I found very well written and compellingly relevant to my and my family’s history and my present life the October PAW Letter to the Editor that lists the numerous and quite impressive nonmilitary accomplishments of Confederate Brig. Gen. Lawrence Joseph Branch (Class of 1838) written by his great-great-grandson Joseph Branch Craige Kluttz ’73.
Amongst Kluttz’s defenses of his great-great-grandson were Confederate Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill’s high words of praise for General Branch, which I found even more interesting because one of my good friends and a fellow military vet and a wounded warrior hero from the Vietnam War is the great-great-grandson of Hill. Both generals, Branch and Hill, were killed in battle.
As you could guess, my friend isn’t at all happy that his great-great-grandfather’s name was recently taken off of what is now Fort Walker, Virginia, which was renamed after the Army’s first female surgeon, Dr. Mary E. Walker.
My great-great-grandfather Robert Maitland was a sergeant, when there were very few of those per unit, in the New York Light Artillery. And a combination of my and my cousin’s research says my great-great-grandfather stood across from Hill at seven of Maitland’s 11 Civil War (or as my friend calls it, the War of Northern Aggression) battles, including the possibility that my great-great-grandfather was no more than 100 yards away from and facing the crest of the Pickett’s Charge high water mark of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, while possibly manning the only still working cannon of the battery.
When I talk to my friend, who is all in on the Lost Cause and Trumpism, I think of the excellent and thought-provoking movie Cloud Atlas that tells of good and evil eternally battling things out through reincarnation over the generations, and the interconnectedness of everyone and everything.
Of course the real world and the real people in its past and present are much more complicated and nuanced in what they think and do than as shown in that movie, and my friend’s service to this nation and his other numerous good qualities makes me want to keep him as a friend, even if I find some of his opinions at best considered highly misinformed and at worst strangely angry and vindictive for someone who is in many other ways wonderful.
And yes he’s not actually responsible for the horror of slavery, and even odious speech is protected Constitutionally, and how can you attempt to reason with someone if you simply cut them off while, in his case, I wait and hope for the Trumpist fever to break?
But ultimately Kluttz’s defense, issues of Gen. Branch and the other Confederates “being men of their time,” issues of loyalty and honor and responsibility and “blood and soil” and “manhood” and courage and sacrifice and morality and the dynamics of groups, which I dealt with rather intensely as a Marine Corps Infantry/Special Operations Officer, and which I have considered all and tried to live accordingly ever since, the divisiveness we have going on all around us through witting or unwitting action or ignoring things, and so many other of such that have to do with actually living in the real world with other complicated and complicating real humans, reminds me of the eternal applicability of Princeton attendee F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last words from The Great Gatsby:
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”