This is August 5 - 1864. Today, the City of Atlanta is surrounded by hostile forces. South, and to the west, near the area of Westview Cemetery and along Cascade Road, the Battle of Utoy Creek is beginning. Today, however, is also the 17th day that artillery shells have been firing into the heart of Atlanta.
Atlanta is one of only a very few American cities to have been touched by war. The artillery used in the siege of Atlanta was not much different from that used today; it is a dumb, unintelligent weapon - imprecise, and known to be so. To choose to use it over a civilian population is to make a deliberate choice. It's a big, intelligent choice.
Further philosophical musings following this short squiggle.
Again, let's consider what was happening 150 years ago, this morning, in an American city:
Although many civilians have fled Atlanta as Federal forces moved to surround it, many have remained inside and quite a few have been killed. This shelling will continue until the end of the month and will grow and fade in intensity as the days turn into weeks. Many more civilians will be killed. The shelling will not stop until the last of Atlanta's four railroads have been cut, leaving Confederate forces within the city with no means of resupplying themselves. At that point, the Confederate troops will abandon the city and flee. On the morning of Sept. 2, the mayor of the city (in an act no other mayor in the history of the country has ever replicated) will ride out to Federal front lines and surrender his town to them.
Let's not misunderstand the purpose of the post. It is not to defend any Lost Cause mythology, or to argue that Atlanta did not invite this upon itself. By turning over all its commercial and industrial enterprise to the cause of the Confederacy, Atlanta definitely made itself a military target. The purpose of the post, however, is to raise a more important, if somewhat more subtle question.
When we read about war in other countries; when we hear about artillery being fired into Gaza, for example, it is easy to put the distance of miles between us and that place. The distance of time is all that separates us from what was happening this week, in Atlanta, 150 years ago this very day.
The choice of firing artillery into a place occupied by civilians is a controversial one; a moral enigma, perhaps. But to pretend that it has no consequences to us, despite our living in a remove of time and place, is to pretend reality does not exist.
The Civil War was about many things, but all that complexity resolves into the unambiguously moral issues surrounding slavery. Ultimately, the war was won and the abomination of slavery ended.
Does this mean the war was worth the cost - or does it mean there is something about the character of Mankind, that forces such a choice to be made?