I can’t help watching the Civil War show again (for the 3 billionth time). I was struck by something in the opening b+w montage of war vets. One codger is on some steps surrounded by kids and he’s holding his cane like a rifle—obviously describing a battle. You can just hear him saying to the excited kids, “And then I raised my Enfield and when those Yankees made it to the end of the field, why I let ‘em have it!”
And then it hit me. Any parent (at least in Seattle) would be horrified if an old guy (like a WWII vet) did something like that in front of their kids. Our whole concept of war and violence and ‘nobility’ has changed… just in 25 years since this TV show was first made. Vets rarely talk about their experiences; and certainly not to kids.
The Civil War has gone from ‘old’ to being ‘ancient’. When I was a kid, people from 1860 were not –that- far away. For kids today they are as distant as Theodoric Of York or Solomon. That scares me a bit.
I can understand not empathizing with the motivations of an ancient Roman guy. That’s too far back. But I would like to think I can put myself in the shoes of someone during the time of Lincoln. However I don’t think that’s possible. I think the –acceleration- of the pace of change now means the ability to relate to previous generations is also foreshortening. And the harder it gets to relate to their thoughts, the less you can learn from previous generations.
Now in the case of that old codger, you might think, “Well that’s fine. Who wants their kid thinking shooting people makes a great story?” OK, but it also means that you probably can’t understand the toughness it requires to cross the Oregon Trail in search of a better life—as refugees from Syria are now doing.
The point is that although we’re now able to preserve more –data-, we’re losing the ability to –feel- the past. Good or bad.
Probably by the time I die, people will watch this show and not think, ‘America’s finest hour!’ but rather, ‘What a bunch of homicidal maniacs.’ They won’t be able to understand -anything- of how these people felt.