For years I learned Americans won their Revolution due to such advantages as knowing the terrain. Not until grad school did I hear about dissention in Britain as the war dragged on. “I am persuaded and I will affirm, that it is a most accursed, wicked, barbarous, cruel, unnatural, unjust, and most diabolical war,” William Pitt said in Parament in 1781. “The expense of it has been enormous . . . and yet what has the British nation received in return?” James Boswell wrote in his diary, “Opinion was that those who could understand were against the American war, as is almost every man now.”
Fast forward to America’s loss in Vietnam. I hear more about dissention within the U.S. than Vietnamese factors conducive to victory. Why the difference in emphasis? Hypocrisy? No; win or lose, it is natural that Americans look at wars primarily in terms of happenings in the U.S.
As in photography, the picture necessarily varies with the angle from which one looks. Even attempts to cover multiple angles do so by jumping from one to another, like a series of still photos rather than one that’s all-inclusive. Other terms to describe narrative viewpoint include the lens through which writers look and the focus where they concentrate attention.
Which is true history, the view from Britain or the United States, from the U.S. or Vietnam? Both, if they’re supported by evidence and don’t claim to have a monopoly on truth.
Image: Regnier, Washington the Soldier, 1834. Library of Congress.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.