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ABOVE THE BATTLE: War-Making in America from Appomattox to Versailles by Thomas C. Leonard

ABOVE THE BATTLE: War-Making in America from Appomattox to Versailles

By

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press

Although we think of war as hell, it was not always so; and Thomas Leonard explains how this change of mind occurred in America. From the Civil War to WW I, both combatants and observers (whose memoirs, letters, reports, public speeches, and imaginative writings Leonard examines) viewed war through the haze of several myths. One was the myth of the worthy enemy--whether Yankee, Confederate, Indian, or German--who justified and even ennobled war. Another was the myth of war as a chastening and toughening experience, promoted especially by Teddy Roosevelt and the interventionists during WW I. And with these benign perceptions went a dream of a new weapons technology that would lessen the frequency of war and render it less violent. Leonard believes these myths were not only wrong, they fostered a ""moral silence"" about the political purposes and the grim realities of modern warfare: illusion and silence conspired to conceal the ugly truth. But the massive and seemingly aimless violence of WW I changed all of this: war became, in the eyes of disillusioned soldiers and civilians, a catastrophic and senseless sacrifice which called into question the very meaning of honor and of one's own life. The narrative line is as simple as this, but it is often lost in a forest of sources and the shades of difference between attitudes. And, the more serious fault, Leonard treats ideas of war as though they come to life and can be explained outside of the culture they serve--e.g., he dismisses the naive, ""spontaneous"" desire of young men to enter WW I as the result of their faulty idea of war, never asking why they felt a need to fight. Thus, the book is too narrowly conceived to explain the history that it narrates.