The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War, and Reunion by Peter S. Carmichael (review)

The Last Generation by Peter S. Carmichael (University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

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The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War, and Reunion by Peter S. Carmichael (review)

by Stephen William Berry
Southern Cultures, Vol. 12, No. 2: The Tobacco Issue

University of North Carolina Press, 2009

When Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. went to war in 1861, he had almost no idea what he was getting into. He had seen a picture of a Revolutionary soldier, “a white-haired man with his flint-lock slung across his back.” And he had met a few Revolutionary war vets. (They were, of course, older men too by the time he met them.) Thus, he made what seemed to him a natural assumption: most of his fellow soldiers would be older men. What he discovered is what we all take for granted: the young fight our wars. Their bodies are more flexible (as are their minds and consciences). They have the least to lose, the most to prove, a high tolerance for risk, and a low degree of cynicism. Thus, when it comes to killing, we tap our children; they are the most willing and able to do it, and, anyway, we don’t want to do it ourselves.