The Art of the Oral Interview

by Abigail Pfeiffer on November 18, 2012

Witness To War

Military history is composed of the experiences of human violence against their fellow humans. Much of what historians today know about wars of the past are due to first person accounts. For the most part, first person accounts of war can only be collected in the approximately 50-70 years following a war. That  may sound like a long time, but in the history of mankind, it is only a tiny blip on the radar. It is crucial for historians to collect first person accounts of war before the participants begin to pass away. Already in 2012, there are no more WWI veterans left to tell their stories. The veterans of WWII and the Korean War are aging and many are beginning to pass away from old age as well.

One organization that understands the importance of the oral interview is Witness to War. You can visit their website here.  Their site features video interviews with combat veterans, as well as women veterans and POWs.

Not only are oral interviews excellent first person accounts, but they are also a powerful testament to the human condition. The experience of war brings out the very worst in humans, but also has the capability of bringing out the best in humans. Countless veterans talk about the horrors of war, but also describe how the soldiers they served with became closer to them than family.

I have interviewed several POWs of the Korean and Vietnam wars, and I admit that it is very powerful to hear their stories and experiences.  Soon I will be posting the text transcripts of these interviews on my blog so stay tuned!

Here are some other organizations that work toward preserving oral history:

Veterans History Project

The Vietnam Center and Archive

Veterans History Project

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Guy Nasuti November 28, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Great post!

Also, the US Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, has a very good collection of Veteran Surveys from the Spanish-American War up through Vietnam (also working on the more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan).

USAHEC’s website is http://www.carlisle.army.mil/ahec/index.cfm

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