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Monday, July 1, 2013

David Brooks, "Why They Fought": A Pilgrimage to Gettysburg

On the shelves over my writing desk are several Civil War Minie balls, one from the Gettysburg battlefield. A Union cavalry sword, a gift from a very dear friend, is also hung from the wall. I hold in my hand a silver medal awarded to my grandmother, Amy Hahn, by none other than The New York Times, "for merit in essay on Abraham Lincoln 1909."

I have made the pilgrimage to Gettysburg, the Warsaw Ghetto and Babi Yar. I have yet to visit Normandy and the Alamo.

Notwithstanding my opposition to and participation in peaceful protests against a senseless war in Vietnam, which cost the lives of more than 58,000 American soldiers, or some 0.030% of the American population at the time of this tragedy, I have always believed that there is also a need to fight evil, which abounds among us.

And although the meaninglessness sacrifice of Vietnam disillusioned many Americans of my generation and called into question "patriotism" and the need to sacrifice life and limb for "democracy," forces are again afoot that would deprive Americans of their basic freedoms.

As reported by CNN, "Two separate bomb blasts in different parts of Pakistan on Sunday killed a total of at least 47 people and wounded more than 90 others" ( In Iraq, "More than 2,500 people were killed in Iraq in the past three months" ( In Syria, more than 100,000 persons have died in Syria since the uprising against Bashar al-Assad began.

One week ago, Franciscan Father Francois Murad was beheaded with a kitchen knife by the al-Nusra Front, after it attacked the monastery in Syria where he was staying (see:

Regrettably, as evidenced by the 1983 Beirut Barracks Bombing, 9/11 and more recently the Boston Marathon bombing, this craziness, which must go unnamed for reasons of political correctness, has more than tangentially touched Americans.

Ultimately, as Iran builds its bomb, will America be prepared to confront the threat?

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Why They Fought" (, David Brooks reflects on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and letters written by Civil War soldiers. Brooks concludes:

"These letter writers, and many of the men at Gettysburg, were not just different than most of us today because their language was more high flown and earnest. There was probably also a greater covenantal consciousness, a belief that they were born in a state of indebtedness to an ongoing project, and they would inevitably be called upon to pay these debts, to come square with the country, even at the cost of their lives.

Makes today’s special interest politics look kind of pathetic."

The sacrifice made by North and South during the American Civil War was indeed overwhelming. There were some 625,000 battle deaths, comprising some 2% of America's population at the time.

But not so fast, David. Also in July of 1863, following enforcement of a law making all men between 20 and 45 years of age eligible for military service, New York City experienced the most destructive rioting in its history.

As observed in the Book of Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun.

Are young people in America today capable of shedding their narcissism and confronting the unmistakable threat that looms on the horizon?

The answer will soon be coming.

1 comment:

  1. The NYC Draft Riots of 1863 were more complicated than noted here, partly because NYC seriously considered secession, more because the rich bought the poor to serve, and mostly die due to play-acting 'Generals' like Sickles.

    For some reason, American tv is broadcasting zero Civil War films, but I watched "Windtalkers" today, Battle for Saipan. Navaho Marines using their language, a code the Japanese could not break.
    What struck me was the final credit:
    "Ours is not to question why, ours is but to do or die. Semper Fi."
    That Tennyson quote from "Charge of the Light Brigade" is not even an unofficial USMC motto.

    America will always have warriors.
    Not sure America will ever again have leaders worthy of such warriors.
    Time to watch my dvd of "Gettysburg", because this is Day 2, and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and the 20th Maine, are my heroes.

    Iwo Jima is the real pilgrimage-worthy battle site. Good that Clint Eastwood told both sides of that battle story for posterity.