I woke up this morning to find an early Christmas present, a great entry left in my guestbook by a nice lady named Christine. She is someone who, like me, takes her history seriously, including recent. The reply I just made to her I believe deserves a post of its own, as it explains my approach not only to this story but any I tackle.
Messages like this make the thirty years of work I’ve put into researching and writing about this crew, revealing the real story, worth it.
I’m with you: I’d rather not read about a person or event if what I’m reading isn’t accurate. It is literally a waste of my time. Sometimes, of course, it can’t be helped because no one has uncovered the real story yet, and getting to the real story can be an enormous amount of work. I know this first-hand now. But that’s not the case here anymore, so it is much harder to excuse.
I do agree with you, too, about taking the same care with history in general and current events. My view of human history is that it’s really no different from our personal history: its value is in the lessons we can learn from it for guiding our actions now, which means it can only be as helpful to us as our knowledge of it is complete. Incomplete information yields incomplete knowledge yields incomplete lessons. That’s why I always go to primary sources, and try to gather as much information and analysis as I can, even from sources that I might disagree with, or at least challenge my understanding of something, because I know that confirmation bias is a real thing.
If I’d not taken that approach on the story of the Eager Beavers—if I hadn’t listened to my inner skeptic or historians who were skeptics of various aspects of the story—I couldn’t have uncovered the real story. Ditto the crew members themselves; memory is a fickle thing. The documentary record—not just official records but including what crew members said and wrote at the time—served as a necessary correction to their later recollections. It takes judgement calls on my part, to be sure, and some of it will necessarily remain speculative, but at least it’s informed speculation, as much so as I’m capable of at the moment. And the search continues: there remain some records that may yet refine/correct my own understanding of the story. I hope to get at them soon.
But that process can’t happen if your priority is a particular narrative rather than completeness. I believe that was the main failing of Lucky 666. As I say in my reviews of the book here on the site and on Amazon, I can’t and don’t fault the authors for not knowing what I only know from being able to have interviewed the crew members themselves before they passed. But they can be faulted for not using the sources they already had, and aspects of their narrative don’t align even with those, which indicates to me either that they were too rushed to do due diligence, or they made a conscious choice to go with a particular narrative rather than the reality. Either case is unfortunate for the reader. Most unfortunate is that without doing his or her own research, the reader can’t know this. But that’s one of the major reasons my website exists, to serve as a corrective to all the mistaken and mythical accounts.
When it comes to historical figures, I can only be inspired by the reality. Without knowing the person’s actual character and achievements, it’s hard for me to feel the connection I need to relate and be inspired. So to the degree I feel there’s a layer of myth in what I’m reading, I remain ambivalent, and interested only to the extent that either my historical curiosity is piqued or the story is potentially inspiring.
That’s when the trustworthiness of the guides, the authors themselves, becomes critical, and why I’ve gone to great lengths to ensure that my own facts are in order. Some would say too great, but again, the danger is that any mistake establishes some doubt in the reader. It depends, of course, on the importance of a fact to the overall conception you’ve constructed of your subject, but the difference between a mistake being trivial or significant is its context, is how much is built on it. An event happening in January rather than March might change nothing, or it might change an entire narrative. (That sort of thing happens more than once in Lucky 666.)
It really is all about trust. It truly is unfortunate how fractured that’s become in society at large when it comes to current events, and the presentation of history both in education and popularly, depending on how much it touches current events. One bright spot, I think, is that when it comes to history that isn’t perceived to connect to politics—something like this—I do believe there is a growing desire and appreciation for accuracy and authenticity. I think that’s carrying over more into film and TV adaptations, too. It’s easier for people to find out when a screen story gets something wrong, and I’m seeing more pushback against ones that do. I think that’s only a good thing. And I even see positive signs that that’s carrying over into general news coverage, too, with nonpartisan news sources and opinion site gaining popularity. Hopefully those trends are lasting and self-fulfilling.
Thanks again for taking the time to leave such a kind and thoughtful comment.