Ain’t gonna study war no more

Vicki and I resumed our watching of the Ken Burns Civil War documentary with Episode Six, 1864 part one, last evening.

And in the stillness of a coffee-sipping morning today, as I gazed idly at the Christmas lights strung above and to the sides of our picture window, the thought occurred to me that perhaps the title for my new novel is Ain’t Gonna Study War No More.

Apparently this hymn ("Down By the Riverside"), from the Black gospel tradition, was inspired by this Bible passage from Isaiah:

Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.
He shall judge between the nations,
And arbitrate for many peoples;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks,
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war any more.

Interesting discussion of the origin of the song here, with one nice possible lead and tie-in to the Civil War:

The song was known in Civil War times, by both whites and blacks, but mostly different verses and somewhat different tunes; The verse "I ain’t goin’ to study war no mo’" perhaps originated with the Contrabands. No trace of it earlier. The camp meeting song, Down by the river, also comes from this period but some suspect that it is earlier. It is difficult to sort this out. More than one song involved here.

War is such insanity, and these odd men whose job it is to play with the lives and deaths of their soldiers–this Grant, this Lee, the madman Sherman–must have been very peculiar sorts indeed.

Where do we get off institutionalizing murder and surrounding it with notions of honor and valor?  Hailing as "heroes" those whose devilish artistry it is to mold the chaos of mass murder into victories and defeats, thousands dead at a throw?

This book is a great challenge, since the intolerable evil of slavery is rolled up into it all as well.  But non-violence was never tried, though I’m curious to further explore some of the non-violent abolitionists (I think Wendell Phillips was such, though I may be misremembering).

Robert Devereaux

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