Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Gettysburg, Washington, Baghdad

Over at Pacific Views, Mary points us at David Shribman's piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, reminding us that Sunday was the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. 143 years ago Sunday, President Lincoln spoke a few words memorializing the soldiers who died on the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Legend has it that he wrote the brief dedication on the train ride from Washington. Even if that's true, the thoughts behind the words must have been brewing within him for some time.

Unfortunately, all most people remember are the opening words; for most of us, the address goes something like this:

Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers blabba natter yadda wabba. Booga fleem ma bingum rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb ....

Given that, perhaps President Lincoln was right in one of the key statements he made in the speech:

The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
But are both points right? Or have we forgotten both the politicians' words and the soldiers' deeds? Can we really claim to remember how they sacrificed themselves and yet keep condemning their descendants to like sacrifices?

It's a catch phrase right now, that "Freedom isn't free," that it's something we have to fight for. When I think about that, I realize who we're fighting against for that freedom. In the 1860s we fought to keep our country together in the face of strong internal disagreements. We settled questions of states' rights against the needs of the nation as a whole, and we won freedom for a repressed segment of our society.

In the 1940s we fought for the freedom of the world against despots who would rule it totally. That was an ultimate "freedom isn't free" kind of war: someone's bent on world domination, and no one will be free if we don't fight together against it.

In the 2000s, our soldiers fight again, but it isn't they who are fighting for our freedom. Now, as in the 1860s, we're in a battle to keep our country together, but those threatening our freedom now are the very ones who've sent our soldiers elsewhere to fight. They threaten us by removing the protections we have against corruption and abuse by our central government, by weakening our defenses against a leader who might take away our "government of the people, by the people, for the people". While our soldiers are sacrificing themselves every day on the other side of the world, the real danger against which President Lincoln warned us is right here, at home, in our halls of power.

A couple of weeks ago, we won a battle against that threat, in the way we must continue fighting it — not with weapons of death, but with weapons of democracy. The war continues, though. The war continues.

In Mary's comment in Pacific Views, she points out this:

Once America was blessed with an outstanding leader during one of it's most perilous times. Would be that we could say the same today.
I'll add that he was a Republican leader. A lot has changed in 143 years.

Mr Shribman calls on us to read the Gettysburg Address and President Lincoln's two inaugural addresses, and "to linger, in this time of war, on the very last paragraph of the second inaugural." Let's linger on the core of it here:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, [...] to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Emphasis mine.

1 comment:

Maggie said...

Hear, hear. Nice essay.

My father recently pointed out to me the toll that the war took on Lincoln, vs. the first time he ever saw Bush visibly upset -- when the Republicans lost the house. It frightens me that he shows absolutely no apparent comprehension regarding or compassion for the lives he's ruined.