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Wars Were Brutal Long Before TV Discovered Them
on 5 June 1997
No matter what it is called, be it the Civil War, the War Between the States or the War of Southern Secession, the time period 1861-65 was one of the most bloody, destructive and emotionally and ideologically charged periods in U.S. history. No author had a better grasp of it than Union comabt veteran Ambrose Bierce, whose stories in this short but riveting collection are not dry historical abstractions nor a cold analysis of the decisions of senior leaders, but a graphic record of the everday sweat, endless terror and cruel, surreal absurdity of armed conflict. From the eerie "Incident at the Owl Creek Bridge" to the gripping "Parker Adderson, Philosopher," Bierce honed the unique literary and expressive skills that served him well as a corrosive and controversial San Francisco newspaper columnist and astonishingly effective writer on horror and the occult. War to "Bitter Bierce" was the purest expression of the basic animal survival instinct; hardened and warped by endless fear, by the power of technological advances in weaponry and the stress and repeated brutality that turned ordinary human beings into ruthless killers--to the point where ideology and the color of the uniform no longer mattered. Bierce's experiences and deep cynicism led him to believe that human beings could do nothing but create meaningless tragedies. "War is a byproduct of the arts of peace," he was reported to have said, but these stories, a product of a bygone era, remain curiously contemporary because they tell us about everyday people--not unlike ourselves despite more than a century of difference--who fought a war, that, in light of the issues it raised and the forces it unleashed, has never really ended.