Grant: Half-way Point

Someone (I believe William Pitt) once said that parliaments are not driven by public policy or great ideas, but on the weakness and frailty of its members.  I have been thinking about that quote as it relates to biography and fiction.

When you read the Grant biography (or any military history), you see that impact that human error plays on warfare and what it does to shorten the lives of men.  This includes everyone, Grant included.  There are numerous times when Chernow points out that the right action might have shortened the war by a year, had it been taken.

GenWFSmithSee Baldy Smith, a Union general who was the first guy into Fredericksburg and caught the South by surprise and undermanned.  Had he pushed forward into the city, Lee would have had to abandon Richmond, which would have fallen and the war would have been completely different.  Instead, he lost his nerve, served a big breakfast to the men and let the moment pass.

So human weakness and frailty cost lives in war.  Of course, without human weakness and frailty, there would not have been war in the first place.

But that’s not my point.

My point is this:  if your point is about the impact that human frailty and weakness have on events, you’re better off making that point with non-fiction than you are with fiction.

First, there’s plenty of examples in non-fiction.  No need to make shit up.  But beyond that, if you want to have a bunch of people screwing up in fiction, you have to be very careful.  It seems to me that the whole thing could come off as contrived and artificial.  You’d have to take the time to fully develop the character who screwed up and post their failure to some past tragedy or a controlling father, or whatever, and you’d lose the elements of what makes a good story and also the message that we are all flawed.

This is a great book.  I’m not sure it’s a musical but it could be a movie or series, like the HBO adaptation of McCullough’s John Adams.  I’m actually looking really forward to the rest of it.  I’ve read a bunch of Civil War history, but I’m pretty unfamiliar with Grant’s Presidential terms, beyond the broad strokes we learned in school.

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