Two new books about the May 2, 2011, raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin Laden are scribbling in the margins of the first draft of history. No Easy Day, written by Matt Bissonnette (under the pen name Mark Owen), a Navy SEAL who participated in the operation, offers a fresh accounting of what will likely be remembered as one of the biggest moments of the decade. No Easy Day has roiled Washington. It has also sparked the publication of a competing e-book, No Easy Op, which was quickly assembled by a group of special operations veterans who question Bissonnette's motivations and criticize his incomplete recounting of what actually happened on that moonless night in South Asia.

Those involved seem to assume that the truths they uncover today will be chiseled into the historical record tomorrow. What survives in historical memory, however, depends as much on patterns of human understanding and

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  • JAMES V. WERTSCH is Professor of Anthropology and Associate Vice Chancellor for International Affairs at Washington University in St. Louis.
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