We've published special issues before. But though we had a lot of fun putting "LOST at Sea" and "LOST in Space" together, our latest special issue, "LOST at War," was altogether a different experience.
We didn't intend for "LOST at War" to be comprehensive, but we did hope that collecting one piece of first-person narrative nonfiction for each of ten major American wars would be telling in some way -- what way, we didn't know -- and we believe that ultimately, it is. That there are strains in serving the country, in being an American soldier, that resonate through these centuries that we've been fighting. And that these themes often transcend politics and go straight to the heart of the identity of the country, of many families, and of the veterans themselves.
We think hearing from those who served is incredibly important. And for some wars we covered, we were lucky to find plentiful first-person accounts -- World War 2 and Vietnam almost always have their own shelves at bookstores.
Which wars were most difficult, as we tried to find primary sources and anecdotal accounts? The Mexican-American War practically didn't happen, and Desert Storm, Jarhead aside, was equally challenging. In fact, if you know of a few good first-person sources from Desert Storm, let us know.
And World War 1 looks to be vanishing as I write. A number of third-person WW1 histories are available, but in researching the war and looking for narrative, first-person accounts from it, we began to experience a frustrating trend. When we typed the words "World War 1" into Google, for instance, the search engine asked us, "Did you mean World War 2?" (Funnily enough, we'd heard of this happening to other folks, too, but it's not happening anymore.)
We didn't mean "World War 2." But with only three living WW1-era veterans of the military (one of whom we interviewed for our current issue) and a tremendous focus in schools and in our culture on WW2 and Vietnam, it's no surprise that World War 1 is falling out of our consciousness. Soon, the Great War will be 100 years old, and an event we remember reading about but with which we can no longer speak.
Brown University did a great job scanning and posting the handwritten journal of James Nagle online--it's a valuable primary source from the Mexican-American War (see our issue for the link). We excerpted from Nagle, and we hope that in following our new issue's timeline from the Revolutionary War to Iraq, something gets you the way it did us when we started hearing directly from veterans of our American wars.