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Classic title for Memorial Day 2010: This Republic of Suffering

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An estimated 620,000 soldiers died between 1861 and 1865 – equal to the total American fatalities in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined. Add to that at least 50,000 civilian deaths.

"This Republic of Suffering" is a harrowing but fascinating read. Faust (who is the president of Harvard University) makes a convincing case that since the heartbreak of the Civil War the US has never been the same.

On an institutional level, the government was prompted to become a caretaker and custodian of its citizens in a way that it never had before. But more poignantly, Faust argues, the Civil War raised questions about individual worth that we have yet to answer today.

In some ways, the peculiar horror of the Civil War was that it introduced modern warfare to a nation utterly unprepared to understand it. "How does God have the heart to allow it?" cried Confederate soldier and poet Sidney Lanier. Modern weapons deployed on small battlefields meant that "the Civil War placed more inexperienced soldiers, with more firepower and with more individual responsibility for the decision to kill, into more intimate, face-to-face battle settings than perhaps any other war in history."

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