The Romantic Usefulness of Military History

Ronan has a thoughtful post about his trip to Gettysburg and the meaning of war. For my part, I will always think of Gettysburg as the sacred soil on which I successfully wooed my wife. Heather and I have known each other for a long time. We met, dated for a while, and then became good friends. Some years later, I tried to get promoted from friend to love-of-Heather’s-life-with-whom-she-wishes-to-spend-the-eternities. This attempt at the frontal assault was rather disastrous, leading to Heather’s heartfelt declaration that she respected me.

Needless to say, this was a devastating defeat for my romantic ambitions. Still, since we were “still friends,” I invited Heather to take a trip with me to Gettysburg in a last desperate gambit. (I was acting on the well-worn maxim that the best way to a woman’s heart is through a Civil War battlefield.) She agreed and we drove from DC to Pennsylvania, spending the day walking the field and talking about the war and the three days of fighting on Seminary Ridge and Little Round Top. Two or three days later, Heather asked me if she could “change her answer.” She proposed the next month. Gettsyburg, she insists, is the day that changed her mind.

Generals and statesmen have long recognized the usefulness of studying military history as a way of avoiding the strategic and tactical blunders of the past. However, I think that its usefulness as a tool for wooing women is under appreciated. Nor is its romantic usefulness limited to wooing. There are few marriages that can’t be help, I think, by a trip to Chancellorsville or Bull Run.

14 comments for “The Romantic Usefulness of Military History

  1. (Long, but tastefully provocative, and even sort of on topic; worth the read.)


    by John Donne

    COME, madam, come, all rest my powers defy ;
    Until I labour, I in labour lie.
    The foe ofttimes, having the foe in sight,
    Is tired with standing, though he never fight.
    Off with that girdle, like heaven’s zone glittering,
    But a far fairer world encompassing.
    Unpin that spangled breast-plate, which you wear,
    That th’ eyes of busy fools may be stopp’d there.
    Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime
    Tells me from you that now it is bed-time.
    Off with that happy busk, which I envy,
    That still can be, and still can stand so nigh.
    Your gown going off such beauteous state reveals,
    As when from flowery meads th’ hill’s shadow steals.
    Off with your wiry coronet, and show
    The hairy diadems which on you do grow.
    Off with your hose and shoes ; then softly tread
    In this love’s hallow’d temple, this soft bed.
    In such white robes heaven’s angels used to be
    Revealed to men ; thou, angel, bring’st with thee
    A heaven-like Mahomet’s paradise ; and though
    Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know
    By this these angels from an evil sprite ;
    Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.
    Licence my roving hands, and let them go
    Before, behind, between, above, below.
    O, my America, my Newfoundland,
    My kingdom, safest when with one man mann’d,
    My mine of precious stones, my empery ;
    How am I blest in thus discovering thee !
    To enter in these bonds, is to be free ;
    Then, where my hand is set, my soul shall be.
    Full nakedness ! All joys are due to thee ;
    As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be
    To taste whole joys. Gems which you women use
    Are like Atlanta’s ball cast in men’s views ;
    That, when a fool’s eye lighteth on a gem,
    His earthly soul might court that, not them.
    Like pictures, or like books’ gay coverings made
    For laymen, are all women thus array’d.
    Themselves are only mystic books, which we
    —Whom their imputed grace will dignify—
    Must see reveal’d. Then, since that I may know,
    As liberally as to thy midwife show
    Thyself ; cast all, yea, this white linen hence ;
    There is no penance due to innocence :
    To teach thee, I am naked first ; why then,
    What needst thou have more covering than a man?

  2. I think it’s interesting how men have often associated warfare with romance.

    An interesting exerpt from “Gentlemen’s Blood: A History of Dueling” by Barbara Holland:

    “Sometimes, as in the romantic tales, duels were even fought for the love of a fair maiden, both parties taking it for granted that said maiden would prefer the victor, which, perversely, she often didn’t.”

    Might we say that Nate’s conduct here, in some way, signified the traditional method of clubbing one’s mate over the head and dragging her off to the cave? What matter is it if the club be intellectual/sentimental rather than birchwood?

  3. Incidentally, I’ve been doing competative Olympic style fencing since 1997. My wife says she really fancies how I look with a sword. So maybe there is something to this romance = violence thing.

  4. Follow-up on Seth’s comments about him with a sword.

    I have taken multiple women out shooting firearms prior to and including my spouse. All of them loved it after some training and said that they felt empowered/cool/sexy while shooting them. The age ranges are 16-25


    You really sold her on giving you a chance. That is pretty funny how all of a sudden she changed her mind.

  5. Gettysburg might be great for romance, but it’s a lousy place to take a young family. I billed it to Jacob (aged 5) as a place with soldiers and guns and stuff, but of course it’s just rolling fields. We also had a blazing row at the cemetery when I tried to get the kids to be quiet (signs say “be quiet”).

    I should say that my post at UB was thrown together that evening with feelings still raw. I don’t like war, I don’t like anything that comes close to glorifying war, I hate our simplistic notions of war, I worry at Mormons’ laissez-faire attitude to war, but I realise that I may annoy some by choosing to pontificate over an American battlefield. For the record, I would have done the same at Flanders. Last summer in Jerusalem I felt heartsick to see the graves of young English boys on Mount Scopus. War sucks and we British have been very good at it.

    Anyway, back to wooing…

  6. “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and
    degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is
    worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to
    fight, nothing he cares more about than his own personal safety, is a
    miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so
    by the exertions of better men than himself.” John Stuart Mill

    If we believe in an afterlife, then death is not as terrible as we might suppose. It is tragic, and sorrowful, but it is not the end.
    That is not to say we should seek war, but a decaying civilization is usually marked by those who say that nothing is worth dying for.

  7. I’m envious really. All my wife and I have done is watch the movie “Gettysburg” together.

    Far from being turned-on by it, my wife was unconscious by the end of it.

  8. El Jefe–so what do you say to those who are willling to die for the No War position? Surely not moral slouches, those?

  9. Nate, I wish I had read your advice before I started dating my wife. I could have saved thousands of dollars on movies, dinners, plays, concerts, and gifts if only I had known that the key to a woman’s heart is a detailed and energetic explanation of Pickett’s charge.

    I was wandering around Manassas two years ago and the trail led me around a bend where I surprised a young couple canoodling on the grass. I trust it wasn’t the Omans.

  10. I suspect it would have been Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the 20th Maine’s heroic action at Little Round Top on July 2 that would have sealed the deal. At least if your hoped-for-intended is a Yankee.

  11. Gettysburg is a very sobering place for me. I think a lot about Lincoln’s second inaugural address when I’ve been there, particularly looking out over that field where Pickett’s charge took place (utter foolishness and just plain suicide). The line Lincoln wrote about the nation atoning for the blood drawn by slavery’s lash, was made real and distrubingly vivid on that field on a hazy summer day, reading a monument that spoke of using cannons to fire “double cannister” at ten yards. Essentially, it was using cannons as giant shot guns, stuffing them with grape shot, rocks, or whatever came handy, and blasting gaping holes in ranks of men.

  12. “So whatcha gonna do
    In a little canoe
    With the moon shine’in all around?”

    Sorry just brought to mind a girls camp song my wife told me about.

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