The Civil War as entertainment

I love Kevin Levin's meme, Civil War as Entertainment. I especially like the sentiment - live the sentiment - We are acting irresponsibly if we turn these men into overly simplistic forms of entertainment.

The problem is in the formulation of the meme: if I resolve to delve deeply into the lives of ACW figures, I am still entertaining myself on some level. It's the quality of the entertainment I suppose. The oft-told tale tends towards a Punch and Judy show.

I tend to disagree with Kevin's idea that "Their lives revolved and were interwoven with larger issues having to do with issues of national identity." I think that's adding a literary layer on top of the historical layer - which is alright but ultimately a higher form of entertainment. Those folks being caught up in patterns we identify after the fact is less interesting to me than the personal drama of life in war; life, with all its difficulties, loves lost and won, birth and death, success and failure, all the strengths and weaknesses of a single personality now heightened to the ultimate degree.

Lately, it's been getting harder and harder to unwrap our wars as an historical exercise. The abundance of open Civil War sources, however, makes it an ideal field for study of this type.

Kevin and I would probably agree that as Civil War readers we obligate ourselves (unlike other Americans) to come to terms personally with the leading figures of that time. Part of that means evaluating their context and their choices. I avoid writing about certain Southern leaders in this blog because I have such difficulty relating to them.

I'm starting to read a big Jefferson Davis biography. This is the beginning of a long road - I will never get a decent grip on Davis as subject - not without years of effort. But I want to learn to sympathize with him on some level more than I do now, and that's something I can effect sooner rather than later. When that happens, I will be able to experience his war as a complex personal drama.

Which is a kind of entertainment, unless it leads to wisdom.