Thursday, June 12, 2014

"It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it"

I haven't spent much time flogging the What I'm Reading bloc I keep over there in the sidebar, but I've been meaning to start. Right now, I'm in the middle of Stanley P. Hirshson's The White Tecumseh: A Biography of General William T. Sherman. You're either into Civil War history and biography or you aren't. If you are, you'll want this one.

Most recent "stop and read again" paragraph:

Wounded at Kennesaw was twenty-eight-year-old Colonel Daniel McCook, Sherman's former law partner in Kansas. Shot in the right breast just below the collarbone while leading a charge, he was carried off the field and taken to his home in Steubenville, Ohio. On July 16 he received a message from Sherman telling him of his promotion to brigadier general. "The promotion is too late now," McCook responded. "Return the compliments, saying 'I decline the honor.'" The next day he died. He was buried in Cincinnati, eventually joined by his father, who was killed leading militia against the Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan, and four brothers, all of whom died in battle.

Mass American casualties on American soil have been the exception -- Pearl Harbor, 9/11 -- rather than the rule for lo on 150 years now.

For that matter, even abroad we haven't seen American casualties on anything like the same order of magnitude as enemy casualties since what, Korea? The armistice was in 1953, so an 18-year-old grunt then is 79 now.

No, I'm not saying Vietnam wasn't rough, but US troops killed there totaled 58,000 from 1955-1975. That's an average of about eight per day. Of course the incidence was much heavier during the period of 1965-72, but even if we attribute every last US KIA to that narrower period, it comes about 23 per day.

In the Civil War it was an average of more than 500 per day and right in our faces.

Since Vietnam, we've fought entire wars (Panama, Desert Storm) with fewer than 500 Americans killed in action.

Total American troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, in 13 years, come to about 13 days worth of Civil War death numbers.

The title of this post, of course, doesn't come from Sherman's biography. It's something Robert E. Lee said at Fredericksburg. I picked it because I wonder if war is terrible enough these days, at least for those who have the luxury of watching it from afar. For those who have to see it up close and personal, whether from military ranks or just because it's in their own front yards, well, here's Sherman on the subject:

I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting -- its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers ... it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated ... that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.

I doubt much has change from that perspective in 150 years.

No comments: