Example Summary

Outline to Summary of Fred H. Allison “Remembering a Vietnam Firefight: Changing Perspectives over Time.”

Purpose: To explore differences in early and late narratives, asking questions about veracity of memory (and thus of oral history itself)

Thesis: Early narratives are full of facts and detail while later narratives tell a story.

Main points: Later narratives add drama (pauses, color, even sound effects)
Later narratives include justification
Later narratives are broader
The context (audience) of the telling will impact what is told
Later narratives especially are informed by belief systems

In his article, “Remembering a Vietnam Firefight: Changing Perspectives over Time,”
Fred H. Allison explores how memory and time can affect narrative and thus oral history. The article studies the differences in the accounts of a single firefight provided by a Vietnam soldier whose version of the day’s events was recorded by the marines immediately afterwards and by a historian 40 years later. Allison finds that whereas the early version was narrow in focus, fragmented, and full of details, the later version tells a cohesive story. This story includes drama – much color, description, dramatic pauses, emphasis on what is significant, and even sound effects have been added (223-224). The later narrative includes more justification for actions (225). For example, the marine’s own gunfire set off the event that resulted in the loss of many of his squadron, but in the earlier version he simply notes that he opened fire because he may have been seen while in the later version he explains at length how he had no choice but fire (225). The later version is also broader, focusing less on the minutia of what happened blow- by-blow and more on the overall picture (223-224). So instead of recounting what each wounded man said to him and how he tried to help each one he aided, he just explains that he helped several men by giving them first aid and moving them to the helicopter (223-224). Part of the cohesiveness of the later story involves the changed context of the telling (226). While the earlier version focused on what happened to a marine issued knife, the later story focused more on the death of his fellow soldiers (226). Allison explains that the audience is driving the material presented – the marine interviewer understood the horror of war, so there is no need to make sense of the deaths, but the civilian interviewer/audience would expect more of a focus on the deaths (226). Another part of this coherence is the belief systems that forge a logical story from raw events by helping the teller decide what is significant (226). For the interviewee, the loyalty of soldiers to one another is a key belief system that, though present in the first narrative, is stressed in the second narrative (226-227).

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