Honor

“You can’t compare men back then to men today.  There’s just no comparison.”

So said one of the more compelling Civil War Reenactors I talked to at the “Battle of Waynesboro” in Waynesboro, Virginia last weekend.   What he meant was that there was something that the combat veterans of the American Civil War understood, that they were men that had a qualitatively different understanding of life, manhood, strength, and honor than do men today.   And frankly, after my brief, but intense, study of this period of history, I tend to agree.  As much as I love the men I know, Grant, Lee, Frederick Douglass, James Longstreet, Joshua Chamberlain, the 54th Massachusetts, and all the men in the  trenches that didn’t run, but stayed and fought “with honor” seem to me to demonstrate an approach to life that is, in some ways, far superior to what we do today.

I know they were wrong about things, most specifically about race.   These men (Frederick Douglass and the 54th Massachusetts excepted), by and large on both sides of the Mason Dixon, could not wrap their heads around the idea that black people, in their humanity, their worth, their potential, and their value on the planet, were not one iota, not “one drop”, different or less than those of white skin color.  Why this is true is beyond me really.   But it was true.  They had this dead wrong.

So how could I suggest that they were somehow living in a better fashion that we are?   Again, let me state categorically, so no one misunderstands, that their lack of understanding about the actual meaning of “all men are created equal”, was at best a gross error, and in the worst cases, a heinous evil.   So in the context of that error and evil, what am I suggesting that we should learn from these men?

Here’s  the question:  when it comes to the men you want to travel with, would you rather be running with people who will abandon you, even though they have the right answers to the biggest, most complicated moral and political questions of the day, or would you rather be depending on men who disagree with you about everything, but (given their honest-to-God understanding of the world) who live lives of integrity, honesty, perseverance, humility, and faithfulness, even if it costs them their personal, day-to-day feelings of “happiness” and “comfort?”

Oddly, we often seem to prefer the ones who agree with us, regardless of their character.   My study of the Civil War is a personally convicting one, one that is driving me more and more to an uncomfortable place of examination and repentance for my latent idolatry of “feeling good” as in, “How are you today?”

I ran across a piece of writing yesterday that tried to explain a state of mind we civilians simply can’t understand: the military combat code of Honor (and the way this word functions among the military, it deserves to be capitalized).  Simply put, honor means you will not abandon your comrade in arms, no matter what fire you are taking, no matter the odds of death, no matter the chances of survival of the man down in front of you.   And frankly, I willingly confess this “battle” state of mind is one I have never experienced, and probably never will.   Yet the piece also asserts that living in this state of integrity and commitment is a place of intense  life and experience.   And it makes perfect sense that that would be the case.

Obviously, the fact that this is all taking place as people are killing each other creates a very real irony, but my point is that men that enter into that kind of compact with each other experience something vastly different that they usual negotiations that take place in relationships among us regular folk.   The question is very simple:  how often do we break our word?

Frankly, its an embarrassing question.  We want to say, “Depends on what you mean.”   Yet somewhere in our gut we understand exactly what that means.

Jesus said few would find the road to life.

Strange that it would take the study of the American Civil War to make that clearer to me than its ever been.

Don’t hear me advocate for some American yahoo macho militarism–that’s not what I mean.   Anyone who knows me knows immediately that’s not what I mean.  But war is an apt metaphor for much of life, though I resist it because it’s so awful and so costly.  But make no mistake.

So was the cross.

Christ was, among all the other descriptors, a man of honor.

Why do you call me lord…

4 Comments

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  1. “…it is so easy to see the awful horror of what it does, but wars do sometimes right wrongs and stop wrongs from ever occurring.”

    This is not the sentiments of “yahoo macho militarism” – but an expression of the reality of human conflict that is an inherent and inescapable part of us. It will literally require the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to change all of mankind at once to something other than what we are. Until that event, we will always be required to resist evil – and in some instances with violence. We may abhor violence – and we should – but we must also understand that honor, which is at its root a deep empathy for mankind, at times absolutely requires nothing less.

  2. There’s honor in kill or be killed? Not to me.

    You can lose probably lose a basketball game with honor if you played hard and fair. You can’t lose a war fought for an evil cause “honorably” just because you followed the rules of war.

    I feel like Jeff and Bob are suggesting that “Honor” is something to be desired and pursued. But, I’d like to suggest that it can be selfish pride in disguise.

    Though it wasn’t defined in the post, I feel like we’re working with a definition of honor as performing some type of altruistic behavior. However, the rewards of accomplishing said behavior are often experienced by the performer in such a way that it’s hard to say this is not a selfish behavior.

    The American Revolution, The War Between the States, and World War II all began as economic wars, but morphed into a moral imperative. Perhaps you can feel honor to fight in a war like that… if you win. What hollowness do the moral and military losers experience? What honor can be felt in being morally wrong and knowing you killed men morally superior to yourself? How is this different from “might makes right”? On the other hand, if your moral position was so strong, why did it require killing the opposition?

    Other American military maneuvers – like The War of 1812, The Manifest Destiny slaughter of Native Americans, Teddy Roosevelt’s Land Grabs from Spain, “The Great War,” the Conflict in Vietnam, and the unprovoked Iraqi Occupation War – are wars about hegemony and absurdity.

    To me, nothing was accomplished in those situations that was even remotely worth killing thousands or millions of people for. America was simply exerting its will on weaker groups of people for riches and comfort. I do not believe I could have participated in any of those conflicts and survived feeling honorable.

    In my opinion, God is not the god of America. Capitalist Democracy is America’s god. However, capitalist democracy was born and will probably die. Furthermore, I don’t remember God or Jesus using popular opinion or supply and demand to shape their actions. The existence of kings, caliphates, or communists do not truely threaten democracies and we shouldn’t care if they somehow did.

    “Blessed are the meek” is true. Blessed are those who kill others with whom they do not agree is false.

    The other hinted at definition of honor is keeping promises. Sure. That’s honorable. But I think God would not want us to enter social contracts that require us to act in the interest of a social group when that interest contradicts the interest of the Heaven.

    We must remember whose agents we are.

  3. Jeff, In a book about communism, written during the “McCarthy Era” of anti-communism, Harry Overstreet said, “You cannot fight the devil with the devil’s weapons.” Paul reminded us in his Ephesian letter that “our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against “principalities and powers in heavenly places.” Jesus brought down the Roman Empire, not with carnal weapons of war, but with the whole armor and sword of the Spirit in those who believed and obeyed Him.

  4. “I willingly confess this “battle” state of mind is one I have never experienced, and probably never will.”

    Interesting how, everyone IS something conceptually, or in pixel form ONLY.

    Still there are pockets of experience in this presumed “modern” world “architectured” in such a way as to evoke that state of being.

    Note that the world those long gone veterans experienced, “was”, relative to the affluent western world, was almost entirely physical and not a humanistic construct.

    The architecture that evoked that kind of living is still *there* (service men/women some of the many athletes/cyclists/outdoorsmen & women)….. call it the ideal of the garden of eden, pre-history/industrialized constructed world, religiously or secularly described the idea about the architecture is still the same.

    So yes, there are people who still live that way, the difficulty I believe is in translating that way outside of the tiny pockets in a way that overthrows a larger discursive shit-power constructs have in shaping lives individual “conceptually” without any tangible physical action sense of agency or individual endeavor.

    In other words there are no words, just Clowns and their pixels. Unless someone occupies one of those pockets, and there for is able to live differently/tangibly. ATMO

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