Thursday, April 5, 2012

Too many anniversaries

Had I won the Mega Millions lottery last week, I would've spent a large part of the next few years on battlefields. If you're interested in military history, as I am, our time is filled with anniversaries. We're 200 years out of the later parts of the Napoleonic Wars, a year into the American Civil War's 150th, and World War I is coming back into public consciousness as we approach its 100 year mark.

Tomorrow (April 6) my hypothetical rich self would need to be two places at once. It's the 200th anniversary of the Storming of Badajoz, which plays a significant role in my first book, The Sergeant's Lady.

Badajoz was an unusually gruesome battle for its time--the elite Light Division lost 40% of its fighting strength. The aftermath was even worse, as the victorious British sacked the city in a rampage of looting, rape, and murder.

It's also the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh, which at the time was the bloodiest battle in American history.

Badajoz and Shiloh are both grim enough to make me stop and question my own fascination with military history. I'm by no means a pacifist, because I think there are some evils that can't be stopped short of a war. World War II and the Civil War, viewed from the Union side, both strike me as just and unavoidable. But I'm also by no means unthinkingly militaristic. Few things make me angrier than seeing good men and women sacrificed for no worthy purpose in an unjust, unnecessary war. I find World War I all but unbearable to contemplate precisely because it was so damn pointless, and if it served any purpose beyond decimating Europe and making World War II all but inevitable, I've never been able to find it. And even the most just of wars...well, I'll quote William Tecumseh Sherman in May 1865:

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.

So, I don't love war, but I can't look away from its history. Maybe it's in the blood--though I'm not an Army brat, I've got a lot of soldiers in my family, both in the present and living memory and at least as far back as the American Revolution. (Though, as noted above, I firmly believe the Union had all the right on its side in the Civil War, my roots in Alabama go deep enough that I'm the great-great-granddaughter of a Confederate soldier. I'm neither proud nor ashamed of that fact--it simply is what it is. He was a product of his place and time. If anything, my eligibility for the Daughters of the Confederacy, which I would never, ever join, is a useful reminder to occasionally ask myself what injustices I condone unthinkingly because they're normal for where and when I live.)

Whatever the cause, I expect I'll continue studying military history and writing about soldiers--the glory, moonshine though it be, and the horror, and the courage, honor, and sacrifice. And there's one anniversary I intend to make. Barring catastrophe, I'll be at Waterloo on June 18, 2015.

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