Jonathan posted a review at 2012-02-12 01:20:45.
The next in my line up of books devoured while on India Railways, this this story centered around the battle of Gettysburg was significantly more profound than the move it spawned. As with the prequel written years later by Michael Shaara's son Jeff, I found myself amazed once more at the magnanimous nature of Chamberlain and still baffled at never having learned about this hero during my educative years (come on, AP US History even?). "But he [chamberlain] was fighting for the dignity of man and in that way he was fighting for himself. If men were equal in America, and all these former Poles and English ad Czechs and blacks, then they were equal everywhere, and there was really no such thing as a foreigner; there we're only free men and slaves. And so it was no even patriotism but a new faith. The Frenchmen may fight for France, but he American fights for mankind, for freedom; for the people, not the land." I'm looking forward to the concluding chapter that Jeff Shaara followed up with in "The Last Full Measure".
As stated in numerous conversations between military officers once on the field as brothers about the face each others as adversaries, the roots of the war (as with most conflict) stem from an inability/unwillingness to understand. To understand the POV of others, their feelings/motivations, and to easily dismiss as incorrect/evil. Despite a perhaps Hemmingway-esque glorification of the battle and unity, Chamberlain as did his fellow officers clearly got this whereas their civilian leadership did not. Having found a wounded slave who spoke no English during the march to Gettysburg, Chamberlain demonstrates such empathy: "he felt a deep flow of sympathy. To be alien and alone, among white lords and glittering machines, uprooted by brute force and threat of death from the familiar earth of what he did not even know was Africa... What could the black man know of what was happening? Chamberlain tried to imagine it. He had seen ignorance, but this was more than that. What could this man know of borders and states' rights and the constitution and Dred Scott? What did he know of the war? And yet he was truly what it was all about. It simplified to that. Seen in the flesh, the cause of the war was brutally clear." Here in 1974, Shaara already begins to postulate the unspoken truth that many for years were only willing to sugarcoat (and only recently 35yrs later have begun to tackle head on) - yes, slavery really was the cause of the war. "I don't really understand it. Never have. The more I think about it the more it horrifies me. How can they look in the eyes of a man and make a slave of him and then quote the bible?"
Addressing a group of army deserters with one of the most impactful war speeches I've ever heard, Chamberlain delves right into the heart of why men fight. Supporting what Sebastien Junger discovered through countless ventures into the abyss, more than 150 years earlier this fundamental emotion was clear to Chamberlain: "This is free ground. All the way from here to the pacific ocean. No man has to now. No man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by what your father was. Here you can be something. Here's a place to build a home. It isn't the land - there's always more land. It's the idea they we all have value, you and me, we're worth something more than the dirt. I never saw dirt I'd die for, but I'm not asking you to come join us and fight for dirt. What we're all fighting for, in the end, is each other."
As the battle continues, interesting to hear the perspective of Fremantle, a visiting Brit with the confederate army of Longstreet - "The great experiment. In democracy. The equality of rabble. In not much more than a generation they have come back to class. As the French have done... The experiment doesn't work. Give them fifty years, as all that equality rot is gone. Here they have that same love of land and of tradition, of the right form, of breeding, in their horses, their women. Of course slavery is a bit embarrassing, but that, of course, will go. But the point is they do it all exactly as we do in Europe. And the north does not. That's what the war is really about. The north has those huge bloody cities and a thousand religions, and the only aristocracy is the aristocracy of wealth. The northerner doesn't give a damn for tradition, or breeding, or the old country. He hates the old country. You rarely hear a southerner refer to 'the old country.' In that pained way a German does. Or an Italian. Well, of course, the south is the old country. They haven't left Europe. They've merely transplanted it. And that's what this war is about." Very interesting parallel to what the Stanford scholar Thomas Sowell proposes in "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" - that the roots of the discord between conservatism and liberalism go back to continued traditions/prejudices/feuds established centuries ago in Europe.
"Killer Angels" does well to really frame in the right perspective the greater than life figure of Robert E Lee that began in "Gods and Generals". A truly noble man of the utmost integrity (and yes a slaveholder, though a quite unique one in that right), he was a master tactician in the field of battle though not in the course of war. Making many of the same mistakes as Napoleon, Lee rolled off countless victories that were unable to coalesce into a more strategic bigger picture of how to win the war (given the resource disadvantage of the Confederacy). The blusters of Gettysburg day 4 can only be attributed to a desperate attempt by Lee to salvage a situation that all of his officers saw as untenable). Ignoring the advice of Longstreet and pursuing an almost suicidal strategy of sending attack into the center in order to divide the union lines in half (Pickett's Charge), the result was the loss of 60% of his charging soldiers. Lost by most in the recollection of history is Lee's role in steering such a loss that turned the tide of the war, and his attempt to resign from command following the debacle of Gettysburg. Fortunately a man as renowned as Robert E Lee was able to re-invent himself given the role he played in leading post-bellum South forward. Nevertheless, a sound leadership lesson for us all to take away about the difference between management (battles) and leadership (the war). Leadership requires a mission and vision, management requires solely competence and can be aptly performed in the absence of purpose. Longstreet to Lee: "I was trying to warn you. But... You have no Cause. You and I, we have no Cause. We have only the army. But if a soldier fights only for soldiers, he cannot ever win. It is only the soldiers who die."