October 8, 2014

words have meaning

I have long been a student of history. Most of you may know I was a history major in college.  I am not a historian, but I do know a bit about history and historiography. I learned how a historian should recognize his bias' and try to eliminate them.  I also know that a mere recitation of facts is boring and unreadable. History is a story, better than any fiction.

It is funny what a few words can do to change a passage or interpretation. I just started to read a memoir of the Vietnam War. I was eleven  when the last combat troops left Southeast Asia. I was thirteen when the helicopters lifted the last Americans from the roof of the Embassy in Saigon.  In truth, the protests and anti-war movement occurred before my time. I'm certain I can look at that turbulent period without the the color of personal experience. I know many Vietnam Vets,  yet I think I am (just barely) far enough removed from the historical period to look upon it with a fairly unprejudiced eye. I can only look back through the lens of this time period  through pictures, film, newspaper, and first or second hand accounts.

I find a few passages in this memoir interesting. In the forward by the co-author, a bias is clearly exhibited. As the "editor" who provides historical insight to the manuscript, the bias leaves me a bit skeptical he is a fair and impartial historian. As a reader I think I will have to view anything he writes with a skeptical eye.  For example take this passage:
Late that summer. the whole world watched as policemen rioted in Mayor Daley's Chicago and attacked anti-war demonstrations at the Democratic Party Convention"
In all of my reading about the anti-war protests, including the research and writing of  a senior seminar paper  on the Chicago Seven, I have never heard the Chicago police described as the rioters. Overzealous, out of control, excessive force all might be acceptable, but I am not sure the picture of peaceful demonstrators sitting around chanting anti-war slogans while police rampaged through the city is an accurate description, no matter where your politics might lie.

Or what do you think of this passage on the Kent State shootings:
The young National Guardsmen who...fatally shot the students with M-! rifles recklessly loaded with live ammunition.

Again the tone and description indicates a bias and intent to color the facts. Editorial is not history. Opinion is not journalism. Where the rifles recklessly loaded? Perhaps, but that is a conclusion for the reader to determine.

Anyway, the book is Last Plane Out of Saigon by Richard Pena and John Hagan.  Vietnam evokes a lot of raw emotion to this day. I suspect this will be an interesting account. I have no doubt the author's diary is accurate.  Can I trust Mr Hagan's historical notes to represent facts and the historical context as he promises? Of that I have some real doubt.


CGHill said...

How does one "recklessly load" an M-1?

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

Seems like there's not much point in carrying a gun if the gun isn't loaded.

I wasn't aware that the National Guard was Barney Fife in camo.

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

And BTW: Fuck those kids at Kent State. If they had been in class they wouldn't have been shot.

hey teacher... said...

At least one of those fucked students at Kent State were just walking by. Collateral damage I suppose.

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