Look Away, Dixieland

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(Abbeville Institute) – Shortly after I returned from my first tour in Afghanistan, several friends invited me over to watch the 2008 war thriller The Hurt Locker, about an Explosives Ordnance Team serving in the Iraq War. I couldn’t make it halfway. I walked out, got in my car, and sat there, staring off into space and breathing heavily for a few minutes before I mustered the motivation to drive home.

About five weeks into that Afghan tour, an IED killed or wounded several people I knew. Call it PTSD if you like (I never sought a diagnosis), but I’ve not had much nerve for films about the now defunct “Global War on Terror” since that first tour. Perhaps my reaction means The Hurt Locker is a good film — certainly a lot of critics say it’s one of the best war films of this century.

I had a similar experience when recently reading Battle Cry of Freedom, James M MacPherson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the history of the Civil War. Like other Abbeville contributors, I’m happy to acknowledge MacPherson’s talent. As many reviewers noted after its 1988 publication, Battle Cry of Freedom is perhaps the most excellent and readable single-volume account of the Civil War ever written. Indeed, for anyone who has watched Ken Burns’ 1990 documentary The Civil War, it’s not hard to identify MacPherson’s influence.

But 600 pages into that 900-page tome, I had to put it down. It wasn’t because it wasn’t interesting (it was quite well-written and engrossing). Nor was it because it was obviously biased in favor of the North — it is, but to McPherson’s credit it’s also often sympathetic to Southerners.

No, I had to stop reading Battle Cry of Freedom for reasons similar to my experience…

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