HM - Oct. 2015 - Hollinshead
The History Corner
"An Endless Argument"
By Byron Hollinshead
Editor, "I Wish I'd Been There"
“History,” said Henry Ford,” is more or less bunk.” It’s interesting that men who become rich and famous often make pronouncements on subjects they know nothing about. Michael Howard, the distinguished British historian, said “There is no such thing as history. There is only what historians write.” Robert Dallek, on an NPR program devoted to the first I Wish I'd Been There, said “ History is an endless argument”.
On October 15, 2006, shortly after the publication of the first I Wish I'd Been There, I was interviewed on a wonderful program called “Think” from PBS station KERA in Austin, Texas. The interviewer was a woman named Chris Boyd, and she was thoughtful, interesting, and interested. She had also read the book from cover to cover and had a lot of comments and questions. In the second half of the program she asked listeners to call in their own I Wish I'd Been There selections. One listener called from Lincoln, Nebraska and said he would like to have visited the island in the Mississippi Delta that was the home of Jean Lafitte, the pirate, and his men during the War of 1812. Jean Lafitte and his men were recruited to and participated in the Battle of New Orleans, fought between December 23, and January 8,1815. The listener went on to say that without Lafitte and his men we wouldn’t have won the Battle of New Orleans and if we hadn’t won the Battle of New Orleans, we wouldn’t have won the War of 1812 and Andrew Jackson wouldn’t have been elected president of the United States.
Chris Boyd asked me to comment and I agreed that without the participation of Lafitte and his men, it’s unlikely we would have won the Battle of New Orleans. And I agreed too, that without the victory at New Orleans, Andrew Jackson would probably never have become president of the United States. Where I didn’t agree was the effect of the battle on the outcome of the War of 1812 because the battle was fought after the war was over. The treaty had been signed, but communication being what it was in the early nineteenth century, the word had not yet reached New Orleans.
The week following the Chris Boyd program I was driving to Hartford, Connecticut with Tom Fleming for another I Wish I'd Been There presentation. Tom is a gifted historian and historical novelist. I told him about the KERA program and he said that was interesting, but, coincidentally, he had just submitted an article to the History News Network making the case that, if we had lost the Battle of New Orleans, the first thing the British would have done was tear up that treaty.