The Way It Ought To Be

War on the silver screen. A new film refights the Gulf War--but this time for a higher purpose/

Issue: Winter 1999-2000

The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara's immensely popular novel of the Civil War, recounts the Battle of Gettysburg from the point of view of those who fought there, artfully blending history and imagination. On the Union side, Shaara tells his story chiefly through the eyes of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, commander of the 20th Maine Volunteers, who actually won the Medal of Honor defending Little Round Top.

At the outset of the narrative, Shaara's protagonist finds himself facing a delicate leadership challenge far removed from combat. On the eve of battle, the high command has saddled Chamberlain with 120 mutineers, the remnants of another Maine regiment whose members have seen enough of war. His orders are to make the mutineers fight--and to shoot them if they refuse. A citizen-soldier himself, Chamberlain understands the futility of attempting to browbeat or coerce volunteers. Moreover, he cannot conceive of ordering his own troops to turn their guns on men from their home state. So rather than making threats, Chamberlain decides on a riskier course: employing the plain, unadorned idiom of American idealism, he simply reminds the disgruntled mutineers of the Cause for which they first took up arms, asking them on that basis to set aside their grievances and join his regiment.

"This is a different kind of army", Chamberlain tells them.

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