Copyright Ross F. Lockridge, Jr., 1947, 1948 / All rights reserved

Selected Writings From Raintree County

War, said the Perfessor...

Ross Lockridge, Jr.,
Raintree County, pp. 493-6.

     --War, said the Perfessor, is the most monstrous of all human illusions.  All ideals worth anything are worth not fighting for.     
     --War, gentlemen, the Senator said, is one of the world's necessary evils.  This nation grew strong through battle.  The Civil War was the college in which the young men of this country learned how to do big things.
     --War is just plain killing, the Perfessor said.  You understand, I'm not sentimental about it.  God knows, unless we drew a little blood now and then, there wouldn't be room on the globe for us all.  What's pitiful is how men murder each other and then glorify the crime in song and story.  The real issues of the Civil War always seemed simple to me.  The Civil War was fought quite simply because some men are darker than others.  In a way both North and South were fighting the Negro--the South to keep him a slave and productive, the North to keep him from being too productive, which meant making him free.
     --There's a lot of truth in that, the Senator said.  No use pretending that either side fought the War on moral grounds.  Two economic systems were pitted against each other--railroads against cotton.  When I changed over and became a Republican, it was in recognition of that fact.  Economically, the South was behind the times.  This country was meant to be one Nation, one big industrial and political bloc.  It was Fate, and the South had to give in to Fate--and the bigger battalions.
     --The Civil War, Mr. Shawnessy said, was fought because man will be free. Both sides fought it as a holy war.
     --But you see, John, the Perfessor said, you and I were part of the War, and we can't get away from its fine old fervors.  All that cant about Liberty and Union was part of our youth, and a man will cling to as much youth as he can.  But was it so important after all that a certain hunk of the earth be called by one name instead of two?  Which side fought for God and the Right?  Well, I'll tell you.  God doesn't care about these things. God was quite untroubled by the Great American Civil War.  God, the God of Nature, is a great brute impulse.  He laughs at our romantic ideals of love and war.  I tell you, John, the farmboys went out and died merely because they had the goddam rotten luck to be born on one side or other of a river. There's no absoluteness in these things.  War is neither moral nor immoral, just as life is neither moral nor immoral.  War simply happens to men, they're blind victims of it, it's a clash of forces ruthless and natural, like the unconscious strife between the dinosaurs and the little early mammals who ate their eggs and destroyed them.  Only our everlasting glorification of the individual make us believe in the epic heroism of war.  We get completely lost in a swirl of proper nouns. Sumter, Fredericksburg, Antietam, Gettysburg, Lincoln, Lee, Sherman, Grant, Washington, Richmond, the 134th Indiana Volunteers, the March to the Sea, Shiloh, Vicksburg--what are all these names?  Words only, I assure you.  All this is simply the romantic human being trying to deny that he's an animal.  It's because we all try so hard to be immortal and distinguish ourselves from every other individual who ever lived that we have so much sorrow and so much poetry.  We'd be happier if we practiced the same ethics toward ourselves that we do toward flies.  What is the death of one hundred thousand flies? Just a natural phenomenon.  A fly is not an individual.  A fly is simply the representative of a species.  No one but that sentimental sap, Uncle Toby, cares about what happens to a fly.
     --Perhaps the fly himself dimly resents it, Mr. Shawnessy put in.
     --But, the Perfessor continued, the death of a million men in a series of bloody explosions and stinking camps is called the Civil War and each man is lamented and remembered for a time, and people have banquets for fifty years, and Congress votes pensions, and schoolboys recite the Gettysburg Address.  But sub specie aeternitatis, this is all nothing.  Strictly speaking, there is no past.  That which no longer is never was.  Events, as you say, John, are something that never happened.  The dead are simply nowhere.  The new generations will look back on the Civil War with great calm.  It's hard to feel sorry for folks who died a hundred years ago.
     --The Civil War, Mr. Shawnessy said, drawing a deep breath and weighing
his words, was fought for the Republic--or what Lincoln called the Union.  The Republic transcends boundaries, triumphs over space.  In America, a man not only possesses his home and his local gods, but he possesses the Republic, which is a denial of tribal boundaries and tribal prejudice.  The Republic is the symbol of man's victory over the formless earth. It may be an illusion, but to be human is to accept human illusions, which were created by centuries of struggle.  This Republic is, in Lincoln's phrase, the last, best hope of earth.  It affirms that a portion of America--this earth discovered, adorned, and named by human labor--shall not be the property of a single generation to wrest it away and shape it to new things at will.  The North didn't fight through a desire to acquire the South, to possess it, to invade it, to enslave it.  They didn't even fight to destroy slavery within it. They fought to preserve the republic, a mystical concept that affirms the humanity of man.  The Southerners threatened to destroy the Republic on a point of inhumanity--the perpetuation of slavery.  Thus their moral position was hopelessly weak from the start.  The ante-bellum South was a proud, feudal, voluptuous dream.  In their blind way, the Southerners imagined that they too fought for freedom.  But it was freedom to enslave other human beings.  Their so-called right was not the world's right nor humanity's right.  Thus a war came to be, in which the North was lucky to find great moral leadership in the person of Lincoln, while the South--significantly--found great military leadership in Robert E. Lee.  As a series of physical facts, we know how terrible the War was.  As a series of Moral Events, it was necessary and even sublime.  It had to be fought and won for the future of humanity.  If the Civil War had been lost by the North or had never been fought at all, Balkanization of the American Republic would have resulted, and the last, best hope of earth would have been lost for a time.
     --Will you philosophers pardon me while I do a little vulgar politicking, the Senator said, raising to greet an approaching delegation.
     --Well, said the Perfessor, this may all be true.  But what of the martyrs who fought and died for this noble dream, the Union?  Where are the young men who died in the first battles?  Where are the heroes of First Bull Run?  For them--and forever--

1861-- 'ALL'S --1863



pp. 493-6

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