I can barely remember a time in my life when I wasn’t able to read. Reading means as much to me as breathing; one without the other is unthinkable.
Although I read many genres, my favorite is history. It’s difficult to say how my love of history originated. I was raised in an extended family with up to five generations regularly gathering for Sunday dinners. I heard endless tales about how great life used to be before modern morals screwed up society. Reading history was a useful method for fact-checking that glorious past.
It is easier to explain why I love military history. I’m a contrarian. I was raised as a Mennonite, a Protestant sect that is pacifist. Studying military history appealed to me as a protest against a patriarchal society that set stifling boundaries on women’s expectations. After all, military people get to fight back and sometimes win.
I began reading about the American War of Independence before moving on to our Civil War. One of the best accounts of the Civil War is Battle Cry of Freedom, by James McPherson. It’s a “must read” for anyone interested in that war.
A source on southern life in the Civil War is Mary Chestnut’s Civil War, edited by C. Vann Woodward. Mary Chestnut was a close friend of Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis. Her memoir is full of political intrigues as well as the deprivations caused by the Yankee blockade.
Later I read about World War I flying aces. The top ace of the war was Baron Manfred von Richtofen, the Red Baron. But my favorite is Oswald Boelcke, the ace who commanded the jasta or flying circus before Richtofen. The last commander of that jasta, by the way, was Herman Goering of WW II infamy.
The biography of Boelcke illustrates an important point about history. Perspectives change. The original 1932 version by Professor Johannes Werner was published as the Weimar Republic tottered and the Nazis were close to taking power. The biography is full of jingoistic exhortations to German schoolboys to be loyal sons to their parents and the Reich. The English translation, Knight of Germany, includes the Professor’s rhetoric, which may be unsettling for some readers. The jingoism obscures the fact that Oswald Boelcke was a respected man who originated fighter pilot tactics that are still in use.
Eventually I moved on to reading about World War II, European Theater of Operations. A favorite author is Carlo D’este who writes well and includes extensive annotated endnotes. I’ve also read scores of memoirs ranging from field marshals to French Resistance fighters. Memoirs are a great way for survivors to settle old scores against their enemies, including occasionally, the opposing side in the war.
I recommend reading history as the best method for gaining perspective on life. What we live through every day, good and bad, has happened before. History shows us how to cope with the bad and work toward the good.
About Norma Shirk
Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.
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