The most we can hope for is that the murderers and enemies of humanity who attacked in Boston today are, at least some of them, apprehended. Executed they will not be (unless perhaps they turn out to be “white supremacists”), nor will any lessons be drawn that might help prevent similar atrocities in the future. Jihad is the most likely motive but there are plenty of other possibilities. I am afraid that to me it feels only like the sort of event to be expected in an America that has been destroying moral restraint from within and admitting hordes of invaders from without for many decades. I am not shocked at all and I have little desire to know the details. One thing I always remember when something like this happens is the suffering that will be endured by the survivors. Through a mutual acquaintance, I once heard in some detail about the sufferings of someone injured in the Atlanta Olympics bombing. It goes on for years, really a lifetime of pain and often repeated surgeries.
I still feel a vestigial sense of obligation to follow the news – as one of the responsibilities of an informed citizen – but the ongoing decay of our society has become so egregious that I feel the need to limit my intake of information that is upsetting without being edifying. I would much rather read about English kings or the American Civil War. These narratives abound in human drama and teach us something about who we are and what is possible. What would be the point, though, of studying the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, except as a study in pre-ordained failure? I feel for our men fighting abroad, and I grieve for the sacrifice of their talent and lives in activities not remotely connected to their own interests, but I do not want to follow the process step by step.
Newspaper reportage, for instance, was a major component of the civil war. See this article, for instance, concerning the Confederate side. J. Cutler Andrews’ The South Reports the Civil War (University of Pittsburgh, 1985) presents a narrative of the war from the perspective of the Southern press. I enjoy the elegant, if melodramatic, writing style of the period, and the book reminds one of how complex and multifarious the war experience really was. Today, this complexity is lost, and it is not even just a matter of a pro-Northern bias; the entire meaning, reason, and legitimacy of the war is discussed only in terms of the interests of the black slaves.
As part of an ongoing project to read (and preferably see, in the BBC or other productions) all of Shakespeare’s English history plays, I found myself working on John Gillingham’s Richard the Lionheart (London: Book Club Associates, 1978). I always find it astonishing to contemplate the fact that large parts of France were, in theory, under English rule for long periods of time – at least in theory; Richard I was really “French.” In Shakespeare’s King John Richard is only a background figure, the Crusader who tore a lion’s heart from its body, and the father of the more or less ahistorical Philip the Bastard, who aligns with King John in hopes of moving up in the world. In any case according to Gillingham, Richard was one of the most capable kings in English history, distinguished not only for his courage and fighting prowess, but also for his skills as an administrator:
Richard won his wars not simply by deeds of prowess on the battlefield, but also by being able to transfer the economic resources of the Angevin Empire into military supplies and ensure that these supplies were in the right place at the right time – in other words by sheer administrative competence. The image or Richard as a night in armor, good at fighting but at nothing else, is an image based upon a romantic and unrealistic view of war. (287)
The blogger Cambria Will Not Yield, one of the most original writers I have ever encountered on the Web, has a fine introduction to the topic of Shakespeare’s histories here, in the form of a review of John Julius Norwich’s Shakespeare’s Kings. While I cannot accept some of CWNY’s broader assertions, his understanding of the old Europe surpasses that of any pointy-headed academic, for it comes from the heart, and grasps the essential fact that the white peoples of the world were changed forever by their acceptance of, and love for, Christ.