From the early days when Bruce Catton took the helm of this magazine, it’s been our tradition to remain outside the political fray, not espousing one side or the other in the issue du jour. Rather we’ve looked to our common heritage and let our readers draw their own conclusions. And we’ve kept to that through the Korean War, Vietnam, Watergate, deadlocked presidental elections, soaring deficits, and a Wall Street meltdown.
This issue we stick to our traditions, but make a small concession. The current political environment of stalemate and outspoken rhetoric seems so counterproductive that it prompted us to ask five distinguished historians to take a look at situations in our past where entrenched opposites met on the political battlefield—and worked things out. It’s sobering to think how often our country has come close to collapse, yet inspiring to learn how our leaders found a way out of conflict. See “Finding a Way Forward,” starting on page 18.
This is a can-do country in more ways than great political compromises. In this issue, Ed Lengel writes about the feats of 13-year-old Ernest L. Wrentmore, who talked (and lied) his way into the infantry in World War I, so committed was he to the cause. This courageous young doughboy barely survived America’s bloodiest battle, returning haunted by his experience. And, author Bruce Watson regales us with the story of the more than a thousand college students who poured into Mississippi during the summer of 1964 and braved violence to bring a message of social justice and racial equality. You’ll also find stories of inspiration in our special section, in which we worked with the state of Pennsylvania to celebrate the U.S. Colored Troops in the Civil War. Although late to the war, the more than 185,000 uniformed black troops made a major if often little-known contribution to the Union, suffering far higher casualty rates than their white counterparts. The doughboy Wrentmore, the students of the Freedom Summer, and the U.S. Colored Troops fought passionately for their beliefs and values. It’s what has made this country great.
Be sure to pick up a couple of history books this summer to read (we’ve listed a few of our recent favorites starting on page 52).
We’ve raised some important issues in this American Heritage. Please send me your thoughts at Email Editor . We will print a selection in the next issue and on our Web site.
Edwin S. Grosvenor, Editor-in-Chief