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Is There A Way To KNOW That This History Is Right?
Of course not...maybe.
We’re still here, though from mid-April when this is written, I can’t tell if parts of Eastern Europe are.
As I mentioned before, knowing whether a history is “right” or not is a matter of faith in sources and knowing whether this account makes sense combined with all the others.
And then there are all those others.
Writing history is an uncoordinated cottage industry; everyone does a little of it; some do more than a little. Sanitary Engineer Joe Lunchbox's letters and papers are of less interest than Senator Joseph Banquet-Table’s because what the senator did in his life impacted the janitor’s life and everyone else’s…maybe.
The same holds for Sue Sewing-Basket, a spinster homemaker in Nowhere, Ohio, who made quilts when she wasn’t baking and cleaning and caring for her invalid mother. But Susan Trust-Fund Famous-Wife from the same town, lived in the White House with her family after her husband was elected…in part thanks to her trust fund. Nobody hears of Sue; everyone knows Susan.
You get the idea.
But what if Joe Lunchbox was Private Lunchbox at one time, serving in the same unit as Major Banquet-Table in the Alderson Forest campaign? As we all know, the Alderson Forest was a hard-fought, pivotal battle, and Private Lunchbox would be awarded the Combat Cross for Valor by Major Banquet-Table, the senior surviving officer in their 5567th Tent Peg Repair Battalion. Now you’re looking for Lunchbox’s papers because you read about his diary and letters in this one book anywhere about the Alderson Forest and the gallant 5567th, the unheralded heroes of WWII who saved the whole US Army during the Battle of the Bulge…according to this one book.
When Susan decides to step out of Hubby’s shadow and run for the White House herself, Sue Sewing Basket’s interview with the scandal sheet revealed Susan’s dark past, her dalliance with dangling participles, and even…gasp…fudged footnotes in 8th Grade English! The shame! The horror! Unsuitable for the Presidency!
Seek, and ye might find…if you’re lucky.
Of course, that’s all made up for effect, but you get the idea. History sometimes comes from the Lunchboxes of our lives who do more than the Banquet-Tables, but whose later lives are either infamous or obscure, we can quickly lose sight of what they leave behind. But one scholar found something that brought all this to life and wrote the one book on the subject. Good luck verifying it yourself.
Same for Sue and Susan. Both lived in the shadows of situations and timing. When the nature of history-writing changed because of something else entirely, the trivial became fatal, and Sewing-Basket became a source of information much more critical than Trust-Fund Famous-Wife’s potential contributions to the country.
Now the Internet makes research easy…and hard.
Google et al. aren’t the be-all and end-all of research because so much of Joe Lunchbox’s or Jane Sewing-Basket’s lives are locked up in obscure places, hidden from view and scholars. Once in a while, somebody finds some papers, pictures, and documents that tell a story about something nobody wrote about before. But sources like Wikipedia are sources of knowledge…but they are limited now by the politics of the “advisors” who promote the “correct” story of the past. Complaints about that platform abound. If you read my Shiloh book, you won’t recognize much of Wikipedia’s entry for that fight, especially what they have for the afternoon of 6 April.
But the sources are what we have, and sometimes it’s based on stuff people create as they go along. Or by the standards of the time. Lunchbox did something heroic in a war; Table-Banquet gave him a medal for it. Their later lives diverged. Sue lived in obscurity; Susan rose to the top of a hill only to be torn down because of some adolescent indiscretion that, in another age, wouldn’t even be worth mentioning. But it was after Watergate and gotcha/ambush journalism took over.
And so it goes with history. Trust the sources or not: up to you.
Steele’s Hammer: Battle of the Bulge
This is a work in progress, so there are no links, no cover, and not a lot else. It’s a war novel in the spirit of Anton Myrer’s Once An Eagle. It starts with me—or a pseudo-me—finding a bunch of papers in an old trunk. Among the yellowed orders, letters, and other ephemera was a hand-written note scribbled by one George Smith Patton, Junior, thanking a “Ned” for saving his supply line in December of 1944. There was also a formal letter from Leslie Groves (of the Manhattan Project), thanking General Edmund Steele for his “invaluable service to mankind.”
The other papers in the trunk reveal that Ned Steele was a long-term military professional who commanded an obscure unit in WWII, one that fought a never-before-documented battle not just to save Patton’s Third Army while it fought its way into Bastogne but to find the crucial ingredients to a secret weapon that could, in the wrong hands, change the course of the war…suddenly.
Is this history “right?” It’s fiction, but it’s based on fact. Just…making up a few things as I go along…like most fiction writers, so-called first-draft-of-history journalists, and more than a few historians.
Is There A Way To Express An Absolutely Accurate History?
Who Put The Dip In The Dip Da Dip Da Dip?
On 14 May:
1796 Edward Jenner administered the first vaccination—a serum derived from cowpox—for smallpox, as opposed to variolation—a direct introduction of smallpox pus from another patient. Variolation had been done for some time; vaccination did not make the patient ill.
1942 The Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) was approved by Congress. Formed in the US Army, it dropped the auxiliary status a little more than a year later and was abolished in April 1978. Thanks, ladies, for your service.
And 14 May is NATIONAL DANCE LIKE A CHICKEN DAY. The only time I’ve ever seen chickens dance is after they lost their heads, so knock yourselves out.