Saturday, March 15, 2014

"Republic of Suffering"

Above, the opening scene of Death and the Civil War (12 Sep. 2012), perhaps the saddest, bleakest, and most profoundly moving documentary I have ever seen. Based on Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (Vintage Civil War Library), the documentary explores how the scale of death in the world's first modern war caught Americans totally unprepared (in 12 hours the First Battle of Bull Run claimed more American lives than did the 2-year Mexican–American War), both by overwhelming the capabilties of both sides to care to or even identify the dead and by shattering the cherished Christian/Victorian notion of the "good death," at home surrounded by loved ones. An undertaker-poet interviewed in the film calls this experience the beginning of unbelief in America.

The second half of the film is weak, little more than an apology for Statism, but if one watches between the lines it becomes clear that the deification of the American National State began with the Gettysburg Address. The highlight of the second half is the accounting of the Ladies' Hollywood Memorial Association, Richmond, and other such post-war associations of Southron white women who, responding to the fact that the centralized state had no interest in accounting for the conferderate war-dead, did so themselves without government assistance. They remembered that it was women who took Our Lord down from the cross and buried him.

This film serves as a profoundly American Lenten reflection.

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