It doesn't come up much on here but, I was high-ish-ly trained in history...the work of it...the craft I reckon. My studies focused on the British Empire in the 19th century. It was just a good piece of luck that William Storey was at Millsaps College when I enrolled. Thanks to him and his encouragement I was able to turn my own interests into a legitimate pursuit. One that eventually led and allowed me to study under people like Mridu Rai*, Jonathan Spence, Paul Kennedy, etc.
One of the biggest advantages I had though...was speaking English.
I don't speak Japanese. So another keen interest of mine, Sengoku era Japan, has gleefully remained a hobby. There comes a point where if you don't speak or read a language...you hit a ceiling. So instead of learning Japanese...I just watch samurai movies.
My historical interests are not particularly sophisticated. I have no interest in how people used to wash up after supper or how their traditions for washing up were actually invented by their oppressors and therefore aren't really Real traditions. I like battles. I want WAR!...not anthropology and political studies. Just as in the heyday of British Imperialism...Sengoku Japan's got plenty of that.
One of Lincoln's more enthusiastic thugs, who freely talked about the need to exterminate Southerners and then Indians, famously described war as Hell. Which, as Clyde Wilson points out, is a sly dodge of responsibility for burning people out of their homes. Wilson contrasts this with a quote from Nathan Bedford Forest..."war is fighting and fighting means killing." No dodge...no outside force that dictates or excuses the most extreme behavior.
Lee got closer to our looming point, when he said, after another fantastic victory at Fredricksburg, where he was outnumbered by 40,000 men, "it is well that war is so terrible, else we should grow too fond of it." Lee, like so many of the Confederate generals, was a throwback, a true warrior...not a thug, a murderer, an annihilationist. Without losing sight of its cost, I think Lee did love aspects of war...and what it required...sacrifice, honour, courage...selflessness.
Of course there's also the spectacle. It's the masculine drama...the stakes are ultimate and you get to put your pecker on the table while waving a flag.
Nobody's ever done it with more style than the Samurai.
There's an outstanding book by Joanna Bourke called an Intimate History of Killing: Face to Face Killing in the Twentieth Century. One of the things she demonstrates through interviews, letters, diaries, etc is that combat veterans are often reluctant to talk about their experiences not because they are horrified by them but because they enjoyed it. They power was seductive but so was the aesthetic experience.**
Still he hasn't made it up from whole cloth. If you've ever seen the old screens you know there were high style elements to the chaos. Perhaps more importantly it's closer to how these events persist in the imagination. In the film, the shadow warrior, the Kagemusha, demonstrates the highest qualities of a warrior. It's an act that is utterly futile...on every conceivable level. If only we could mount up and ride with him.
Who doesn't love Samurai movies...oh yeaaaaah.
*One of my favorite recurring scenes from graduate school was her pulling a pack of Marlboro Reds out of her sari. She's obviously razor sharp but, she was just a fun lady.
**I recently listened to a podcast on Greek Hoplites...the issue of post-traumatic-stress-disorder came up. I thought I was gonna eat my car keys. It's the worst kind of anachronism because you can see the legs on it. By the time they were done...it was probably on psychopaths that thrived in war.