The Tragedy of War is the Tragedy of Men


J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he teaches writing to college students and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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6 Responses

  1. Mr. Wall,

    I have pretty much the same reaction as you to the charge that the Civil War wasn’t (sometimes expressed as “couldn’t have been…because slavery ended) “tragic.”

    But how much of this is quibbling over what the words “tragedy” or “tragic” mean, and how much is real disagreement over how to assess the Civil War? For some people, tragedy or the tragic, it simply bad or harmful things happening. For others, it has the more nuanced treatment you’re contemplating.

    (Of course, your post is more than just about “was the Civil War tragic,” but I was wondering about your thoughts. By the way, I like reading your posts.)Report

  2. Avatar Bill says:

    You may want to learn some history. The Nazis were only able to carry out the Holocaust (by which I mean the actual genocide) after World War II started.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      First, so the Nazis were just going to keep the Jews in Ghettos and leave them alone if France and Britain hadn’t declared war on them after the invasion of Poland? And second, what ended the Holocaust? The war, right?Report

  3. Avatar fester60613 says:

    Looking at it another way, war is always tragic for the individuals who are displaced or injured or killed or whose means of living or trade are destroyed.
    War can be seen as a terrible waste of human lives – regardless of the war’s impetus or outcome.
    But there does, I think, need to be some sort of distinction between the individuals who are swept up in war and the governmental entities who wage war. Are the hundreds of thousands of citizen deaths in the last Iraq war less tragic than the far lesser number of deaths of those shooting the guns? Are the six millions victims of Holocaust less tragic than the millions of soldiers killed in Europe and Asia? Was the ruin of Berlin any less tragic than the devastation of Leningrad? Were the deaths of Tutsis less tragic than the deaths of Muslim Serbs? Was the defeat of Germany in WWII more tragic than the defeat of Japan?
    Think of it another way: were the billions earned by the American manufacturers of materiel less valuable than the billions earned by Krupp and other German manufacturers? Were the tears of the mothers of dead German soldiers any less bitter than those of the mothers of the American dead? Or the Russian dead? Or the French or Italian dead?
    There is always tragedy for the individuals.
    The outcome of war for the governments involved is, one supposes, more significant in the larger historical picture than the personal tragedies of citizens. And yet nations continue to make war for various reasons – reasons which probably matter little, ultimately, to the victimized individuals of either side.Report

  4. Avatar Mark says:

    >> And yet nations continue to make war for various reasons – reasons which probably matter little, ultimately, to the victimized individuals of either side.

    Very dubious. It makes no sense to posit a will to “nations,” and then deny the purposes of those fighting. At least in all nation equally. If you got drafted and went to war because you’d be killed that would make some sense, but with government by consent and a volunteer army that would seem very odd. Likewise, Lincoln is often assumed by the usual suspects to have convinced a gullible public to go to war, whereas in fact he would have been impeached by the public if he hadn’t.Report