Monday, February 15, 2010

ASSUMING THE POSTURE (A Presidents Day reflection)

The National Cemetary at Andersonville, Georgia. Hundreds of identical white grave markers standing at attention, lined up in perfect formation. Regiment of ghost soldiers ready to march into battle. Not even room for a full name: Newel, Strups, Arnold--anonymous as a grey wave charging the hill...

Fascinating, these tintypes of the Civil War. One thing I can say is that these folks were experts in the lost art of posturing--every photo is choreographed like a stage production. Thirty men--doctors and surgeons--in and around the hospital where they work...and every one of 'em striking a stance or a profile, even the guys inside looking out the windows!

Inside the trenches before Petersburg, Virginia...Union soldiers waiting to meet their fate--and on the rise above them their commanders gazing into the distance, but unmistakably POSED, as if the eye of the camera supersedes all concerns.

General Robert E. Lee...dandified, a dapper looking fellow in bow tie, vest, and waistcoat. Your slacks are the perfect length and your shoes so shiny they reflect the sunlight. You sent your infantry charging federal artillery emplacements on Malvern Hill and they were slaughtered. You took a long time dressing...they spent a short time dying.

General Ulysses S. Grant...dressed to the nines like your Confederate counterpart--posing like a movie star at Cold Harbor, where your blundering offensive against entrenched rebel forces caused seven thousand Union casualties in a span of twenty minutes.

Dead confederate soldier in the trenches--April 3rd, 1865, Petersburg, Virginia. You look no more than 14 for God's sake. Lying on your back, head with its shock of blonde hair tilted at an angle--I swear there's a hint of a smile on your lips, as at the moment of sexual release, when one also gives his full measure...

President Lincoln and his generals at tower above your men, Abe, but then you're the only one with a stove pipe hat--even in your day, you must have been a laughing stock of fashion--perhaps you were trying to draw attention away from your ears, huge as grapefruits.

Mary Todd Lincoln, the First Lady...all decked out in your balloon skirt, a crown of flowers in your hair--dressed more like a queen--but plain looking at best. He broke off his engagement to you once, and I think he'd have rather had a hole in the head than marry admonition for the rest of us to be careful what we wish for.

John Wilkes Booth--hair so curly as to be unmanageable; hand resting inside your jacket--a typical affectation of the times--in your case, however, we're not sure just what you might be reaching for.

Alexandria, Virginia...the sign on the three story building says: PRICE, BIRCH, & CO.--DEALERS IN SLAVES. Here's where I put myself into the picture. I walk up to the two soldiers sitting on the bench near the door and say, "Howdy can probably guess I'm not from around here, but I just came by to say that I think...that if you could WIN, perhaps it would save us from a place called VIETNAM--and if you could win, maybe it could save us from a place called IRAQ, and a place called AFGHANISTAN. But I gotta tell ya this idea of human beings as chattel is reprehensible, and it's going to stain you and your descendants for more than a century to come. And I wonder why we always have to KICK SOMEBODY'S ASS--or they have to kick ours--before any of us can comprehend the error of our ways!" (This is where I magically disappear, before they can spatter me with tobacco juice.)

Unfortunate, because I wanted to tell them that one day, this reunified nation would become the most potent force for good...or the world.At times POSING as one, while essentially becoming the other.

And I wanted to tell them that if THEY could win, perhaps they could save us from ourselves.


  1. Absolutely engaging post, Tim....and an interesting critique....Its not just the American society, i think....You say Kick the Ass...we say pull the legs, all the same?

    Saving us from ourselves -- thats the toughest part..can anybody else do that for us...okay, you are talking about the nation --- One of the things that I see is when there's a real threat there's oneness, else its all about individualism -- that could be a product of capitalism -- oh i am wandering on the topic....

    interesting and engaging read, Tim :)


  2. I'm Canadian. We have a Prime Minister. I love USA. I know their fault, I know ours too. We are the World. Amen. God help us all!

  3. DEVIKA,
    It's all about capitalism here--that's why there's so much opposition to universal health care--but that's a subject for another day. I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. :)

    And God save the queen!

  4. I wonder if Mary Todd would have gone out with me?

  5. Sir PERCY,
    Maybe, but have you SEEN her?

  6. what a great tribute...hmm. I guess all of them had to have their own unique pose.

  7. As a female of somewhat ordinary visage, I must defend Mary Todd and say I'm sure her wit was engaging, her laugh contagious.

    Hmm, even with a Federal win, the slaves and their descendants had to wait almost a century before attaining something resembling equal footing. Go figure.

  8. A very interesting period in American history for sure.

    We didn't study it a great deal at school but I thoroughly enjoyed the mini series North and South and also read all 3 books by John Jakes.

    Does war ever solve anything and do we ever really learn anything when it doesn't? Now they are the questions I'd like answered.

    Posing is a lost we just catch everybody off guard--naked, whatever--and put it on the internet!

    That's right--that's why I said, "it's going to stain you and your descendants for more than a century to come."

    As for Mary Todd, I'm sure she had many fine qualities, but beauty wasn't one of them. But so what--we had Eleanor Roosevelt, didn't we?

    Great to see you've brought your photo back. Ordinary? Nooooo....

    Look at history, and there is the answer to your question. And for anyone who may not have gotten the point of this essay, it speculates that if the south had won and there were two separate nations going forward, neither of them would likely be as powerful as the U.S. is today--and perhaps we wouldn't have seen the meddling in other sovereign nation's affairs during the previous century. (Some call it imperialism.) But then, maybe nobody would have stopped Hitler either...

  10. All the graves...end without end...

    Makes me sad.