Whitman ministered to the needs of wounded soldiers while also keeping a careful visual record of everything he saw, “this other freight of helpless worn and wounded youth,” as he wrote to Emerson. “Doctors sawed arms & legs off from morning till night,” he reported in his journal. He was dismayed to see “a heap of feet, arms, legs, etc., under a tree in front of a hospital.” As he moved from bed to bed in the overcrowded wards, he was shocked by the youth of the victims. “Charles Miller, bed 19, company D, 53rd Pennsylvania, is only sixteen years of age, very bright, courageous boy, left leg amputated below the knee.”I wonder if images like the ones above (from a war fought on American soil involving so much greater a proportion of American lives than the wars our troops are fighting today) were more readily available, even if they were the legs and feet of Afghans or Iraqis, would there be more anger about the last decade of ill-advised, illegally waged war?
Sadly, probably not. That's why I cringe when I read knuckleheads who, defending Texas's education budget cuts, opine that schools waste too much time on mushy liberal arts stuff (like history, civics, and philosophy) and should just focus on football (I'm not kidding), math and science. (In Texas, one fears, "science" means "Creation Science.")
We need more study of Whitman, Hume, Twain, Locke, Dickinson, Hobbes, Carson, Thoreau, Mill, Kant, Rawls, Heidegger, Popper, Marx, Goldman, Debs, Dworkin, etc. in our public schools, not less. I'm not suggesting these should come at the expense of geometry, trigonometry, calculus, physics, chemistry, biology, industrial arts, or home economics; if anything, they should come at the expense of overlong summer vacations. A populace well-read in those I've mentioned, I'd argue, would not tolerate the cavalier indifference to truth, civil liberties, and human life itself evinced by the last few Presidential administrations (not excluding the current).