Why Do You Love History? A Not-So-Easy Question to Answer

Movie poster to Clint Eastwood's "Flags of our Fathers."

Film poster to Clint Eastwood’s 2006 “Flags of our Fathers”

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 the 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.

My Father's Gravesite

My Father’s Gravesite

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. It’s just who I am.


Book Review: Warbird Factory: North American Aviation in World War II

Book cover

Warbird Factory: North American Aviation in World War II by John Fredrickson.

Warbird Factory: North American Aviation in World War II
By John Fredrickson

☆☆☆☆☆ Recommended

John Frederickson has written an extraordinary new book on North American Aviation, one of the aircraft manufacturers whose aircraft filled the skies across the Pacific, European, and China-Burma-India theaters. Warbird Factory: North American Aviation in World War II is supplemented by a collection of black-and-white and color photographs of North American Aviation’s factories, aircraft, and the people who built them. It is these photographs which supplement the author’s prose that showcase this home front history during wartime. The home front ‘comes alive’ in Warbird Factory. Frederickson’s 36-year career as a manager for Boeing enabled his access to photographs, company records, and history of North American Aviation (NAA).

Warbird Factory is far more than just another of book of airplane pictures, technical specifications, and diagrams however. What makes this new work unique and engrossing is the author’s research and writing of the company’s history which occurred before, during and after the war. He effectively retraces NAA’s origins to the automobile industry and General Motors Corporation (GM). As such, we now have previously unpublished history which details the ‘business side’ of the industry overall and rise of NAA before the war. I personally find the synergies which took place between the automobile industry and the fledgling airline industry of the 1920’s and 1930’s fascinating. I think you will too.

North American Aviation plant in Inglewood California. Courtesy of Wikipedia; This photo is in the public domain.

From the public domain: North American Aviation plant in Inglewood California.

The primary aircraft of NAA in Warbird Factory are the B-25 Mitchell bomber and P-51 Mustang escort fighter. (NAA also designed and developed trainers—smaller aircraft utilized for training new pilots.) Scholars and students of the 1944 invasion of Normandy—D-Day—will be fascinated with Chapter 10’s “Eisenhower’s B-25.” NAA took a stock (brand new) B-25J and made modifications for an aircraft that could blend with most other B-25 Mitchell Bombers—with one exception. RB-25J(3), later designated VB-25J, was General Dwight Eisenhower’s personal aircraft to move him throughout France following the 6 June invasion and for one year thereafter. The Ellsworth Air Force Base Museum (South Dakota) is the final resting place for Eisenhower’s B-25J.

I could continue sharing more on Frederickson’s new contribution work but will conclude here. Check out this new book and discover the new history. Warbird Factory will have special appeal for historians and scholars of women’s roles on the home front. Those interested in the early years of the American automobile industry will also find this new book absorbing for its position and support to the aviation industry.

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Posted by on February 22, 2016 in Book Reviews, The Home Front

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