What Happened to Standards?

Each source you cite in the paper must appear in your reference list; likewise, each entry in the reference list must be cited in your text. –  Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, (6th ed., 2nd printing).

I have a daughter in 11th grade at Pittsburgh Allderdice. As she was finishing last semester and preparing for finals she was completing a section in American History about slavery, state’s-rights, and the run-up to the Civil War.  Her class had to complete a 15 event timeline project – What (in the student’s opinion) were the most significant events in a 30 or 40 year period that ended with the establishment of the Confederacy?  They had to describe in 1-2 paragraphs what happened and why they felt it was significant.  Do you know what? Even though it was an imaginative and artistic project with visual appeal, they had to cite their sources; they had to assemble a bibliography. Back when I walked to school both ways uphill in the snow, we adhered to the same standard. You cited your work, you informed the reader of where and how you elicited the information (reading, interviews, broadcasts) by which you as the writer were further informing the reader and/or drawing conclusions.

Why the background? I have a problem with the Da Capo Press.  I just finished Honor and Betrayal by Patrick Robinson, published by the De Capo Press. Honor and Betrayal is, as the cover states, “The untold story of the Navy SEALs who captured the “Butcher of Fallujah”- and the shameful ordeal they later endured.”

On March 31, 2004, four American contractors employed by Blackwater Security Consulting were ambushed and killed; their bodies brutalized, burned and then dragged through Fallujah before being hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River.  In 2009 the United States caught up with the major leader of the insurgency in Fallujah – Ahmad Hashim Abd al-Isawi – the same man who organized the assault and desecration of the ambushed Blackwater staff. Al-Isawi is considered responsible for several thousand deaths in Anbar province, almost all of them Iraqi.  In a nighttime raid beautifully retold in the book, the SEALS arrested al-Isawi and brought him back to Camp Schwedler just outside of Fallujah.

Within three days, three of the SEALs who’d participated in the capture and arrest of al-Isawi were accused of assaulting and injuring him while in captivity.  What then ensues is a seven month ordeal that culminates in three Courts Martial, requested by the defendants as the their only option to actually prove their innocence and clear their names.  Ultimately all three, after two trials in Iraq and one in Virginia, were found innocent of all charges.  There is even a Pittsburgh connection. One of the primary Navy JAG (Judge Advocate General) officers representing the SEALs was Lt. Guy Reschenthaler who grew up here, graduated from Law School at Duquesne, and is today the District Judge in Jefferson Hills. There were even the obligatory (and inaccurate) Steeler references made in the book.

My problem with this intriguing 356 page story, one worthy of knowing, is that there isn’t one single footnote, reference, or page of bibliography.  From even the most rudimentary non-fiction perspective, this might as well be Harry Potter or Moby Dick.  Patrick Robinson is a prolific author of fiction work, mostly naval based techno-thrillers. He’s actually a good writer; his stories are pretty compelling and aren’t as techno-geek centric as even Tom Clancy became.  But I’m not sure that he (or his agent, editor, whomever) should have let this work be written to the same standards.  It’s unfortunate, because while Honor and Betrayal is a compelling and even an important read, it can’t be used as an historic work, at least by juniors at Pittsburgh Allderdice.


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One response to “What Happened to Standards?

  1. It drives me nuts to read nonfiction that doesn’t have good sources or footnotes. Sometimes the footnotes have interesting tidbits that just don’t fit into the narrative and if it’s a subject I’m interested in, I want to know where else to go for more information. I constantly flip back and forth between the references/bibliography/etc. and what I’m reading.

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