A Critique on the Oral History of War; Reviewing an Interview

Mohammad Droudian
Translated by: Zahra Hosseinian

2021-03-16


Following the decision of the Sacred Defense Documentation and Research Center to interview with war commanders under the title "Oral History of Commanders", designed and implemented by the late Dr. Ardestani, I have steadily studied and written various notes about the oral history, with respect to the importance of methodology.

In Persian references, the oral history has been perceived and emphasized more by the validity of the oral methodology and its distinction with the written history, and in most cases it has been considered the same with the interview method. In foreign references, influenced by the philosophical views which exist, there are other methodological views which have not received much attention in the oral history of the war. In this memo, the oral history interview with Sardar Gholam Ali Rashid is reviewed.

The first stage of oral history interview with Sardar Rashid was very "analytical and critical"; through certain questions about the events and course of the war, Sardar Rashid's intellectual structure in viewing and reporting the war events was questioned. The said method, which is close to "the critical oral history", was provided for a dialogue based on the abovementioned interviewee's empirical possibilities and mental abilities. The first stage of oral history began with the conditions of the country after the revolution victory and Sardar Rashid’s position in Dezful and then it continued until the conquest of Khorramshahr. Finishing the interviews, the frame of the mentioned discussions was compiled and completed in the mentioned method in two volumes with emphasis on the process of security and military developments.

The method was criticized by some friends, including the late Dr. Ardestani, then in charge of the Holy Defense Documentation and Research Center, for using "critical questions", according to the Sardar Rashid's subject matter and position. His opinion in criticizing the mentioned method was that; "Why don't you let him talk?" While accepting his opinion, I emphasized, "The purpose of oral history is to reveal situations and to refine and clarify events, not to make history by using speech without raising critical questions." Perceiving history as something realized in time and space, in fact, I sought to clarify historical facts through critical conversation; in this regard, I interviewed with any person, whom Sardar Rashid mentioned as a historical agent or witness, in other meetings and in his presence too, in order any discrepancy and gap between the statements to be revealed; as in some very important historical cases it did.

The second phase of oral history interview with Sardar Rashid was resumed after a long time and with a revision of the dialogue method, and then, after a while it was stopped due to the Covid-19 outbreak. In the new stage, citing his diary, which was written after the outset of the war, the events were re-read. In the new interviews, some topics were presented in great detail and others were generally analyzed to illustrate the situation, using other sources published in the field. The most important difference between this phase and the previous one, in addition to stating the details of the events, was the refusal to interview with other people whose names were talked or mentioned in the booklet. However, it seems to me that the common factor in both stages was the focus on the politico-military events of the war, in a descriptive and analytical manner, at both partial and general levels.

Based on this experience, in my opinion, if an oral or written history is told and written with a focus on the description and analysis of the "event", the use of oral or written methods will have methodologically the same result in historical studies and can be complementary. In applying the oral method, if the focus will be on "human action" in the face of historical events, instead of the event itself, the oral history becomes important from the perspective of reviewing "the experience of human encounter with war". In this case, the war will not be the subject of interview in oral history on the basis of "historical events in the past", but on the basis of "an experienced thing" by different people, because the event and its occurrence in time and place is not the subject of conversation, but a review of human experience and the historical interpretation. From this angle, the oral history of commanders is the narration of an experience and its revision in the form of a historical narrative from the narrator's perspective, and we are faced with "multiple narratives" of "shared experiences".

 

 


 
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