Stephen Den Beste talks about the Battle of Waterloo.
The truth about Waterloo, after nearly two centuries, remains imperfectly understood. The latest scholarship on the subject, as revealing as it is, is less satisfying (particularly to Anglophiles) than the legend that has persisted to this day.
There's a difference between History and a good story; the former is truth, but sometimes the latter, the "good story," is more pleasant to believe, or teaches a lesson better than the actual history does.
Joseph Campbell would understand. This is what Myth is all about.
For instance, I know, intellectually, that there was never an actual Sherlock Holmes, but I might willingly suspend my disbelief. I may prefer to think of him as a historical figure, because of some educational or even inspirational value that the Holmes stories might provide. I may act as though Holmes was real [though you'd be amazed at how infrequently this act is discernable to the human eye], but I know the difference.
I was once a History major. I've studied, I've read. My reading list consists of (among other things) books on things historical. I think I know (or at least have a better-than-average understanding) how the battle of Waterloo was fought, won, and lost.
But I also think the smaller stories that build into the legend, true or not, are valuable in and of themselves — perhaps, nearly two centuries later, more valuable than the truth is. As the saying goes, if those stories didn't exist, they would have to be invented.
That's why they persist.
The legend of the "thin red line" was an inspiration to the British during the darkest days of the Second World War. I call that "valuable." [The expression was, as far as I can tell, actually coined to describe the 93rd Highlanders at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854, but is often associated with the actions of the British infantry at Waterloo.]
After 1500 years, the legend of King Arthur remains a fixture of the English-speaking world [and maybe beyond, but I don't know.] We believe what we will about who Arthur was, what he did, and so on. No one really can say what the truth is — except that what we think we know is almost entirely a fiction. But the legend remains valuable.
And it's perfectly allright to hold legends and myths in high regard. They can inspire, they can motivate. They can, in difficult times, give the courage to carry on.
But always remember that myths and legends are just that. Don't mistake them for the truth.
[Self-study question: Michael Moore has made it his mission to build a Myth that stands in stark contrast to the facts. Will his version of the events of September 11, 2001 stand the test of time? Discuss.]