I'm reading The Passing of the Armies by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain right now. My copy is part of Bantam Books' 'Eyewitness to the Civil War' series. He's making some really great observations (as can be expected from a man who was a professor, a governor, and president of a college besides rising to the rank of brevet major general in the Union army), and I think I'll share them here quickly, and a few thoughts on them. Here are two things JLC has said so far that struck me:
"The North was as arbitrary as the South was arrogant" (p 21).* Thank you! A Union writer (a general in their army, no less) who freely and of his own volition states that the North was not perfect. Of course, the South was not perfect either. From what I've studied of the Civil War (and I admit that's not much; I just took a one-semester course in it and have read some stuff on my own), I think those two words--'arbitrary' and 'arrogant'--perfectly describe the attitudes of the opposing forces. The North thought they were right and would let nothing stand in their way, not even themselves. The South thought they were right and thought they could lick overwhelming opposing forces. Proving once again that all people are stupid. (Yes, even me, far too often).
"...instant advantage is not always lasting achievement..." (p 22).* This just makes me ruminate more about everyday life now than the Civil War. It feels so true! People who think they have it all because things have been handed to them on the proverbial silver platter are not usually going to be remembered for anything more than stupidity and arrogance and how fast they were forgotten. The song "High Flying, Adored" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's opera "Evita" comes to mind, with the lines about "a shame you did it all at twenty-three" and "for someone on top of the world, the view is not exactly clear". Or think about pop icons who come quickly to the head of their business (one-hit wonders of all kinds) and then two years later we can't remember their name. But the people who work slowly toward what they want, like the Beatles, Creed, Bobby Darin, Harrison Ford--the people who put in the time as underlings and nobodys before becoming interesting (this works for politics too I suppose, and of course for any sort of great artist, writer, musician...)--have much more of a lasting influence (if you haven't heard of Bobby Darin and are wondering what sort of lasting influence he could have had, check out a lot of recent soundtracks, and you'll find him everywhere. More about him later. Much more). This gives me hope for my own future as a writer because as yet I haven't done much, but I've been published in a few little magazines, I was editor of the college literary magazine for two years...I've been putting in my time. Maybe my day will come too.
*(Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. The Passing of the Armies. New York: Bantam Books, 1993.)