.

He, who never realized the ingenuousness of Tutmose's happy medium through Mount Carmel for the battle of Megiddo; He, who never felt obliged to take the four meter long spear from Ajax during the defence of the Greek boats in the repulse of the Trojan counter-attack; He, who cannot really judge the fear of Gaius Julius on the hill in nowadays Belgium, when he directed encouraging words to his X. Legion; He, who cannot appreciate the march of Harold Godwinson from Stamford Bridge to Hastings; He, who never felt the urge to ask Richard Plantagenet, called Lionheart, in the hail of arrows, for his two-handed battleaxe, standing on a raft in the moat of the castle of de Templar de Bracey, to batter open the oaken gate; He, who cannot relate, why my friend, the retired colonel Arturo Castillo Machez, became starry-eyed, when I narrated details of the battle of Legnica, where the High Duke Henry of Silesia literally lost his head against the grandson of Genghis Khan, Batu; He, who never felt the urge to check personally Shakespeare's words for Henry V. before the battle of Azincourt; He, who is not aware of the reasons, why Rumiñahui had to leave the siege of Cusco against Francisco Pizarro; He, who did not comprehend the turning point for warfare during the siege and especially afterwards during the sacking of Magdeburg by Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly; He, who is unable to dignify the achievements in the defence of the fortress San Felipe in Cartagena de Indias against the huge fleet of Edward Vernon (and thus has no understanding, why Spanish Navy named a whole class of cruisers after him); He, who never realized why the Russians needed a second attempt for the castle of Narva against the Swedish; He, who never understood, why Sir Winston Churchill called the Silesian War the true First World War; He, who is not aware that it was the mass-produced Prussic artillery in Sedan, that decided the battle; He, who never comprehended for which achievements of the Peruvian Andrés Avelino Cáceres received a decoration from William I. during his stay in Germany; He, who never understood why Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck was the only German general in the 20. Century, who was justly buried with military honours; etc., He will never really be able to write about war.

Because war is always connected with to the loss of human life, there is no need to share my enthusiasm, but it surely helps to write my book. But everything has its limits. One reason, why I do not live in Medellín any more, is my refusal to let me be involved in the fights of criminal gangs.

The study of references is an indispensable condition, which can be complemented by a practical experience. Strategical and tactical simulations, from the antiquity up to the middle of the 20. Century, which I exercise over twenty years, created a profound comprehension for actions on the battlefield and for the preparation of military actions which serves me well, understanding official communiqués. Carl von Clausewitz was primary able to write such an outstanding manuscript for his lectures at Military School in Koblenz (posthumously published by his wife), since his heart was bleeding from the defeats of his Prussic Army against Napoleon.

I always regarded history as a continuation of geology during the times of written records, and therefore always being interested in the subject. Besides the critical, always questioning tenor of a scientist, I am able to contribute with special skills I acquired within the scope of my studies at the university. I had the privilege to take classes with one of the most capable professors for photo-geology and remote sensing, that existed in Germany at this time. I attended all of his classes, including mapping on aerial photographs in the Alps: since then, I could not judge the value of these methods high enough. I am neither able to evaluate the quality of military universities, nor the extend of its dissemination in this field among the officers. But it is well-known, that military images have a much better resolution than civilian ones. By means of maps and satellite-photos, I managed to allocate more passages of original documents to characteristics of the terrain for the manuscript of my book. In this way, I was able to improve and extend my understanding, also of the Boyacá Campaign. (Which regular historian ever noticed that the base map for the battle of Cerro de Pasco in the book of Mariano Paz Soldan is mirror-inverted.)

My research is exclusively value-free of, which I confirm here explicitly. The sadly deceased Arturo Castillo Machez, President of the Bolivarian Society of Venezuela, was aware of my attitude from various conversations. This was always an integral part of our friendship. When in last October, the secretary of the Bolivarian Society of Peru, as general coordinator of their publication "Bolivar", Dr. Theodoro Hampe Martínez, addressed to me for an academic article, I was gladly willing to aid. He reported at the X. World Congress of the Bolivarian Societies in Caracas within the same section than me and there were a few conversations. I was conceded only one week for the main text, so I was obliged to formulate in Spanish a small part of my investigation results in the afternoons and evenings of only one week. The result appeared as:

Bolívar (Revista de la Sociedad Bolivariana del Perú), No. 44 (2012): Operaciones de distracción de los republicanos en Venezuela durante la campaña de Boyacá (1819).

Since this publication is not widely distributed, I present the text here as a .PDF file.

Note: In a footnote I am qualified as member of the Bolivarian Society of Germany. My membership lasted from 11th March, 2010 until 3rd June, 2011.)

Παητα ρει. (Heraclitus)