Our first discussion is not from the Civil War itself, but from decades later: William James’s essay “The Moral Equivalent of War.”
James was one of the leading intellectuals of his era: he founded the field of academic psychology in the United States, and also popularized the idea of “pragmatism” as a philosophy for understanding the world.
This is one of his last writings, as he settled into the role of a national intellectual figure. As you read it, think about the following:
- What does James think about pacifism as it exists around 1910? What does he think about men who espouse “the military temper?”
- James was 19 years old when the Civil War broke out: how could his experience then have shaped his views on what a war could provide?
- How big a war is necessary to provide the virtues James describes?
- Seven years after this, the United States would enter its first total military conflict since the Civil War; from what you know of World War One or Two, do you