In this early part of the book, Erik Larson is trying to demonstrate for us what sort of a man William Dodd was. This will be important to the book as a whole since much of the book is devoted to looking at how Dodd deals with the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. His personal character is therefore very important.
The incident with the Grand Camp of Confederate Veterans happens in 1902. In, 1899, Dodd took a job as a history professor at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. In 1902, he published an article in The Nation in which he criticized the veterans’ organization for its role in getting a textbook banned in Virginia. He accused them of caring only about how the South was portrayed, not about the actual truth. Larson says Dodd argued that
They believed that the only valid histories were those that held that the South “was altogether right in seceding from the Union.”
This caused Dodd a great deal of trouble. There was a push to have him fired from his job. Even so, he did not back down. He continued to attack the veterans’ organization. He said that
To remain silent is out of the question for a strong and honest man.
By relating this incident, Larson wants to show us that Dodd had a strong moral character and that he believed that people must stand up for what is right.