The year 1838 was too late. Before then, when practical photography first came into use, people never saw pictures of any war, especially the American War for Independence. Yes, there were paintings, but the paintings did not show the awful chaos of battle and the terrible things men did — and that were done to them.
The Revolutionary War was long, cruel and very costly to those who fought it. We experience it through reading and through art only long after the fact, at a time when most details are faded. And we can only imagine how difficult and dangerous it must have been to drive a well-armed and well trained foe from our shores when the American Congress wasn’t all that eager to pay the bills of its army and navy.
There were those who did pay, though. They are among the people we will honor Monday, Memorial Day. They gave their lives to make us a nation, and later on to allow us to keep our nationhood.
When photography came of age, we were able to see more of war, especially the Civil War, which was covered as no other had been by battlefield photographers. Their images of the dead and maimed remain as reminders of how precious nationhood is, particularly a nationhood that protects the freedoms of individuals.
Now, images of war are common, and we can see its sacrifices up close. They speak for themselves.
Each life laid down in the service of one’s country is a payment of ultimate treasure, and one which sometimes is wasted by idiots who have no real idea of the gifts those lives represent.
For example, we talk about freedom; but to some, freedom means having no responsibility for anything but one’s own personal preferences. They are too busy to vote, too stupid to study the issues, too selfish to give even a small amount of time to helping others.
Unfortunately, that sounds like a lot of us these days.
Thank God there have been people who had the courage to put themselves between our enemies and the rest of us. Our debt to them is beyond our ability to pay it.