It is hard to believe the summer is winding down. I had a lot of fun and accomplished many of the things I set out to do in summer 2012. In these months I focused especially on my volunteering at Governors Island and learning more about the Reconstruction and Gilded Ages. Too often we study the Civil War without focusing on what came after. The same impulse is there in the study of the Second World War, where the interest is on say the Battle of the Bulge but not the chaos and cleanup of Europe in the late 1940s and 1950s. War is precise and offers a clear narrative; its aftermath is messy and full of shabby compromise. Who wants to study that? It is an impulse one must fight against. How much detail does one need to know about the fighting on Little Round Top or the plight of the 101st Airborne at Bastogne?
I came away with a new appreciation for the postwar presidents, especially Hayes, Garfield, and Arthur. I’ve written before about how we too often dismiss these presidents. The tendency is to skip from Lincoln to Teddy Roosevelt and his Bully Pulpit. One cannot understand the Civil War, however, without understanding how that generation lived and the decisions they made after the Appomattox. It was very complicated time and one that deserves better. I still have much to learn but I feel many of these figures are no longer the stick figures they always were to me before say Memorial Day.
Enjoy your weekend.