2008
03.09

The flap of our generals

Saw the movie “The flag of our fathers” about the battle of Iwo Jima (from the US point of view), and was somewhat disappointed. Its the counterpart to the movie Letters from Iwo Jima, which tells the story from the Japanese point of view. I was not crazy about Letters from Iwo Jima but it was better than this movie.

So, why I am wasting your time? As the wikipedia entry explains nicely the whole battle was probably a waste of life, resources and energy from the US point of view. But the movie never mentions this, because, well, it would make it less convenient to watch.

The conclusion is not to learn your history from movies (or wikipedia).

Which brings me to an **excellent** book I just read on the civil war: “Battle Cry of Freedom”, by James M. McPherson. Which is a line taken from a song, also involving flags. And so the cycle closes (for people obsessive about closing cycles), with a much grandeur story of heroism, incompetence (of politicians and generals alike), symbolism, success and failure. The great success of this book, is that it leaves you with much better understanding of how complicated the whole affair was. There are no short easy answers, and no easy lines. It is not even clear what were the reasons why the south lost the war (yeh, there are a lot of reasons, but as the book discusses, none of them tells even a large fraction of the story).

And that is what great telling of history is all about – it leaves you much more knowledgeable but with fewer certainties. This book reads much more like a suspense book than a history book (although you know the end [the butler did it, of course]) – I found myself skipping ahead when reading this book and then going back.

And you ask yourself, why should I waste my time reading about the civil war? Well, if you want to understand the US realities of here and now, you need to understand the story so far, and the Civil war is a large fraction of this story. Of course, you dont have too, ypu probably already understand everything about it, because you already saw all the relevant movies…

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