As a kid, I was growing up in an era of celebration of the Civil War centennial, with a lot of 'Lost Cause' emphasis on the Confederacy. I used to play Civil War soldiers with my brothers as a child, and my older brother always insisted that he got to be Lee, and I got be Grant. I never knew that Grant won until quite some time had passed.
Before the Civil War, there were no national cemeteries, no processes for identifying the dead in the battle. There weren't any dog tags, and there was no next-of-kin notification. You didn't necessarily even hear what the fate of your loved ones had been. It was up to their comrades to write and inform you.
I lived in a world where social arrangements were taken for granted and assumed to be timeless. A child's obligation was to learn these usages, not to question them. The complexities of racial deportment were of a piece with learning manners and etiquette more generally.
Albert Camus's 'La Peste' - 'The Plague' - had an enormous impact on me when I read it in high school French class, and I chose my senior yearbook quote from it. In college, I wrote a philosophy class paper on Camus and Sartre, and again chose my yearbook quote from 'La Peste.'
We have been telling and hearing and reading war stories for millennia. Their endurance may lie in their impossibility; they can never be complete, for the tensions and the contradictions within them will never be eliminated or resolved. That challenge is essential to their power and their attraction. War stories matter.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, the United States embarked on a new relationship with death, entering into a civil war that proved bloodier than any other conflict in American history, a war that would presage the slaughter of World War I's Western Front and the global carnage of the twentieth century.