Studying War Among The Graves
Ironic that I’d log onto the Internet after some couple days of following the path of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia up through Maryland and on to Gettysburg to find this piece by Victor Davis Hanson: Why Study War? Were you ever taught that, putting an outright military victory aside, a significant motivation behind Lee’s second invasion of the North was to stir up the Northern peace movement in hopes of winning the war in perhaps the only way ever actually open to him – politically?
Lee hoped an invasion would fuel the northern peace movement and, at least, disrupt the Union war effort.
Fifty-one thousand killed or wounded in a few days, ten thousand or more in a single wheat field in half an afternoon, still Lee did not realize his Tet, if you will. And that in a war that yielded up photos like the one of a fourteen year old boy killed in battle at Petersburg and cited a 12 year-old boy as perhaps its youngest veteran amputee. Yet, the sides fought on. Here’s a comprehensive wiki. A solid page with photos on the larger war here.
If you read just a bit of history around Gettysburg you’ll note that the great General Lee all but stumbled into a battle he neither planned, nor wanted, and against the best advice of some of his commanders, in fact. His originally stated intention was to fight a defensive battle he could win, not the offensive sort he eventually lost. And Meade, the victorious Northern General was soon relieved in disappointment by Lincoln for his failure to pursue and crush Lee’s army. Some fascinating reads on Gettysburg and also the politics around that battle here.
As I was making my way North I thought of men walking, many of them so very, very young. From Alabama, New York, Kentucky, Minnesota, Georgia, wherever, children walking, in many cases, to their death. You see, they were from the North and the South, as the Federal Army was making its way North, as well – probing, attempting to stay in touch with Lee’s forces. Were their lives wasted? Were they simply poor, impoverished dupes of some military industrial complex? The victims of materialistic politicians bent only on acquiring power for themselves?
If you are to conclude that, then you must conclude that our Republic itself has no worth, no value at all in the grand scheme. And while Iraq is obviously not America, to conclude our men and women now fighting and dying there are nothing but the saddest of the above is to conclude that country and its twenty-some million people are of no value, either. And that’s something I’m simply not prepared to do.
Why study war? I don’t know. Because it is real and perhaps always proves itself inevitable? Because it refines truth with the hottest of fires and makes us face things and ideas we might prefer to ignore? I didn’t log on to answer the question: Why study war? as VDH does. I simply logged on to say that, when you do, everything else pales in comparison. And you will learn lessons you might not like but nevertheless need if you are to truly understand the world in which we live today, assuming you have the insight and wisdom to admit it, of course.