Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Fog of War

Amusing moment from CSPAN's coverage of the National Book Festival last week.  Rick Atkinson was doing some Q&A after his presentation of his new WWII book, 'The Guns At Last Light'.   An earnest middle-aged man asked a question about the use of oral histories as source material for Atkinson's work. From the way he asked it, you can tell the real intent of the question was to bask in the glow of Atkinson's forthcoming acclaim for this man's selfless work in interviewing old vets before they pass on to that final big armistice signing in the sky.  These days anything concerning veterans, especially old veterans, is the subject of automatic, universal praise.  So, of course, WWII pop historian Rick Atkinson would join the chorus.  Right?

Wrong.  It seems Atkinson was more in the mood to give an honest answer rather than the easy, happy one.  The clip is here.  (And not yet embeddable.  Come on CSPAN, I want more for my lack of paying you any money for using your product!)

Not only does Atkinson tell this guy that his life's work is probably inaccurate because you can't trust 70 year old memories, but that it was also pointless because the US Army already did complete oral histories immediately following battles in WWII.   And Atkinson wraps up with "as much as I admire what you do".  You even get a bonus 2-shot of the disillusioned questioner during Atkinson's answer.  Brutal stuff, but as someone once said, asking questions about war can be hell.