Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fort Hood: And Eyes that "Flash and Burn"

Walt Whitman, the great American poet, also wrote of his experiences as an Army nurse in the Civil War. The Memoranda During the War (1875) is about the best prose I have ever read by a non-participant in the battles: some knowledge, but not all. Inexhaustible compassion. It is not a great work, it is "memoranda" of things small. For instance, Whitman talks about buying ice cream for soldiers and how they enjoy it. And some darker things. This is from page 5.

Future years will never know the seething hell and the black infernal background of countless minor scenes and interiors (not the few great battles) of the Secession War; . . . the fervid atmosphere and typical events of those years are in danger of being totally forgotten. I have at night watch'd by the side of a sick man in the hospital, one who could not live many hours. I have seen his eyes flash and burn as he recurr'd to the cruelties on his surrendered brothers . . . .
Such was the war. It was not a quadrille in a ball-room. Its interior history will not only never be written, its practicality, minutiae of deeds and passions, will never be even suggested. The actual Soldier, North and South, with all his ways, his incredible dauntlessness, habits, practices, tastes, language, his appetite, rankness, his superb strength and animality, lawless gait, and a hundred unnamed lights . . .

But if I can't know, I can still try. My "Difficult Jobs" blogroll doesn't have everything, but there's Free Range International, Mudville Gazette, and LPN with an M-16, all written by people of incredible dauntlessness and language . . . .

I am lighting an unnamed light for the soldiers at Fort Hood tonight . . . every last one of them.

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