Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come.
Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967), The People, Yes (1936)
Okay, so I’ve had this bee in my bonnet since finishing Bernard Cornwell‘s Rebel a few weeks ago:
What is it with people going out to watch battles being waged, as though it’s a Cirque de Soleil performance or something?
In Rebel, a bunch of politicians from the North go to watch their Yankees beat the Rebels (yeah, it’s a Civil War book) and bring their wives. The Southern ladies also set up a spot from which to watch the fighting.
And in some Regencies, and in Cornwell’s Sharpe series, people go watch the battle. I just don’t get it. Like, not get it so much that it’s really bugging me.
Why would anyone want to go watch people die? Why treat it as an exhibition? What happens if your side loses and the victors decide they want some of your lovely fried chicken? Or if you distract someone fighting so they lose an eye or something worse?
I know it’s a small thing, but I just cannot fathom how this even came to be. Not that there weren’t observers at these types of battles; journalists often came to write up the proceedings for their papers. But dilettante viewers?!?
But because I am a writer, I wonder how the fact of observing battle could be turned into a fun or provocative book: What if a woman watched and learned how to fight? Then joined up herself, in drag? What if someone saw one soldier kill his commander in the heat of the battle–but no-one else saw? What if the observers saw a way, because of their position, for their side to win if they had some crucial information?
What would you never want to see in person? What have you always wanted to see for real? How could you imagine a Regency lady would react to seeing this carnage? What other scenarios for fiction could you imagine?
Thanks, and I am really glad to get this off my chest,