Friday, July 16, 2004

Thoughts for the Day

Right now I'm reading Michael Shaara's Killer Angels. It's a novelisation of the Battle of Gettysburg, with maps. It was also the basis for the movie Gettysburg, by Ron Maxwell, starring Martin Sheen, Tom Berenger and Jeff Daniels. I enjoyed the movie, for its realistic setting and battle scenes (filmed at Gettysburg National Park) and attention to detail, but also found it just too reverential and hagiographic, covered in a pall that managed to kill a lot of the tensions. Still, having seen the movie first, I wanted to read the novel.

Turns out that a lot of the movie came straight from the novel. Literally; whole speeches, etc. Ah well. Plus, Angels has to introduce a dizzying cast in short order and it's a bit of trouble to keep everyone straight. Still, I'm enjoying the story and will likely read the two sequels next, after I read The DaVinci Code, which my lunch-buddy Amanda is going to loan me.

There were some passages I loved in the movie, and they are present in the novel. Like this:
"This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you'll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we're here for something new. I don't...this hasn't happened much in the history of the world. We're an army going out to set other men free.

This is free ground. All the way from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow. 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 that 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." (Colonel Lawrence Chamberlain, pg. 32-33.)
That first paragraph is striking in this day and age. As is this quote from Napoleon:
The logical end to defensive warfare is surrender.
The movie version had a really PC passage with the film's only black character that read like something put in to mollify critics. It's not in the novel, which has a more complex and realistic exchange, part of which ended up in the film. Here's a passage from that:
Chamberlain said suddenly, "Buster, tell me something. What do you think of Negroes?"

Kilrain brooded.

"There are some who are unpopular," he concluded.

Chamberlain waited.

"Well, if you mean the race, well, I don't really know." He hunched his shoulders. "I have reservations, I will admit. As many a man does. As you well know. This is not a thing to be ashamed of. But the thing is, you cannot judge a race. Any man who judges by the group is a peawit. You take men one at a time, and I've seen a few blacks that earned my respect. A few. Not many, but a few."

Chamberlain said, "To me there was never any difference."

"None at all?"

"None. Of course, I didn't know that many. But those I knew...well, you looked in the eye and there was a
man. There was the divine spark, as my mother used to say. That was all there was to it...all there is to it.


They sat for a long while in silence. Then Kilrain said, softly smiling, "Colonel, you're a lovely man." He shook his head. "I see at last a great difference between us, and yet I admire ye, lad. You're an idealist, praise be."

Kilrain rubbed his nose, brooding. Then he said, "The truth is Colonel, that there's no divine spark, bless you. There's many a man alive no more alive than a dead dog. Believe me, when you've seen them hang each other.... Equality? Christ in Heaven. What I'm fighting for is the right to prove I'm a better man than many. Where have you seen this divine spark in operation, Colonel? Where have you noted this magnificent equality? The Great White Joker in the Sky dooms us all to stupidity or poverty from birth. No two things on earth are equal or have an equal chance, not a leaf nor a tree. There's many a man worse than me, and some better, but I don't think race or country matter a damn. What matters is justice. 'Tis why I'm here. I'll be treated as I deserve, not as my father deserved. I'm Kilrain, and I God damn all gentlemen. I don't know who me father was and I don't give a damn. There's only one aristocracy, and that's right here --" he tapped his white skull with a thick finger -- "And you, Colonel laddie, are a memeber of it and don't even know it. You are damned good at everything I've seen you do, a lovely soldier, an honest man, and you got a good heart on you too, which is rare in clever men. Strange thing, I'm not a clever man meself, but I know it when I run across it. The strange and marvelous thing about you. Colonel darlin', is that you believe in mankind, even preachers, whereas when you've got my great experience of the world you will have learned that good men are rare, much rarer than you think. Ah --" he raised his hands, smiling -- "don't you worry about ministers. The more you kill, the more you do the world a service." He chuckled, rubbing his face. His nose was fat and soft, rippling under his ringers.

Chamberlain said, "What has been done to the black is a terrible thing."

"True. From any point of view. But your freed black will turn out no better than many the white that's fighting to free him. The point is that we have a country where the past cannot keep a good man in chains, and that's the nature of the war. It's the aristocracy I'm after. All that lovely, plumed, stinking chivalry. The people who look at you like a piece of filth, a cockroach, ah." His face twitched to stark bitterness. "I tell you, Colonel, we got to win this war." He brooded. "What will happen, do you think, if we lose? Do you think the country will ever get back together again?"

"Doubt it. Wound is too deep. The differences.... If they win there'll be two countries, like France and Germany in Europe, and the border will be armed. Then there'll be a third country in the West, and that one will be the balance of power."

Kilrain sat moodily munching on a blade of grass. More cannon thumped; the dull sound rolled among the hills. Kilrain said, "They used to have signs on tavern doors: Dogs and Irishmen keep out. You ever see them signs, Colonel?"

Chamberlain nodded.

"They burned a Catholic church up your way not long ago. With some nuns in it."


There was a divine spark." (Colonel Chamberlain and Sergeant Kilrain, p. 186 - 189.)
I'm only half-way through; early afternoon of the second day, as Chamberlain is defending Little Round Top from a flanking Confederate army advance. I find I enjoy the novelistic, less history-study approach of Shaara, though I'm sure now that I'll end up with some Shelby Foote for the details.

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