Flawed Man

Flawed Man by pendragon David Whelan I am reading a biography of the Confederate general, James Longstreet, to learn a bit more about this interesting man. He was seen as the cause for the South’s loss at Gettysburg, Lee’s “war horse”, and Grant’s friend. It is interesting to contemplate, though, how a great man of his time could be so talented and flawed. As we have seen with Bill Clinton and any number of other political leaders in this and other countries, assuming a mantle of authority does not necessarily transfer with it the necessary transcendence to ameliorate one’s pre-existing defects.

The Longstreet biography – General James Longstreet: The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier by Jeffry Wert – explores Longstreet’s life, referring much to Longstreet’s own memoirs as well as other historical documents. One of my favorites is Porter Alexanders ‘critical narrative’, which does seem to call a spade a spade. Wert’s view of Longstreet is enjoyable to read because he deals with Longstreet’s successes and failures equally, pointing out which were honorable, which were less than honorable, and which were understandable given the circumstances!

I like Longstreet, in part because he seems so accessible, so human. He achieved fame and greatness on the losing side of a bloody war, and suffered many years afterward the slings and arrows of his former companions and friends. And like anyone might, he responded intemperately, and perhaps untruthfully. A man may ride through the worst battles seen on this continent and still succumb to the basic human failings of modern cubicle farms!! How comforting.

I have not read Bill Clinton’s recent publication, as I am already comfortable I have both sufficient knowledge of his flaws as well as his appropriate place in society. It’s not even a question of appetites gone hay-wire – greed, lust, uncontrollable urges of any kind, like William “the Gambler” Bennett – but rather that people who achieve great places may sometimes feel less constrained than those more solidly implanted in the rules of society.

Like these other men (and I’m sure this applies to women as well!), Longstreet’s actions may not have affected anyone far beyond his personal ambit. He disparaged friends, connived against others, just as Bill Clinton destroyed the trust in his marriage, and yet there is still this central truth that Longstreet had incredible moments of military genius. Some of his tactics showed astonishing adaptability to the changes warfare underwent in the years of the American civil war. And more than that, he was probably as good as any of us.

I do not aspire to that fame and glory; a less conspicuous life for me! And yet I always find it inspiring to read of someone who achieved remarkable things and led an otherwise unremarkable, and typical life.

I hope you rest in peace, “Old Pete”!

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David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.