December 26, 2013

After watching Americans engage in two weeks of national self-flagellation over Duck Dynasty and its controversial patriarch Phil Robertson, I decided to watch something else. Passing up ersatz conflict for the real thing, I put on Ken Burns' unforgettable documentary, The Civil War.

But my escape from the Daily Mail's latest "exclusive" from the Robertson clan was short-lived. There on my screen was an image that was hauntingly familiar.

As Ken Burns opened the tale of the battle of Gettysburg, historian and novelist Shelby Foote explained:

"There's a photograph I'm fond of. It shows three Confederate prisoners who were captured at Gettysburg and they are posed alongside or in front of a snake rail fence and you see exactly how the Confederate soldier was dressed. You see something in his attitude towards the camera that's revealing of his nature, and one of them has his arms like this; as if he's having his picture made but he's determined to be the individual that he is. There's something that draws me strongly as an image of the war."

Other historians disputed Foote's assessment of Matthew Brady's famous photograph, suggesting the trio were immortalized more than a week after the carnage at Gettysburg and so were likely deserters caught by Union troops.

Regardless, I couldn't help but feel that I had pondered that picture recently. And then it dawned on me: I had seen an eerily similar image literally the same day. In the eyes of a certain beholder, the five posing Duck Commanders of the Robertson family in Louisiana could have been the proud descendants of those three veterans of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Melodramatic, perhaps. But then again, they say the old times there are not forgotten.

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