In a recent interview, I was asked the following question: “why do you love history?” More specifically, I had heard: “why do you love World War II history?” My mind went blank. Nothing. I stared at the Skype interface terrified I’d just missed out on my dream job working in historical research. I babbled something about “not being sure, but always loving history.” The hard drive inside my brain had crashed. I ‘blue-screened’.
I could have answered questions about so many aspects of that period: cultural, diplomatic, economic, military, or political histories of the War. Questions of the War’s history by theater, by year, or about the Allied and Axis Powers…. reasons for the War. How the First World War laid groundwork for the Second. Why Germany’s ‘Blitzkreig’ was a false narrative. Ask me about the Italian Campaign or the Siege of Leningrad or the Battle of Okinawa. And what those battles meant in context of the War. Let me tell you how Germany lost the War on the Eastern Front and how that ultimately caused their downfall. Ask me how the term ‘Total War’ applies to the Second World War (and First World War), and how that enabled Allied Victory.
As a child in the 1960s, I watched the television show Combat each week riveted by Sergeant Saunders’ (Vic Morrow) bravado and Lieutenant Hanley’s (Rick Jason) leadership. My Matchbox collection was dominated by tanks, jeeps, and personnel carriers. I was even G.I. Joe for Halloween one year. Our backyard in Illinois abutted acres of farmland. After school, me with my plastic M1 Garand were often found scanning that farmer’s field for enemy movement.
As an undergraduate, I worked part-time in the university library. I’d routinely lose myself on the floor that held the library’s history books, collections, and archives. It was on that floor, between those rows, where I’d read Richard Tregaskis’ Guadalcanal Diary and William Manchester’s Goodbye Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War. After college, I was selected for U.S. Marine Corps’ Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Virginia. I got to see, feel, and touch history first hand. Later in life I completed a Master’s in Military History with a Concentration in World War II—simply for love of the history.
By the numbers, I’m considered a ‘baby boomer’. My father and uncle both fought in the Second World War. My father, a decorated Army sergeant by war’s end, brought the war home with him—the good and the bad. He passed away at 53—far too young—while I was in college. I’m convinced his spirit moves with me in continuing his fighting that war. With every book read and every hour of research, I continue that fight in search of my father’s war.
As a historian I research and question what has been posed as fact. Richard Marius and Melvin E. Page in A Short Guide to Writing About History submit that: “Historians are curious and relentless questioners, and the questions they ponder arise from any number of sources. All historical writing begins as an effort to answer questions about origins, happenings, and consequences. Historians find a puzzle and try to solve it…. Historians believe it is important to distinguish between the true and the false.” (Marius and Page, 2-3)
Why do I love history? I can’t put it into words.