There’s something I want to say, but just wasn’t fitting into my article for Emerging Civil War this week. Accounts from Union soldiers after the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862 and then looking at their reaction to the positively-spun presidential commendation and newspaper reporting got my brain turning.
History was helping me thinking about a modern experience.
Reading this small sampling of primary source excerpts is a reminder of the importance of listening to those who were there. What did they really experience? Was it a comparatively small loss? Or was it a devastating experience that left thousands bleeding and dying? When people feel unheard and their experiences unacknowledged, it can have a crushing effect on personal or group morale. Also, when people are asked to believe something different than what they are seeing or have experienced, it can have far-reaching consequences.
What type of reports should be listened to? The people on the frontlines of the experience or the favored reporting of the moment? The voices from the place of crisis may have details lacking or censored from the accounts of those crafted at a distance.Bierle, Fredericksburg: Voices from the Crisis Point, Excerpt (Emerging Civil War Blog)
It’s 2020. We’re in the middle of a national health crisis caused by Covid-19. You probably already know that, but someone might read this years from now and need the reminder.
I believe it’s important to look at many different perspectives and to track different patterns of thinking. So I’ve been doing that for nine months. Watching and listening to how the pandemic has been reported. Watching and listening to the variety of people’s responses. Do I agree with everything I listen to or keep an eye on? Nope. Not at all.
Now, this is where that post-Fredericksburg problem in the Union army comes in. The soldiers who had gone through the experience and been eyewitnesses on the frontline felt like they were silenced, ignored, or asked to believe that their casualties were minimal.
Some of the modern voices I purposely searched for and listened to? Doctors, nurses, and other medical staff’s private vlogs that they have made public. I cried listening to their stories. I wanted to reach through the screen and give them a hug in their solitary, daily aftermath in the battle for their patients’ lives.
I realize that not every place or even every hospital has had the same experience with Covid-19. But it disturbs me greatly when I have seen discounting social posts or even had acquaintances tell me that those frontline accounts didn’t matter.
Yes, I believe there have been communication issues on all levels of this pandemic. Yes, I believe there has been confusion. Yes, I believe things have changed as the medical field has learned more about the illness. Yes, I even believe there are things that don’t really make a lot of sense in some of the social and political responses. But to completely discount the experiences from people “in the trenches” and on the front line of this fight for life is insensitive at best and dangerous at worst.
The soldiers who retreated from Fredericksburg felt unheard. Like people did not understand their losses and experiences. Like the truth was not even told by their newspapers. I look at how that made those soldiers feel.
I do not want voices in crisis on the frontlines to go unheard. Historically or modern. It does not mean that those voices are the gospel truth or the perfect interpretation of the situation. Time and more information helps to craft the bigger picture of the full circumstance. But people writing or sharing about their perspective in difficult situations need to be heard and studied. Not told their experiences are untrue or don’t matter.
I’m troubled by the way soldiers in the Army of the Potomac felt silenced.
I’m disturbed when I hear trends to silence modern experiences of places and people in crisis. We don’t have to like it. We don’t even have to fully agree. But perhaps we should listen and remember that we are all—after all—only human. Only able to tell our experiences and hope that someone will listen.