American Heroes, Myth and Reality

By Marshall W. Fishwick | Go to book overview

Introduction

Popular concepts of a national hero are built of many materials. The incontrovertible facts of a biography documented by the agreement of friendly and hostile contemporaries are but the pedestal on which the great figure is raised for the generations to admire. The figure itself, as the public receives it, is molded from a mixture of honest but always fallible interpretations, colorful but undependable folk-lore, enthusiastic efforts at mass-hypnotism, and sometimes plumb dishonest hornswoggling.

Professor Fishwick has focused an inquiring eye upon the sculptors who have created in the general mind its gallery of hero- statues and has subjected both the artists and their materials to a lively going-over. It has already been discovered from his lectures and from occasional appearances of his articles in the public prints that he elicits from his hearers and readers either excited camp-meeting shouts of "Amen!" or more excited and often horrified cries of "Oh, no!" Indications of indifference have not been reported.

The word "de-bunk" has lately come to mean in the minds of many to present derogatory materials in a prejudiced or dishonest manner. In this sense of the word Professor Fishwick is no de- bunker. He believes, however, as does every honest historian, that where "bunk" exists it should be exposed for what it is. Objective appraisal is his goal and he has found occasion in this volume to de-bunk sometimes the de-bunkers of heroes, sometimes the heroes themselves, sometimes the wild idolators, the partisan politicans, the selfish coat-tail riders.

American scholars have in recent years placed strong emphasis on the realization that the reporting of changes in popular attitudes of mind, of development and decline of fads and folk-fancies, of the shadings and nuances of the communal imagination, is quite as important to the understanding of our past as the presentation

-vii-

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