Interview with Richard C. Anderson Jr.
- Published: 17 April 2010 17 April 2010
- Last Updated: 07 April 2012 07 April 2012
Richard C. Anderson Jr. has been working as a military historian and analyst since 1987 when he joined Trevor N. Dupuy's Historical Evaluation and Research Organization. After Trevor's death in 1995 Rich continued to work for The Dupuy Institute until 2008 when he became an analyst for the U.S. Army. He is also the author of Hitler's Last Gamble (with Trevor N. Dupuy and David Bongard) and Artillery Hell (with Curt Johnson).
The interview took place in February 2010.
AHF: How did you get contact to publishers when starting out?
Anderson: I checked around with some friends that had been published for advice and recommendations for publishers. Then I emailed a half-dozen or so of the most promising ones. I checked a couple of online sites that give advice on contacting publishers and writing book proposals and pretty much just followed what they said. Include your book proposal, why you think it is worth publishing, what audience you think it will have, who you are and why you should be listened to, and so forth.
AHF: Have you got any specific training (history degree, writing courses)?
Anderson: My undergraduate degree is a Bachelor of Arts in History and I am currently working on my Masters in International Relations. I have spent over 22 years writing military-related reports as well, which may not be a good thing. :-)
AHF: How did you first become interested in military history and what made you choose the topic of your first book?
AHF: How did your interest in the Second World War begin? Do you come from a military family? Your Dad served in WW2?
Anderson: These are all related for me. Yes, my Dad served. He was a college student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (now known as Virginia Tech) when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. To help pay for his education (his family was middle class, but it was the Depression) he had enrolled as part of the Corps of Cadets and so went to Officer Candidate School after an accelerated graduation in February 1943. He was commissioned in the Coast Artillery (Antiaircraft) and landed on UTAH on 14 June 1944 with the 537th AAA (AW) Battalion serving most of the time attached to the 90th Infantry Division.
My family was also prominent in Gettysburg and another relative was killed commanding the 49th Pennsylvania at Spotsylvania. So I guess I was born with an interest in military history.
AHF: How do you select topics for books?
Anderson: Whatever interests me that I have a significant amount of original documentation to work from.
AHF: Which archives have you used and how do you find working in them?
Anderson: I have worked in both the US and British National Archives, the US Army Military History Institute, the Library of Congress and other libraries, and have worked with material collected from BA-MA and the Russian Militaruy Archives, although I haven't had the chance to work there. By far the best and most efficient is the British National Archives at Kew.
AHF: What in particular needs to be kept in mind in archival research?
Anderson: Dig, dig, dig, use your time wisely, copy everything and not just what you think is relevent.
AHF: Have you tried to contact veterans and interview them - if so, how did this work out?
Anderson: I have in the past when working at the Dupuy Institute as part of the Breakpoints Study. Interviews with veterans work best if you have already studied the operation and dug into some of the archives for the original records, plus make sure you have a good map! Start by giving a quick overview of your understanding of what happened and then work from there.
AHF: Who decides on the contents of an index, and how do you decide what's listed and what's not?
Anderson: That is generally the publishers decision although if you wish to take the time and trouble you can prepare the index yourself.
AHF: What are your plans for future books?
Anderson: I've got a number of different possibilities in the works, most related directly to the Normandy Campaign.
AHF: What has the greatest challenge for you as a historical researcher been?
Anderson: Keeping track of everything that I thought I knew that turned out to be completely wrong...and then correcting the same misapprehension for others.
AHF: In hindsight, are there any things in your books that you would have done differently?
Anderson: Don't get me started! It seems inevitable that mistakes will creep in or that things will be forgotten. In retrospect I would have liked to have had an extra day at Kew to check a few more war diaries. For Hitler's Last Gamble I wish we had been firmer about last minute additions that screwed up the index and added to the length without adding much substance (the biographies that pepper the text), while in Artillery Hell I managed to miss the most complete technical reference on Civil War ordnance.
AHF: How did you manage your time between daily life (work and family) and work on the book; do you have a regime in regards to work time on the book?
Anderson: I am very inefficient that way and write in fits and starts. It is too easy for me to be seduced by a nice glass of wine, a good meal, an interesting TV show, or my lady friend.
AHF: How do you as an author view the Internet, both as a source and as a competitor to books?
Anderson: With a few exceptions it is an excellent source for disinformation. And I get a headache trying to read online, plus there doesn't seem to be a good place to stick my post-it notes so that I can refer back to something.
The few exceptions can be goldmines though. The Combined Arms Research Library (CARL) at the U. S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, has an excellent online digital library that includes original documents and reports, Army manuals, and student thesis. The Army Historical and Education Center (AHEC), at the U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, has an excellent library of unit histories, oral histories, annotated bibliographies, photographs, and Army manuals, many of them accessible online. The U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCOE) library, Fort Bragg, Georgia, now has available online many of the studies done at the Infantry and Armor School in the immediate postwar period, usually by the original participants.
The British National Archives at Kew also has some documents available free online; many directly related to military history and it is possible to order others online for free. Sadly that is something that cannot be said for the U.S. National Archives whose online digital collection is fragmentary at best.
AHF: What is the key bit of advice you would give to those who want to write a book on military history, especially World War 2?
Anderson: Go to the original source material and work forward. Every historian (including myself) is fundamentally lazy and happier to reach out from his comfy chair and pluck a book from his shelf that contains someone else's opinion about what they think happened. The problem is that person's opinion was shaped by a previous historian's opinion, and so on, and you often find that the ur-source was someone's fanciful belief of how an event should have occurred rather than how it did. The result are tales such as the widespread stories of guns held to cowardly American/British (depending on the author's affiliation) coxswains heads on D-Day, Polish lancers attempting to skewer German Panzers, and drunken Soviet peasant-soldiers goose-stepping with linked arms into German machinegun fire on the Eastern Front.
AHF: What is your opinion of the recent rise of interest in the Second World War in popular culture? What effect might it have on the historical research community?
Anderson: I'm not sure that it is "new", but it is a new wave. Some is refreshing, especially the better tactical studies based on original records or new ways to use the records- Ian Daglish's book on GOODWOOD is a great example in its use of aerial reconnaissance photography. Others are less appealing and are apparently repetitions of the Stephen Ambrose school of history (print the myth).
AHF: Can you live off the proceeds?
Anderson: Are you kidding? :-)
AHF: How would you have improved on the US Army in WW2? Size,training,equipment? Or was it adequate for its role?
Anderson: Its success rather belies the notion that it wasn't adequate I think? There were many ways it could have been easily improved, but improvement requires a perception of inadequacy and time to enact reforms. Few now seem to realize that from Pearl Harbor to VJ-Day was just less than four years compared to the 8+ years the US has been involved in Afghanistan, the 6+ years in Iraq, and the 10+ years in Vietnam, all of which were engagements that began with a much more capable American military than did World War II.
AHF: What do you think of Rick Atkinson's Liberation Trilogy?A worthy peer?
Anderson: I have only read the first, which is very well written. But I have a prejudice against journalistic style in that I want to know just where his figure came from. The modern predilection to provide "bibliographic essays" rather than point by point footnotes or endnotes is abhorent to me. As far as I'm concerned if you can't document it adequately then its opinion rather than fact.
AHF: Is the Pacific War,at least for the US Army,a neglected area? Why?
Anderson: No Uber-Panzers? No SS? It was primarily a naval war? I'm not really sure, but I'm afraid I'm just as guilty as the next guy when it comes to that. I know quite a bit about the 1941-1942 Philippines Campaign...and Pearl Harbor and Panama and bits about the Battle of Manila, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, but that's about it.