My title is a takeoff on a 60s-70s chant--"We will study war no more." Michael Shaara's book, which won a Pulitzer in 1974, shows why we SHOULD study war. He has taken his vast knowledge of the Civil War in general, and Gettysbury in particular, and shaped an historical novel, not exceedingly long, than delves into the lives, motivations, thoughts, feelings, and goals, of many types of people who participated in this great struggle for definition of what it is to be American, to be a citizen of the United States (which, after the war, noted Shelby Foote, a singular noun).
In my opinion, and knowing personally about Europeans' interest in our Civil War, this book belongs in the Canon of the Literature of Western Civilization...how can I say this? It isn't just because I'm interested in the same topic.
On a recent airline flight, I had the opportunity to spend about an hour explaining "To Kill a Mockingbird" to a young European woman who was assigned that book to read in a high school in Texas....she was in her senior year, with a father in the oil business.
Four months later, I received an e-mail, thanking me for that time, and she commented that her teacher was amazed that she had understood the book, and the issues (the enduring prejudice against blacks in the South long after "Reconstruction."
Why is it relevant? We think we "reconstructed" Europe after World War II--and she realized we hadn't. The same problems we have 140 years after the spring campaigns of 1864, we also see in Europe only 60 years after the dawning of D-Day. We have International Courts, the EU, common currencies, almost instantaneous communication worldwide, and what progress has been made?
A reading of the Killer Angels will stay with you, cause you to think, and demand that YOUR children study war. And so help us, the more who understand it, the better.