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PostOral History vs Written History (Timothy Brown, USA, 05/23/19 2:44 pm)
Written history is just one version of history. Oral history is another--history as viewed by the vast majority of individuals who do not, or cannot, by the millions, read or write. Neither is exclusively true nor necessarily false.
While I was a Marine NCO, I came away from my 1956-59 years as an Embassy Guard in Managua (and the Costa Rican beauty who is still my wife of 60 years) with one understanding of Nicaragua.
From 1987 through 1990, by then a senior Foreign Service Officer working as the US government's Senior Liaison Officer to the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance in Central America, I came away with another.
Between the two I'd served as a Marine linguist (Thai and Spanish) in Southeast Asia, then as an FSO in Israel, Spain, Vietnam, Mexico, Paraguay, El Salvador, the Netherlands, in Washington as Deputy Director of US-Cuba Affairs, Desk Officer for Paraguay/Uruguay and Acting Political/Economic Director of US relations with the EU, NATO and IDB, and as Consul General in Martinique, four years as Senior Liaison in Central America to the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance (five armed forces, not just one, plus a civilian resistance movement). I ended my diplomatic career as the State Department's Border Research officer in Las Cruces, New Mexico working mostly on the original NAFTA.
I then retired from the Foreign Service, went back to school and did a multi-disciplinary PhD. It took me seven years to research and write my PhD dissertation on Nicaragua's so-called "Contra War," the subject I felt I knew the most about, since published by U Oklahoma Press as The Real Contra War: Highlander Peasant Resistance in Nicaragua, a 2003 Foreign Policy Editor's Pick and published a few articles in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, Policy Studies Review, the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences and elsewhere.
But, since every war, conflict or just plain argument has at least two sides and usually a few dozen more, each being declared by its proponent as "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" by someone that believes beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have a better understanding of events than anyone else, I went "Revolutionary" hunting, befriended a number of top-level former Latin American revolutionaries, and produced another book, When the AK-47s Fall Silent (Hoover) with a foreword by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, that begins with five chapters by Marxist Cold War armed revolutionaries and four "Contra" guerrilla leaders that, to their surprise and mine, wound up loudly asking one another time after time--Marxists asking Contras and Contras asking Marxists--the same "question" in front of the TV cameras and international press: "¡Hijo de Puta! Why Did We Ever Fight?"
I go into the detail above for a reason. Neither written nor oral history ever tells all of the story, nor is either necessarily any more accurate than the other or tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The most profligate writer, brilliant professor or loudest talker, no matter how much they say, think or write, ever knows everything, no matter how much they think, and loudly assert, that they do.
JE comments: "Two sides and usually a few dozen more": this is the wisest/WAISest thing I've heard in a long time, Tim!
WAIS in a sense bridges the gap between written and oral history. Much of our deepest insight comes from the chatty comment, the personal experience, or (best of all) the first-hand account of historical events.