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Mindful : August 2013
“It is for us the living... to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.” Abraham Lincoln A boy’s view of war is a fool’s view of war. Perhaps that’s why in America and in countless countries across the world, we send mothers’ sons (and now daugh- ters), still baby faced, to killing fields to settle our scores a nd reconcile our differences. We deploy the logic of boys playing at wa r. But real war is for keeps. Of those who survive, many are physi- cally or mentally disfigured. In America today, 22 veterans a day commit suicide. The families and communities the com- batants come from are devastated; cities and towns in the way of battle are trans- formed beyond recognition; Predator drones and pipe bombs maim and kill in sudden indiscriminate bursts. This is the terrible cost of conflict by violent mea ns. And yet the cost is so easy to forget when anger takes hold. As I grew older, I stopped going to the battlefield to play at wa r. Sometimes in high school and college a g roup of us would go there at night and drink and carouse in the big open spaces, drawn by the eeriness of the la ndscape but oblivi- ous to its sanctity. Eventually, after my father died a nd all my siblings had moved away, my mother left the area. My trips to Gettysburg stopped and my memories of the place receded. Decades later, my mother moved back to live in a nursing home nestled on the side of the mountain just west of Gettysburg, near the spot where Gen- eral Robert E. Lee set up headquarters just prior to stumbling into the worst fight of his life, the one that would prove his undoing. I began stopping in Gettysburg on my way to see my mother. In the quiet of the evening I would look over the field where the Confederates charged ceaselessly, senselessly, to their deaths, wave upon wave grinding against the fearsome metal fired at them from Union guns and cannon trained down on them from the gentle incline of the justly named Cemetery Ridge. I walked amid the grave markers at the cemetery dedicated by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address. I started taking my mother with me on excursions to the battlefield, trying to learn more precisely what took place there. The battlefield guides working with the National Park Service gave us the lay of the land on three-hour tours. I read The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara’s novelistic treatment of the battle. I watched the movie Gettysburg and Ken Burns’ epic documentar y, The Civil War, built on first-person accounts. I read the lofty, elegiac prose of Shelby Foote in his account of the battle, Stars in Their Courses. I studied Thomas Desja r- din ’s These Honored Dead: How the Story Barry Boyce is the editor-in-chief of Mindful. PHOTOGRAPH©BRUCELEIGHTY/PHOTOLIBRARY/GETTYIMAGES 62 mindful August 2013