I never knew anything about my great-grandfather - hardly knew my grandpa, only that Grandpa Tom was a farmer, that someone in the family had a picture of great-grandfather William in a Confederate uniform.
Now, with time on my hands, I've been able to ferret more about my family from the fog of history. William was a struggling farmer in central Alabama who, as many did in response to 9/11, volunteered for service, William in the Confederate Army. He caught malaria in Pensacola, then fought in the horrendous battle at Shiloh. Later in the siege of Atlanta, he was wounded somewhere along Peachtree Creek, a short drive from where I lived for a long string of years.
He returned home prior to the Confederate surrender to a wasted farm, and died a few short years later, no doubt of complications from his war injuries. His first wife Becky died prior to William's death. He remarried, leaving his four children in new wife Jane's hands. She couldn't keep the family together, and they separated. Grandpa went to live with another family, the Taylors, and as the great Southern diaspora occurred in the Civil War's aftermath, he and the Taylors clambered aboard their wagons and headed for a hopefully better life in Louisiana.
This, then, is the microcosm of war, the part of history that's so deep in detail as to hardly gain a mention. As a war correspondent said recently about the Iraq war: "Hardly anyone I've ever met wants a war, but we keep having them anyway."
The human face of war, particularly of non-combatants, is always a virtual mirror of my family's. The suffering is unbelievable and wasteful. And beyond the immediate aftermath, succeeding generations are handed down attitudes and habits that affect their lives long after the earth itself has healed from war's devastation.
Tom served in a de facto version of the National Guard before leaving Alabama, and three of his sons, including my Dad, served in the military in the twentieth century. I also served briefly, so I understand the draw to serve and the pride it engenders. What's little understood by anyone these days, it seems, is that with war's inherent baggage, national leaders have a sacred duty not to commit a nation to war without extreme, compelling reasons, and should always do so as a last resort.
The end of the combat segment of the Iraq war has come, and that country's future now lies, not with the U.S. and its allies, but with its own leaders. Maliki has shown no interest in abiding by the recent national election, which put him out of office. So the country now stands precariously on the edge of civil war.
With this in mind, I came across the film clip linked above. It's from a documentary movie, "The Last Waltz," celebrating the life and career of a seventies musical group, The Band. The clip is of a song, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," written by the drummer, Levon Helm, who also sang it. Besides its superb arrangement and great musical hook, the lyrics are a better summation than I could ever write of humanity's complicated, confused attitudes toward war. Helm gives us in a few words within the song a musical summation of the effect of war on those we might cavalierly refer to as "collateral damage:"
"Now I don't mind chopping wood,
And I don't mind that the moneys no good,
Take what you need and leave the rest
But they should never have taken the very best."
Art does this: it summarizes the panorama of history, but it still finds room for the emotional responses of individuals to the grander surge of history.
Causes Bob Mustin Supports
Native American culture. Education. Creative writing.