That war is a bloody business is undeniable; people die, and countless more are uprooted from hearth and home. It brings with it pain, savagery, and destruction on an unrivalled scale. Despite its brutal nature, however, a grim truth must be understood: war will always be. Indeed, conflict predates recorded history, it is the wheel upon which civilization turns, whose consequences are dramatic and far reaching. For the fate – and more often the prestige – of nations hangs in the balance. But the subject matter does not boast of diligent study outside of war college curriculums. Most Americans have not a clue of the rich military heritage of their own country, a nation born of the crucible of battle, and this problem must be rectified, for one cannot fully understand the story of the United States without it.
The Revolution whence we came was primarily a military conflict, and for all their brilliance and courage, the Founding Fathers would have died as traitors, and the Declaration to which they’d affixed their signatures – and lives – would lay charred and forgotten by history had not Washington’s Continentals stood to defend its ideals in open battle. Likewise, slavery’s grasping hold loosened only by the grim determination of Lincoln’s legions to forge a better Union by force of arms.
Yet these ragged regiments of Brandywine and Antietam remain largely forgotten by modern Americans – many who stand bewildered as our leaders plunge us into evermore unnecessary conflicts under ambiguous pretexts. That America is a superpower is undeniable, but with that status comes an awesome responsibility on the part of the people, a responsibility to question, and, if necessary, reign in those in power. But we can only do such things if we are informed and concerning military history we most certainly are not.
To put it plainly, war is as much a part of the human experience as breathing, violence is an inherent trait, and it is far easier to hate then to love. To study war is not to praise it, but to learn from what came before, something that cannot be achieved if learners are not exposed to it. Military history is so much more then the mere study of battles and tactics, rather it provides an intimate portrait of man at his most volatile. The durability of a people is reflected nowhere better then how they handle war. Understanding the history of our wars provides us with a far greater appreciation for what we have as Americans, and better enable us to ensure that the agonies of Vietnam and Iraq are never suffered again.
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