Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Just Fact Checking, Ma'am

Oh my, it's so much easier to edit than to write. 
I'm having some fun editing a miniseries of books on US Presidential Big Hitters [not actual title].  

It's pretty easy too: 
I'm not an American history buff, but I've so often proofread, indexed and otherwise exposed myself to presidents (no thongs), that factual errors pop out at me.

How the authors make the errors in the first place is harder to see. I'd expect all of us in children's nonfiction to be able to write a basic book about George or Abe or Teddy in our sleep.

I can spot errors, but I don't usually know the correct info off the top of my head.
I know, for instance, that the United States had not "just begun to heal" from the American Civil War when Lincoln was assassinated––fighting was still sputtering––but I have to check the dates.

John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln on the night of April 14, 1865, 
a mere five days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9. 
Lincoln died early the next morning. 

(Wow--he was only fifty-six when he died! Two years older than me! He looked so old...)

Anyway, while that basically ended the war, other Confederate armies kept fighting--they hadn't yet heard about the surrender. No cell phones, eh.

President Andrew Johnson (who? oh, right, Lincoln's v.p., and the first president to be impeached--not a great healer) didn't declare the war "virtually over" until May 9.

The facts are easy enough to find, but not always that in agreement: lists June 2, when the last Confederate army surrendered, as the End of the Civil War.

Did I know all that?
I did not. 

I just knew Lincoln did not die during a time of national healing; unless you see the war itself as an act of healing the wound of US slavery, suppurating since 1619, but I think it's more like surgery than healing, really horrible surgery, like cutting off a leg . . . for four years. 

Posed photo of a Union surgeon preparing to amputate, showing how anesthesia (choloroform) was dripped onto a sponge or cone that fitted over the patients nose and mouth.
Image ^  from the National Museum of Health and Medicine: "To Bind Up the Nation's Wounds"

Facts and dates are one thing. Their interpretation is another.
Seems to me, the nation hasn't died from infection, but it's pretty clear we're hardly done healing, or even, depending on who and where you are, necessarily at peace among ourselves. 

A man is arrested during protests against the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager killed by a police officer, in Ferguson, MO, in August 2014. Photograph: Whitney Curtis/New York Times/Redux/eyevine
 Image ^ from excellent Guardian article "Farewell to America",
by British black journalist Gary Younge, who was foreign correspondent in the United States for twelve years before returning to the UK

"8 things you didn’t know about the Confederate flag" (PBS, June 21, 2015 )
 #4  This spring, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Texas’s licensing board, who had refused to approve a specialty Texas state license plate requested by the Sons of the Confederate Veterans:


Zhoen said...

The reliance on Simplification to the point of Inaccuracy. The Myth more important than the messy reality. Sad thing is, The Fact (no controversy!) is dull. The real flavor is in the complicated muddiness.

The Great Man Theory has the huge gaping hole that none of those guys were really all that good as human beings.

The Union wasn't fighting to stop slavery, but the Confederacy certainly was fighting to keep it. North was like NIMBY! and South was like 'yer not the boss of me!' And the people most affected were being told to shut up by both sides.

rant over.

Frex said...

"Facts" can get pretty fun, though, pretty quickly--and muddy the waters considerably:

Like, what did Lincoln really say at Gettysbugh?
There are five known manuscripts of his speech, plus newspaper publications, that all vary, . . . though not in substance.

Anyway, history is a wild ride, for sure.