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At Odds With War Stories

July 02, 1989

In regards to Jonathan Kirsch's review of Richard Severo and Lewis Milford's "The Wages of War: When America's Soldiers Come Home" on June 22, it is my opinion that Kirsch's review could have adhered to a more critical standard instead of indulging Severo and Milford's hand-wringing misstatements of American military history.

Kirsch has uncritically accepted the authors' parade of horribles in spite of significant errors. To name two examples, the authors cite the execution of 30 American deserters hanged during the Mexican War, adding the remark of an officer, "My order is to hang 30, and by God I'll do it." What the authors and Kirsch know, or should know, is that these men were the survivors of the San Patricio Battalion, upon whose rolls were wartime deserters from the American forces. This unit voluntarily fought alongside the Mexican army outside of Mexico City at Churubusco, defended the San Mateo Convent and inflicted substantial casualties among the American attackers. Small wonder why these men were hanged.

Second, Mr. Kirsch accepts uncritically the authors' assertion that returning Civil War veterans, hypodermic-using opiate fiends (as the authors describe), were shunned as an underclass by unsympathetic civilians, businessmen and politicians.

Not likely, although it is always possible to cull through the vast amount of literature written after the war by its participants and observers to find or bend facts to fit any theory. But given the fact that the Civil War featured near universal service, those civilians, businessmen and politicians who found servicemen bores, embarrassments and conveniences were practically always veterans themselves.

It just might be better for Milford the lawyer and Severo the reporter to leave history to the professional historians.

MARK F. MARTINEZ

Whittier

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