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Random Thoughts…(mine, not Thomas Sowell’s)

Thomas Sowell, a man whom I admire from the generation before mine, wrote a column titled “Random Thoughts” so, in line with my cynosure for his works, I title mine similarly. I quite enjoy all aspects of that notorious period of American history, the Civil War. Nearing (hopefully) a period of transition to Missouri, I can’t help but be fascinated by that state’s Civil War history.

How did people of that period live? How did such antipathy, such rancor evolve so rapidly given the distances involved and the primitive communications of the time? These are just a couple of questions that I ponder from time to time.

Another thing I marvel at is how addicted, how thoroughly attached we are to our current modes of transportation. We are so impatient to get where we’re going. And not without good reason in most respects. I just recently lost the opportunity to take a position because the prospective employer wanted to conduct an in-person interview and I’m in a different state. True, I could have hopped a plane and been there in half a day but I didn’t because it wasn’t a sure thing. I remember the year I spent in Southeast Asia without wheels. Even though I had only been driving for about four years, it was a shock to my system to realize I would have to walk everywhere I went, including a two-mile walk one way to work.

As I read some of the history of Civil War battles in Missouri and drove over some of the same ground while there recently, I thought a good bit about the young men, even boys, that signed on to fight for either side. No doubt, they gave no thought to the fact that they would have to walk everywhere their commanders led them. Even though there were trains to some locales and if they were in the cavalry they could ride a horse, a cursory study of that war will indicate the distances troops traveled, many times being asked or forced to engage in battle upon arrival. 

I know that today there is great emphasis—never mind who places it—on walking for fitness. There is not, however, much emphasis if any on walking to get from point A to point B. Even as I walk at least three times a week for at least six and more frequently closer to nine or ten miles each time, I think about those people who walked everywhere they went because they had to. No other option was available. Then I think about how healthy they were. Well, it doesn’t sound like they were very healthy over all given that their life span was so short in many cases. I suppose even though they experienced benefits from walking everywhere like weight loss, they still had to cope with debilitating, even life threatening, diseases that we hear very little about today.

Another aspect I have given no small amount of thought to is how shoes were made back then. There were no tough heavy lug soled shoes or boots to help with traction over rough or slippery ground. If you have never struggled through that type of terrain with leather soled shoes you have not lived. In addition, shoes back then were not made in lefts and rights as they are now. One particular shoe or boot could just as easily fit either foot. I pointed that out to my wife on a visit to the Confederate museum in Carthage, Missouri where we saw an incredibly small pair of shoes worn, presumably, by a soldier of that time period.

Today, I pay a ridiculous amount of money for a pair of shoes specifically built for walking and specifically designed to minimize or eliminate such foot complaints as plantar fasciitis. Well, how did those men cope with such circumstances back then? Did they just buck up and bear the pain because no other alternative was known or available? Did only men and boys with sturdy feet and normal arches take part in combat then? Don’t know. I have a couple of Civil War diaries in my library and they don’t mention anything about the men’s feet or footwear.

In later wars, including the one in which I took part, feet and footwear were a common topic among the troops. Taking care of our feet was of primary importance. Maybe it was in the eighteen sixties too but we just never hear anything about it.

I remember reading an anecdote by General Norman Schwarzkopf. Seems he took his men on an extended hike in Alaska. They marched seventy-five miles in something like three days full tilt with Schwarzkopf leading them. At the end of the march those young men cheered Schwarzkopf and said, “Let’s do it again.” Incredible. I had to wonder if I could ever have done that even as a young man. Then I recall the effect of proper training and conditioning and console myself that under those conditions I probably could have.

In any event, I can’t help but wonder if we are indeed spoiled and physically reduced today or if we remain in as good a physical shape as our ancestors over all. It is an intriguing prospect to help occupy the time.




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