Attributed to Winston Churchill is an expression that is only generally true: “History is written by the victors.” Certainly writing history is more pleasant and easier when the story is about one’s own victory. Victors focus on each element—their strategies, their decisions, their actions, their virtues—that led to their victories. Maybe that’s why history is often the story of nations, governments, sweeping events and geographies…victors tell their histories grandly.
Other histories are told, too, by other storytellers. History is simply a description of the flow of human experience, supposedly based on facts, in the form of a story. The storyteller selects enough facts from among many to create his/her version of history…and so the storyteller matters; the storyteller’s point of view matters; the storyteller’s agenda matters. For the victor, self-aggrandizement or self-righteousness may be the theme; for the vanquished, defensiveness or conciliation may be the theme; for future generations, explaining/criticizing/rewriting the past to make sense of their present may be the theme. For example, many histories are being told based on a single flow of human experience—stories of the 2016 election…stories of victors and vanquished, stories of monsters and men and women. As readers of history, we hope to decipher the truth.
But at the root of all history are individuals living their individual, daily lives. With publication of our latest title, A Philadelphia Family Goes to War (available now for pre-order), Kay Square Press has compiled a firsthand tale of four such individuals, one family writing firsthand how World War II engulfed them. This is a history of the defining years of the Twentieth Century, told in deeply personal letters from a father to his sons and among two brothers and their sister. This is not a history told with an agenda or theme; from the first letter forward, the correspondents share personal discoveries, losses, worries, hopes, and loves. For three years, the story of those discoveries is traced, in real time, day-by-day, emotion-by-emotion, and battle-by-battle. As readers of history, we hope to recognize the truth.
While much of what they write is plain and mundane, much of it is firsthand observation and reaction to historic events: the invasion of Normandy, the battle for Iwo Jima, the U.S. return to the Philippines, and the racially charged Philadelphia transportation strike. The letters are always surprisingly heartfelt and honest. In their bare honesty, the letters also tell some unsavory or regretful facts. As four correspondents dealing not only with the fear of war, but also with the complete revolution to their way of life, they write things in confidential confidence. Opinions about some family members are, at times, unflattering; some assessments of neighbors are cruel; and in troubled and troubling 1940s America where racism and nationalism were completely unguarded, insensitivities and slurs arise. These aren’t movie-scripted characters invented by a professional; these are real people living in a real world and expressing it from a real 1940’s perspective. As readers of history we hope to understand the truth.
A Philadelphia Family Goes to War is a history by the people as they were living it, about the events as they were happening, in a city and a nation as they were evolving. A Philadelphia Family Goes to War is a true story.
Next entry will be posted on Monday, November 12th.