Friday, September 11, 2009

Metaphorical Truth

Recently, I received an email that contained one of those stories that float around cyber space, which no one knows who started, and which invariably end up being believed as absolute gospel, simply by virtue of how prolific its posting has become.

This particular story supposedly tells about the origin of the playing of TAPS, as done so by the military, at funerals, etc. It is a romantic and moving account of a Union Captain during the Civil War who hears a soldier moaning at night out on the battlefield, and not knowing which side the wounded soldier belongs to, decides to find him in the dark and drag him back to Union lines. Unfortunately, the soldier dies before the Captain reaches his lines, and he then is horrified when he realizes the dead soldier is his own son, who had joined the Confederate Army without his knowledge. Having been musically inclined in life, the father finds a piece of paper in the dead soldier’s pocket with some notes the deceased lad had scribbled, before meeting his demise. It is TAPS and the father request it played at his son’s burial.

As I said, very moving. Also, very false. The actual story is far different from the tearful account noted above. Anyone wishing to know the actual mundane origin of TAPS can find it quite easily on the Internet. Here is just one location, at West Point’s site:

http://www.west-point.org/taps/Taps.html


As a historian, I of course knew the tear-jerker version to be false. I started looking around and found a plethora of sites where they had posted this nonsense. I responded to one and posted a message that this story was totally false and where the actual account of how TAPS came about could be found.

Here is the response I got back:

Jim,

There are different kinds of truth and different ways of receiving that truth. Sometimes the metaphorical truth is more important to the heart than the strict factual truth.

For me, my father, and many others, this is a healing story of a divided nation...in a war that still leaves traces from nearly tearing our nation apart.

Janet


I happened to receive this little jewel of wisdom while staying at the house of George and Dolly this past Labor Day weekend. When I read this response, George’s apoplectic response was, “What!!! Did she actually say ‘metaphorical truth'???" When I nodded yes, he walked away in disgust, shaking his head.

I responded to Janet’s post thusly:

I'm sorry Janet. While you, and others, may derive some comfort from this fictional account, I've always believed that while you may find different ways of receiving the truth, there is only ONE kind of truth I know of, especially when dealing with historical facts; I call that the ‘truth, truth’.

While you, and others, may believe it fairly benign to offer this maudlin story under the guise of it being a 'metaphorical truth,' which obviously soothes your conscience somehow, this, however, promotes the idea that the concept of a ‘metaphorical truth' is somehow justified. I seriously doubt your children, if you have any, would fare well on a history test by using 'metaphorical truths,' nor would you do any better in a court of law enacting this concept. I’ve always been taught that the truth shall set you free. I’ve never heard that a 'metaphorical truth' afforded the same benefit.


George and I are taking bets that this person is a dyed-in-the-wool, card caring member of the ‘feel-good’ liberal party. Anyone want some of this action?

BTW, I checked a day later on her site, and not only was the false story still there, but my post had been deleted.

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