Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Republic of Suffering

I heard a fascinating interview with historian Drew Gilpin Faust who writes about the American Civil War. She talks about the way the Civil War forced Americans to redefine their notions of what made for a good death. In pre-CW America, apparently, the way a person died was a predictor of how they would be received in the afterlife. A Good Death meant a quick transition into heaven. She reads from a letter that a soldier writes while he is dying and states that he knew his father would be "delighted" to hear from his son as he died. It's really an interesting an interview.

Here is an excerpt from her introduction to her book, This Republic of Suffering:

The Civil War confronted Americans with an enormous task, one quite different from saving or dividing the nation, ending or maintaining slavery, or winning the military conflict—the demands we customarily understand to have been made of the Civil War generation. Americans North and South would be compelled to confront— and resist—the war's assault on their conceptions of how life should end, an assault that challenged their most fundamental assumptions about life's value and meaning. As they faced horrors that forced them to question their ability to cope, their commitment to the war, even their faith in a righteous God, soldiers and civilians alike struggled to retain their most cherished beliefs, to make them work in the dramatically altered world that war had introduced. Americans had to identify—find, invent, create—the means and mechanisms to manage more than half a million dead: their deaths, their bodies, their loss. How they accomplished this task reshaped their individual lives—and deaths—at the same time that it redefined their nation and their culture. The work of death was Civil War America's most fundamental and most demanding undertaking.

1 comment:

Marie said...

Hello, there is a review in the book review section of the weekend New York Times this weekend. Check it out :)