Posted on Monday 21 October 2013

No, I’m not going to try to spin the Battle of Gettysburg back in 1863 into something about the pharmaceutical industry and medicine. But I am going to talk about it anyway:

Map 1863

I grew up in the South in a place where Civil War Cannons and Monuments were as common as bus stops. As a kid, I thought that the Civil War was about honor, chivalry, and regional autonomy. People stood up when they played Dixie. I was in my mid-twenties and deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement before I really even understood that the Civil War was about slavery, and realized that the poor southern foot soldiers that died by the thousands for the Confederacy probably were as deluded as I was about the real meaning of that War.

The story of the three day battle at Gettysburg was one I well knew from a stint in military school where it was part of the academic curriculum. But what I wanted to talk about here was the feeling I had all day yesterday riding a bus around the Gettysburg Battlefield. As the guide rattled on about the battle, I found myself rooting for the South just like when I was a kid, feeling outraged by the mistakes of the southern generals – speculating like many before me about what would’ve happened if Robert E. Lee hadn’t ordered Pickett’s ill-fated charge [top picture][from left to right across the center of the map]. Sitting on Cemetery Ridge looking over the site of the Charge, it was obvious that it was a fool’s errand. How could General Lee have thought it would work? instead of turning into a slaughter? which it did.

There must be something called cultural inertia, because all day I felt pangs of something that runs counter to everything I hold as holy. There’s nothing about the cause of the Confederacy that remotely approximates any of my personal values, yet on that battlefield, I was a southern boy pulling for the home team. Along the battle lines, the states have erected monuments in the approximate locations of the units that fought there. The ones along Cemetery Ridge built by the northern states speak of the valor of those who died to uphold the Union. The ones along Seminary Ridge, the southern lines, spoke of valor and honor in the service of their cause – without specifying what that cause actually was.

What I felt on that battlefield yesterday was irrational. I knew it when I was feeling it. But it speaks to something about the power of childhood imprinting on the mind. I wonder if it would show up on an fMRI?
    October 21, 2013 | 7:03 PM

    lol.. how does a structural test become a functional one anyway?

    At night, when ongoing battles weren’t being fought, soldiers from both sides traded food, southern tobacco, and union coffee, and then resumed the fight in the morning. I don’t think human beings were designed well to rationalize war, there’s just something too artificial about it.

    October 21, 2013 | 7:11 PM

    Going to school in Texas, I had the impression that the South lost on a technicality. Then, I moved to Indiana. In my American History class, the teacher asked people to name famous battles. Over half the class raised their hands. I was shocked that so many of them knew the names of so many battles I had never heard before. Before the class was over, I got the gist. My American History Class at the University of Texas was taught by a social historian who was also the head of the African Studies department. I understand that the South was dreadful and was beaten soundly for good reason.

    And, apparently, needs to be beaten again, so to speak. The Neo-Confederate language we’ve been hearing lately– “nullification of Federal law” and “secession”— makes my blood boil; especially because so many of those red states take more from the Federal government than they give and still use the “states rights” argument to justify their bigotry.

    Steve Lucas
    October 21, 2013 | 8:20 PM

    As a young man I was corrected by an elderly lady who had family ties to the War of Northern Aggression. Perspective is everything.

    Steve Lucas

    October 22, 2013 | 1:08 AM

    I think your experience is a good illustration of how we humans still haven’t evolved beyond our tribal origins, and how we’re all predisposed to feel a much stronger affinity for members of our tribe (whether it’s family, hometown, region, nation) than for outsiders. And of course they’ve done fMRI studies on this.

    October 22, 2013 | 7:59 PM

    I dare say that if they did a fMRI of your brain, they would find a cortical homunculus of Johnny Reb!

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