Letter from Military History – July 2010

Why Memoirs Matter

Memoirs, first-person accounts of historical events written by the participants, are invaluable sources for understanding what happened—and perhaps why. Like other single-source interpretive statements, though, memoirs should be taken with some caution.

Questionable motives for writing such accounts can range from settling scores with old rivals to spinning one’s way to everlasting but ill-deserved glory. Or the urge to write one’s memoir could spring from a sense of obligation to set the facts straight and preserve a first-person account of events no one else might fully know. The best memoirs are those that square with the facts and forgo the many temptations toward self-promotion.

In the hands of an honest, humble and skilled writer—whether a noncom or a general—such accounts can bring witnessed events to life with an immediacy that reaches across the years. At the same time they may provide the explanatory context that raises them truly to the level of a first draft of military history. Such works are all too rare, but fortunately for this and future generations, talented eyewitnesses have chronicled the wars of recent centuries. Because the lessons of history do matter, we are in their debt.

 

Military History was recently nominated for a National Magazine Award for general excellence among magazines under 100,000 circulation. The American Society of Magazine Editors confers this coveted annual award. A large committee of judges, themselves professional editors, determines the five nominees and winner in each category. They weigh every aspect of each entry—story selection, quality of writing and editing, accuracy, effectiveness of the graphic design—in a highly competitive process based on issues published the previous year. We at Military History are honored, of course, but the true recognition goes to our subject—history—and the evident appreciation of its timeless importance.

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