The Civil War and the Pains of a Soldier


Citation: Currier & Ives. The Soldier’s Dream of Home. 1861-65. Hand colored Lithograph. Library of Congress, n.p.

We see in the image above a saddening and pitiable sight. A soldier, resting after a day in the midst of a camp, dreams of a home with a wife, a child, and what appears to be his land. All around the resting dreamer are camping tents and soldiers, perhaps also thinking of a life away from the war. The first initial response I could pull from this was certainly hopeful, perhaps even describable as the dream of the common soldier whisked into the forays and the brutalities of war. What better could describe a man clearly yearning for something so far away when he must fight for his country?

In terms of a historical context, this image is obviously a civil war era image. The clothes on the soldier in the foreground and those in the background were commonly seen on union soldiers. The lone cannon in the camp would suggest the depicted unit would most likely be a detachment of a larger infantry regiment. These soldiers also appear to be relaxed, so no major or minor skirmishes seem to be in the foreseeable future or have recently occurred. What all of this equates to is showing that these soldiers were usually just common men who were drafted into a war and could not pay a fee, common people meant to invoke a connectable image with a viewer.

C&I Print

Another example of a Currier and Ives war print

We see several things surrounding this sleeping man, all of which seem to play a role in the symbolic meaning of the piece. The fire that the soldier sleeps by creates a smoke that the dream the soldier is having seems framed by, almost as if to say that the fire represents the life the soldier wants to have going up in flames because of the war. We also see that the soldier is sleeping near both a drum and a gun, meaning that this soldier, in particular, is likely a drummer meant to relay instructions and fight as well, a job of great importance to a soldier. We see various symbols of war lying in the background, including a cannon and fellow soldiers talking. Through these things, we see that this soldier in the foreground is important to the war, but can’t help thinking about the life he has at home and if he even will ever get to have that life.

Its also worth noting that this image is in color and is a “lithograph”, implying that this particular work is most likely a recreated image through a reprinting. This image, then, was probably meant to be reproduced numerous times and spread as propaganda. Furthermore, the fact that a union soldier is dreaming of a better life than fighting in the war makes it clear that this is anti-war propaganda. The artist had the intent of showing that soldiers did not want to be involved with this war, and would rather enjoy a different life with the dream they have in mind. Perhaps this could even be described as the “American Dream” dangling above this sleeping soldier, and the artist wants to make it clear that he will not fulfill it anytime soon because of the war.

Thus, we see the reality that this image brings. It isn’t hopeful as the initial reaction would have us believe. Despair is a much more accurate word. The soldier dreams of the life he wants, but cannot have due to the reality of the war all around them. This soldier, a man charged with ensuring that others can control their forces on the battlefield, cannot even control the events in his life, a man lacking the agency to do anything beyond his task of fighting, killing, and dying.


The Artifacts: A Focus On the Objects of War

Previous entries of this blog often have put a vague focus on the arts and the artifacts of war, ranging from weaponry of medieval combatants to cinematic interpretation and the contrast it has toward other forms of genre. Many questions, however, still linger about these living pieces of history that we often come to reflect on. I will be addressing several of these questions and trying to provide answers to long running humanistic questions from this: the discipline of humanities known as the arts.

Certainly a lot of ground to cover in this field!

A question of my initial posts that still often lingers is the agency of a soldier and the role of his weapon in describing his agency. A soldier, in essence, is not a human being, but the instrument of a larger force commanding him, thus depriving him of many of his freedoms and greatly limiting his ability to act. A soldier, however, does not agency altogether. A soldier lays a claim to agency through the greatest expression a soldier could have on the battlefield: his weapon. The weapon is for the soldier what the soldier is for the army: a means to exercise force in a manner seen fit by the wielder. A soldier is a human again when locked in combat, his weapon being his agency to commit action and earn glory and fame as a hero. Essentially, the only time when a soldier is not a soldier is when he is in a fight for his life, free from orders with only his strategy and his weapon to guide him.

Another question that yet remains to be answered is why war still exists in today’s society when we are supposedly “beyond war”. The reasoning that this is so is because we are still in a society that idealizes scenes of epic combat. Through cinema, through literature, our belief is still firm that there is something enticing about ferocious struggles and atrocities. This is not to say that many have tackled the view of a war from below, such as Grimmelshausen and Brecht with their respective works, but it is obvious that society cares more about the beauty of the fight rather than ending the horror of it.king_henry_v_at_the_battle_of_agincourt_1415

There are many questions that are yet to be addressed. The arts themselves may not hold an answer on every question, though many of the mysteries of the humanities can be addressed through the various realms that comprise the arts. My focus will often drift into these realms in order to develop a variety of responses for the conundrum of war. A goal of this blog, thus, is the creation of a comprehensive and living collection of relevant ideas to answer age old debates and conflicts.

Works Cited

Liu, Alan. “What Are the Humanities?” 4Humanities. N.p., 21 Dec. 2014. Web. 14
Nov. 2015. <;.

Gilbert, John. King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt. 19th century. Oil on
canvas. Private collection.

Tonton, Ed T., III. Rack of Maces, Daggers, and Replica Pistols. N.d.
Photograph. Arms and Armor. Ed T. Tonton.

The Draft: War Is A Continuation of Societal Expectations By Other Means

In today’s society, many young men achieve adulthood to face a strange circumstance. They are met with not just reaching an age where they are legally responsible, but where they must legally put themselves forward as potential draft candidates in the chance that there is ever a conflict great enough to require heavy recruitment. This process, known as the Selective Service, is one of the oldest traditions still held by the military, and perhaps one of the most controversial. The argument rages on about the legitimacy of the Selective Service, and the debate of whether or not women should need to perform the process of selective service still arises on occasion. This particular subject is, in fact, a statement that war is another medium for society’s expectations and the repetitive tradition of upholding them.

The Selective Service, originally known as “The Draft” during WWII and the Vietnam War, was a way to recruit more fighters without actually needing to recruit anyone. By law, any man drafted must enlist after being drafted or can be subject to arrest. These circumstances, however, have never applied to women. Women have been exempt from the draft namely because of the long held belief that women weren’t suited to fight in war alongside men due to the standard held in 20th century society towards women’s roles. Now, in the 21st century where equal rights are almost the status quot in America, we still have a male only selective service that excludes women from being eligible. Essentially, war is holding an old, heinous stereotype that undermines the hard work many have put towards equality because it denies an equal responsibility, maintaining this dead societal expectation that women are just too fragile for war.

Political Cartoon Making a Statement On Female Ineligibility for the Draft

War, in essence, is allowing a stereotype that it’s a man’s war, when women serve on the front lines today as voluntary recruits. Why should a draft limit itself to only “male persons”? Women should be allotted the equal responsibility that they have rallied for time and again, and the process of strictly using men should be abandoned all together. Anything otherwise would be promoting stereotypes that have no place in our society or in the military.

Works Cited

What an Army of Men We’d Have If They Ever Drafted the Girls. Advertisement.
Matthew’s Island of Misfit Toys. N.p., 28 Jan. 2015. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.

“Should Women Have to Register for Selective Service?” N.p., n.d.
Web. 3 Nov. 2015. <

Selective Service Act. 50 USC. Sec. 10. 1980. Selective Service System. Web. 3
Nov. 2015. <;.

Visual Arts: The Medium of Travesty and Glory In Equal Measure

The visual arts, since a time long forgotten, have been our greatest means of interpreting a time of war in a light of great glory and strategic detail, or in a darkness of chaos and disgust. Indeed, many works have been dedicated to showing us the beauty and the ugliness, the order and the disorder, the kleos and the lack thereof, in war. The visual arts are a dynamic interpretation of an event, the artifactualization of a perspective unique to the piece and to the event in a way that words can sometimes fail to do. Such is the case with the Sacking of Magdeburg, a historical event during the thirty years war that many pieces of glory and chaos pertain to in such a manner that even the mayor of Magdeburg could not do as he watched flames and soldiers alike engulf his city. The visual arts are the most adept tools at our disposal for understanding different perspectives of war, as seen with the Sacking of Magdeburg.

The Visual Arts can often provide insight to an event that can “encapsulate” the feelings and ideas behind that event in a way much different then just the written work (Izenburg). Indeed, a visual art depicting war shows not just an image, but an entire range of perspectives that are being conveyed to a viewer to relate a message. The work, “The Sacking of Magdeburg”, provides the viewer one such an example where the true destruction and violence are depicted, capturing the graphic nature of this horrifying event in such a way that it was claimed how “words alone cannot adequately describe these acts nor tears adequately bemoan them” (Guericke). This is not only an image of a town burning to the ground, of an act of violence across a shaded background, but the very encapsulation of the horror being expressed in a way that can only be described as heart wrenching. Smoke filling the air, people being razed down by cannon fire, endless destruction and ruin all in an image meant to show just how horrifying this tragic nightmare is in a manner to show the underside of war. This depiction is Merian’s way of describing to the audience how a war truly is: monstrous.

“The Sack of Magdeburg” by Matthaus Merian (1632) Created a short time after the event depicted.

That is not to say, however, that all depictions of war are these grisly scenes of dismay and disorder. Many a depiction look at war in a manner to show that there is glory and triumph to be found in war and the fight. These depictions in the visual arts will often look down upon a battle, making the viewer seem almost godlike as they watch all of the finer pieces of war. For the same event described above, another work was made with the same title by the student of the above artist. This work shows a more graceful and majestic side to a war that many look upon with a feeling of pride. These Visual pieces work to encapsulate this idea of war as a maker of the kleos, the undying glory of a hero.

“The Sack of Magdeburg” by Johann Philipp Abelin. The image was created twenty-seven years after the actual siege.

Thus, we have our perspectives detailing to us how the visual arts conceptualize the different perspectives of war. These pieces, such radically different views of the same event, only prove that the arts are a means to understand different viewpoints of war and what a war stands for, or what it stands to gain. The purpose of these images, their “ekphrasis”, is to define an event to a viewer in such a manner to capture these virtually opposing views. The visual arts, then, are our gateway into what can be either a graceful ordeal of miniature men walking into each other and the world around them gently accepting their scuffle, or a tormented hell where the only respite for the living is often death as chaos paints the air with a miasma of horror.

Works Cited

Izenburg, Oren. “The Ends of the Iliad.” Humanities Core. HIB 100, Irvine. 13
Oct. 2015. Lecture.

Merian, Matthaus. The Sacking of Magdeburg. 1632. Illustration.

Abelin, Johann Philipp. The Sacking of Magdeburg. Apr. 1659. Illustration.

Von Guericke, Otto. “A Local Apocalypse – The Sack of Magdeburg.” 1631. German
History in Documents and Image. German History in Documents and Image. Web.
27 Oct. 2015. <

The Identity in War: The Weapon, The Warrior, The Artifactualization

A warrior on the battlefield is simply a mindless drone without the very artifactualization of his glory and the wellspring of his courage: his identity. Countless heroes, such as Achilles and Hector themselves, fight for the Kleos, the honor to their name that will live on well past their inevitable death. Undoubtedly, the reasoning behind the importance of the warrior’s identity must be the effort they put towards their search for their glory: the key piece of society for our legendary Greek heroes in Homer’s Iliad. Even the weapon of the hero in question becomes a piece of the warrior’s identity on his quest for furthering his identity.

Weapons are, in fact, especially important to the identity of the hero as they slay the hordes of opponents before them. Many great weapons, such as the axes of the vikings, were named after the fury and the glory that they earned in the face of harsh combat. Weapons are essentially a key piece of the identity of a great hero because they are an extension of the hero in the midst of his quest for riches and glory. A weapon is essentially the artifactualization of the warrior’s sole agency allotted to them on the battlefield.(Celtic Warriors in the midst of offering up a weapon to a great leader.)

The agency of a warrior, in itself, comes into question with the relation of agency and weapon, particularly in that a warrior’s only agency is the weapon he holds. A weapon is an expression of a warrior and, by definition, a tool of battle meant to serve its master’s ends. The weapon a warrior brings into battle allows a warrior agency, in that he is the master of the weapon, keeping the power of commanding something in a hierarchy of chaos that is the battlefield.

About Me

Autobio: My name is John Paul Reed, and I am a freshman taking the Human Core Honors course, alongside many of my peers who might stumble across this blog. My hobbies include watching anime, writing poetry, playing video games, wrestling, and listening to music. I enjoy writing frequently, though I often prefer philosophical topics to express myself rather than more physical topics. I originally graduated from Sierra Pacific, one of the three high schools in my hometown of Hanford, with distinction. I greatly enjoy the idea of expressing my thoughts on war and the idea of humanities in general, and appreciate input from all of my fellow peers.

Generally, the focuses of my posts will drift toward an artistic theme and what the humanities have to say on the artifacts of war and the such. The arts of war often provide a view unlike the other disciplines of the humanities, in that we are provided a physical representation of the event we are interpreting. As such, many of my thoughts will concern more physical representations of various interests of study. My personal favorite amongst many items of war are weaponry, and some may notice this fondness throughout this blog numerous times.

The Agency of a Soldier: Slave or Savior?

No war was ever won with leaders alone, but the simple soldier who is commanded by a bureaucracy of superiors in order to best a similarly arranged order of men, if not several arranged orders. A standing army can almost be related to a machine rather than a group of individuals trying to reach the same point. This relation, however, brings about important questions about the individuality of the soldier. If a soldier is just a cog in a machine of unspeakable atrocities and death, then are they even human, to the same extent as they once were? Do they have the agency that people outside of the war have? Do the small acts of heroism a soldier fights to perform even attest to the morality of a man or some slave of the orders that come from above? In essence, not only is a soldier not actually a human at all, they are little better than a tool or a weapon to use as a means to break other, similar tools.

The United States military enlists roughly 180,000 new soldiers every year, and every soldier is either proud to serve their country or glad to receive the benefits their service brings. The moment, however, that these young men and women enlist themselves to the cause of their nation, they are immediately little more than objects that slowly lose the personality they once held while giving themselves up to the wills of their commanders. A soldier is, literally, trained to lose their sense of individuality through the harsh training that they are subjected to, where the intent of the instructors is to “break” them. In a sense, A soldier willingly submits his free will to become a slave for however long they signed on for.

Now, addressing the acts of heroism of soldiers, little is done without the consent of a commanding officer. A soldier is not a hero, a soldier is a weapon meant only to break away at other weapons, though we do hear about the occasional act of heroism from the battlefield. One has to remember that these acts of heroism, few as they are, are almost never done individually by a soldier, and is instead inadvertently caused by soldiers following orders. The agency of a soldier is slim to none, and they cannot simply break away from their command to do what they believe is right without any repercussions.

Thersites in the presence of other soldiers, mocking Agamemnon

Take Thersites’s relentless verbal assault (Iliad 2. 245-281) for example. Not only has he laid claim to agency he does not have, but he defies the very meaning of a soldier by showing his disdain for his commanders. Because of his inability to act like a soldier, he is punished severely by Odysseus by having a scepter cracked across his back and being shamed in front of his fellow warriors (Iliad 2. 309-324). While the nature of Theristes’s comments were vulgar and ill-intended, this is a prime example of how agency belongs out of a soldier’s hands entirely according to his superiors. Any act of showing an individuality beyond what is allowed is grounds for the punishment Theristes received.

The will and capability of a soldier to act on that will is severely limited, if not prohibited, by the nature of their occupation as a simple machine of war. They lack the agency they once held, and instead must bow to external forces that see to rule every action and word with an iron vice. It can even be said that this deprives a soldier of what it means to be human, to be free thinking and capable of expressing their thoughts through words and actions. The acts they perform, however heroic, is not a result of their own agency, but in fact a lack thereof.

Works Cited:

Homer, and Bernard Knox. Iliad. Trans. Robert Fagles. Penguin Classics Deluxe
     ed. N.p.: Penguin Classics, 1998. Print.

Annillo, John. “Basic Training Breakdown: What to Expect When You Join the
     Military.” Breaking Muscle. Breaking Muscle, n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2015.