One thing Melville repeatedly suggests is that war is a young man's game, fought and apparently controlled entirely by youth while the older, wiser, and more experienced men stand beside helplessly:
Grief to every graybeardAnd, more to the point:
When young Indians lead the war ("Apathy and Enthusiasm" II.21, 22).
Youth must its ignorant impulse lend--I'm no Civil War scholar, but wasn't the war started by old men? Hasn't this been the case for wars all throughout history? Old men start the wars and then step aside to let young men fight them. That's certainly the rhetoric around our current war.
Age finds place in the rear.
All wars are boyish, and are fought by boys ("The March Into Virginia" 4-6).
And so I wonder if Melville's condemnation isn't misplaced. The young fight the wars, but then, they're forced to. Theirs is the enthusiasm--the old men have the apathy, although it is only personal apathy. They're more than willing to take a vested political or economical interest in the war and then send the young men off to die for that interest.
Czeslaw Milosz seems to be much closer to the point in his beautiful, heartbreaking "Child of Europe," written in the immediate aftermath of World War II:
The voice of passion is better than the voice of reason.Milosz's sarcasm gets at the same idea as Melville but makes things clearer: It's not the young men's fault. It's the old men who behave as young men--the old men, who should know better but force themselves not to.
The passionless cannot change history. (5.7-8)
By the way, if anyone reading this knows more about the Civil War than I do and wants to correct my impressions, please do.