The Soldier and His Art
Our magazine regularly runs stories about painters, novelists, and even composers who use their art to interpret war. This issue, by sheer coincidence, features three stories about soldiers who chose to tell their war story not through words but through images. In our Artists department, Pamela Toler writes of Takezaki Suenaga, a Japanese samurai who helped turn back Mongol invasions of Kublai Khan in the 13th century. Afterward, Suenaga commissioned two enormous painted scrolls that narrate the battle. Each glorifies the Japanese warriors, and particularly Suenaga, while conveniently ignoring the storms that swamped the Mongols and keyed their defeat.
During World War II, the British assigned two airmen, Richard and Sydney Carline, as official war artists to record air combat for posterity. The resulting paintings infuriated the brass; planes sometimes appeared as nothing more than dots on the canvas. Landscape painters by training, the Carline brothers were awed by the view from their cockpit seats and created art in which the majesty of the earth trumped the drama of war. See their work in this issue’s Portfolio.
Robert Wilson, author of a new biography of Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, tells our third story of a soldier speaking through art. Robert E. Lee hated having his picture taken, but shortly after his surrender, he agreed to sit for Brady. Photographed the day after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Lee put aside the pain of the South’s defeat and summoned “his unusual personal dignity for Brady’s camera”—an effort, Wilson suggests, aimed to reassure and calm a nation “in very dangerous and uncertain hours.”
Stories like these are the hallmark of MHQ. Twenty-five years ago, a small but passionate band of editors and writers published the magazine’s first issue. Founding editor Robert Cowley told readers that the magazine intended “to instruct, to surprise, to entertain.” MHQ has evolved over time—it debuted digitally just over a year ago!—but Cowley’s words are still our credo. Many of you have been with us from the beginning. To you and others who may be new to our pages, we offer our thanks as well as our promise that the next 25 years will include the stories of many more soldiers.