The First Duty is to Truth: Midweek Musings

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Oscar Wilde 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World, I have been busily working this past week oThe n a major revision to a chapter of my Gettysburg text about Colonel Strong Vincent and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Part of that appeared here last week. However, as I continued to do more research I realized that what I wrote was not nearly enough, not in terms of words, but in terms of truth. There is much more to the story, especially concerning the relationship of Joshua Chamberlain and his wife Fannie.

There are times when one seeks truth that the timeless truths of the subject matter have to be taken to heart. Truth does matter to me, even when it is uncomfortable, not just for others but for me as well. As I have written before, that in this I am reminded of a quote from Star Trek the Next Generation. It is from an episode called “The First Duty.” In it the seasoned Captain Jean Luc Picard confronts his young protege Wesley Crusher after a disastrous accident that leaves a Star Fleet Academy cadet dead. Picard tells the young Crusher that “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…

Truth is difficult, especially when one builds their belief on myths, be they of their own or others making. For me the study of the Battle of Gettysburg for my work has become a quest for truth. Not so much about the truth of specific incidents on the battlefield but of the great truths that go beyond the battlefield, the enduring truths about human nature, about relationships and about war and peace. In a sense the story of the battle of Gettysburg and those men who fought on it, has become a palette from which I am drawing truths about the human condition as well as my own terribly flawed condition, and in the process busting myths, my own included.

Barbara Tuchman once wrote: “The reality of a question is inevitably more complicated than we would like to suppose.” That is truth, it is truth with battles, politics, and in fact all of life, but many would rather rest content in myth. Thus as Rene Descartes wrote: “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.”

I doubt a lot. I question a lot more and sometimes that leads to facing things that are uncomfortable. Thus, I will be putting up the redone version of that last article in the next day or two, as well as others where my study is leading me to deeper truths.

My big task now is editing and reorganizing the nearly 450 pages of text that I have written into the past year into a form that I can market to a publisher. I do have a couple of final chapters to write from scratch but hopefully by early spring I will ready to have it complete enough to submit for publication.

In the mean time I will continue to write about other subjects, including some military, some political, some social and some about current events, music, and life in general. There are couple of articles I want to write about some naval battles that have fascinated me for decades as well as more on the inhumanity of the Holocaust, the past and current struggles for civil rights in America and many other subjects.

That being said, you as my readers will get my new insights on Gettysburg, both new and revised articles which reflect that search for truth. I do hope that you find them as something more than simply accounts of the battle, but on the deeper truths of the nature and character of humanity, the nature and character of the conflict that we call war, with all its attendant maladies, but more importantly as a mirror for ourselves. My study of Joshua Chamberlain has resulted in having to face uncomfortable but strangely liberating truths about me and the way I live my life.

This is part of my journey, a journey into truth that goes beyond the mere reporting of facts, facts which often are as subject to interpretation, disputation and change as more “facts” are discovered. The truth is that we have to be able to accept new discoveries once they are determined to be true, or at least at the point that they can be posited as reasonable and worthy of acceptance, no matter how badly they challenge our deep held beliefs, even those about ourselves.  Sadly the lies we believe and persist in telling, and the myths that we believe without question, are much more dangerous than  any new truth that offends us.

I have to agree with Marcus Aurelius who wrote:

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”

Those truths can be scientific, they can be historical or literary, and quite often the truth can also be quite personal.

As John F Kennedy said at Yale in 1962: “The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” 

So until tomorrow,


Padre Steve+



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Filed under faith, History, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy

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