Willoughby Run at Herbst Woods at Gettysburg
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Yesterday I was with my students conducting the Staff Ride at Gettysburg. About a week ago the mid-Atlantic region was experiencing record high temperatures and abnormally warm weather. In fact has the temperatures just been normal for this time of year we would have counted ourselves lucky to have such good weather, however, the trended changed and instead of warm weather we had temperatures in the low fifties, wind and rain. The weather was raw, but that is part of life, and if you want to really learn and experience military history you need to do more than sit back in a recliner sipping a nice beverage, and reading a book in comfort.
Guy Sager, who wrote the classic soldier’s account of the Second World War on the Easter front wrote in his book, The Forgotten Soldier:
“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!”
Our weather was by my standards not bad, but for some of my students, including veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan it was miserable. For me, adverse conditions that we cannot change are one of the best ways to learn about war. The fact is that war is inconvenient, it is uncomfortable, and it is more often than not quite inhuman. War is nothing to celebrate, battles, even victories are to be commemorated not celebrated, and not celebrated as our President said this week this week in reference to the Battle of the Coral Sea. Sadly, the current American President is neither a historian, nor a soldier; he is a draft dodger who loves the instruments of military power without appreciating the sacrifice of those who serve in combat.
Yesterday was a relatively miserable day as far as weather goes, but we had it easy. We can ride around the battlefield in vans and cars, we take a long lunch break, there are restrooms, and we don’t have to lay our bodies down in the dirt, grass, or mud to sleep.
For me that is one of the most important lessons of going on a Staff Ride or visiting a battlefield. Those are lessons that our civilian leadership and those who are cheerleaders of war need to learn. Sadly, very few Americans understand this. Too few of us have been to war to understand this, and many who have gone to war have stayed on well protected bases with air conditioning, heat, plentiful food, and even internet and television access. That wasn’t my war i n Iraq out with our advisors in Al Anbar Province, but I digress…
Today we will do the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. We will walk the path trod by Pickett’s Division during Pickett’s Charge, we will visit General Meade’s headquarters, and then go the the Soldier’s Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. The weather will be cool, but clear with no rain, although there will be quite a few places that we will have to walk through muddy ad very wet ground, but c’est le guerre.