A FEW WORDS ON VICKSBURG’S FALLING
Updated: Aug 18
I wrote Vicksburg’s Falling on July 5, 2008, the day after the July 4 celebrations I didn’t attend. I would be just as happy if this were to be the last anti-war poem ever written, but history being what it is, there will always be wars and so there will always be anti-war poems.
My own anti-war sentiment goes back to the war in Vietnam. More on that later, but the poem goes back further than that. The title refers to the fall of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, a day after the defeat of Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. That weekend was the highwater mark for the Confederacy, a failure that Robert E. Lee fully anticipated when he refused the command of the entire U.S. Army to take a lower-ranking position defending his home as the general of the Army of Northern Virginia.
I am using his “duty is the noblest word in the English language” in a sarcastic way – duty has a way of making people do things they might later regret. But, even though it is politically incorrect, I have great respect for Lee. He might have made choices we can condemn now in the light of the 21st century, but he did what he believed to be right.
Which brings me to my real problem with Vietnam, the (hopefully) last war America fought with draftees. I came from a position of “privilege.” White? Check. Blond haired? Check. Blue eyed. Check. Christian? Check. Heterosexual? Check. But before the draft board, all those privileges faded away. There were people who were willing to put me in jail for refusing to travel thousands of miles to kill or be killed by people with whom I had no quarrel. I’ll never quite forgive people for that. And, of course, there were too many people who had no privilege at all.
I think much of the current divisiveness in the country goes all the way back to those days.
For the record, I never – and I never saw any anti-war protester – spit on a returning veteran. Quite the contrary. Many of my friends and classmates went. Some died; some came back home physically scarred; more came back emotionally wounded. But I respected them for making their own choices. I’m not sure they respected mine.
Wars are complicated, and they create complicated choices. I wouldn’t fight in Vietnam, but I would have died alongside the Spartans fighting the Persians. Perhaps Afghanistan was justifiable at first – as Springsteen sang, “a little revenge and this too shall pass.” Except it didn’t pass; it turned into our forever war. There was no excuse for Iraq.
How many more? But none of us are immune: “nature red/in tooth and claw.” Given time and place, I probably would have been marching home to Virginia with Lee on July 4, 1863 – provided I were still alive, that is.
But it would have to be my choice.