Uncivil War

Making Americans -- Uncivil War - Independence Day - A New Birth of Freedom - American Citizenship

Today is the anniversary of the official surrender at Appomatox that ended the Civil War in 1865. That random tidbit struck home to me as I was reading The Passing of the Armies by Joshua Chamberlain (who officially received the arms and flags of the Confederate army in surrender). I had not realized until I was getting to that climax of the book that I was reading of the events on the day 142 years after this all happened. When I realized that, it really made me think about the results of that war and the example of humanity displayed during that surrender.

Now, a century and a half later, we are engaged in a war that is, in many ways less civil than that one. I am not talking about Iraq or Afghanistan – I am talking about America. Our political and social ideologies are every bit as divided as they were in the 1860’s. We have seen the same rancor and the same intensity of rhetoric for the last 13 years (or more) and it signals a deep rift in our nation. Like the war that brought about a rebirth in our nation, most of the citizens are able to live rather amicably with their neighbors, but our public discourse on ideas rages hotter and hotter when we feel free to express ourselves.

I ask myself, where is our Gettysburg, where the tide turns and we stop winding up our division and start winding down our conflict? Is it past? Or is it (more likely) yet to come? When we finally come to a resolution will we act with the dignity and honor displayed by the Union and Confederate soldiers? They honored each other with displays of respect and valued the courage displayed by their former enemies and forged again the bonds of national brotherhood even when they did not see eye to eye on some of the (semi)concluded issues.

Like the Civil War, I am confident that a resolution will come to the issues we face today which cause so much division among us. Will we be able to effect a better reconciliation than they did? We had to fight a second campaign after 100 years to bring further resolution to the questions of how all people should be treated and we still feel the effects of that divisive war.

Where is our President Lincoln or our General Lee who could fight so passionately and so honorably for the ideas they believed in and yet they held no malice for their opponent, only for the ideas they opposed?

What lies ahead for us? Is it possible that we can be passionate without being scurrilous?

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.
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19 Responses to Uncivil War

  1. Jason Black says:

    I often feel a similar sense of divisiveness among people.

    However, the more time I spend talking with people about their opinions, the more I find that most are like you and me – passionate about their ideals, yet not hateful against those that disagree. Unfortunately, as with most things, the squeaky wheel gets the grease – all the attention is paid to those that make the most noise because they are angry and hateful.

    We hear all the time about the rivalries between the two major political parties, but it’s mostly really only seen in political and media circles. I have many friends that disagree with me terribly when it comes to politics or religion or even food preference, but then we agree on so many other things such as the importance of family, the value of hard work, love of the written word, etc.

    I once had to submit to “diversity training”, as a condition of employment with the State of Missouri. It was mostly a waste of time, but one experience stands out as an important lesson learned: In that training we were randomly paired with another person with whom we were given five minutes to discover and write down five major differences and five important similarities between us. Simple enough. After our allotted time expired, we rotated partners and repeated the experience with others. After 12 partners in an hour, it became very easy to see that though I disagreed with everyone on some things, I also agreed with everyone on other things. Someone that disliked my politics shared interests in computers. One who thought computers were impossible and hated to use them, shared my love of classical music. The fact is that no matter how many reasons we can find to disagree with, or even dislike others, if we’re patient and willing, we can always find common ground.

    I wasn’t there and haven’t read enough of the history to know for sure, but I would bet that the average citizen in the 1860s didn’t feel the hatred and vitriol that lead to war. My guess is that the squeaky wheel – the most vocal among us – were able to sway public fervor for or against them until the pressure built to bursting. It can be avoided if we learn to despise and detest actions, but not people. Disagree with Bush, but don’t hate Bush; Think Michael Moore has told lies, but don’t despise Michael Moore; etc.

    If you’re interested in one man’s take on where our current political divisiveness could lead, if left unchecked, take a look at Orson Scott Card’s book called Empire (I think the full title is A Disturbing Look at a Possible Future Empire). It’s a compelling read – more of a science fiction/adventure story than a treatise on politics, but surprisingly thought provoking.

  2. David says:

    Perhaps I did not make that point as clearly as I wanted but I agree with you. That is exactly what I meant when I said “most of the citizens are able to live rather amicably with their neighbors, but our public discourse on ideas rages hotter and hotter.”

    I think you are right about the need to be able to disagree with the ideas while avoiding hatred for those who express them. I guess it’s a little bit of “hate the sin but love the sinner.”

    So I would ask – how much chance do you think we have of changing the tone of our public discourse?

    I will have to take a look at Empire.

  3. Peonicus says:

    An interesting post brother. It reminded me of a book that I read about 50 years after D-Day, there was a reunion for anyone who was there. The survivors, both Axis and Allied, came to see the people who were shooting at them. After a few drinks and a little translation, everybody was chatting happily with whomever. I read one story about one German gunner who manned one of the deadliest guns on the beach. He met one guy who survived in his field of fire. They relived the day and came away as friends. The author’s comment was, “So much for the war”.

    WWII and the Civil War were caused by two opposing ideologies. The current status of the US is that we’re looking out for me and mine which results in roughly 100 million opposing ideologies. The nation can’t repair itself as long as everyone is looking out for number one. We don’t have a leader who can unify the nation; someone will oppose him simply because it is their right to do so. The only solution is similar to a forest that has become overgrown; there will be a fire in which all the ideologies are cleaned out to be replaced by … what, shall I wax religious, or would that offend somebody’s ideology?

  4. David says:

    “Looking out for me and mine” is certainly a very common attitude, but I think that attitude does not qualify as a unique ideology for each person. I think that there are two opposing ideologies. One is called liberal and the other conservative although those vague terms do not really do much to expose the complexity underlying each of the major ideological confederations.

    On the other hand, perhaps there is something to the overgrown forest analogy. It may be that it takes the fire of a crisis to burn away the many issues which are not as important as they might seem in a time of relative ease (war on terror notwithstanding).

  5. Peonicus says:

    The problem with saying “liberal v conservative” is that it’s also liberal v liberal and conservative v conservative. Liberal tends toward slavery (big brother controls everything, multiplication of laws, heavy yokes). Conservative tends toward anarchy (big brother goes away, every man fares according to his own strength). Either way, “me and mine” is the undercurrent ideology. In the logical extreme of liberalism of self-imposed slavery, me and mine says I will be fair with me and mine, I will enforce the law with the rest. In the extreme of conservatism self-imposed anarchy, me and mine says I will deal justly with me and mine, I will hose the rest as best I can. There is never any “what’s best for all”.
    Merriam-Webster online:
    2 a : a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture b : a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture c : the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program
    4 a : a mental position with regard to a fact or state b : a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state
    5 : the position of an aircraft or spacecraft determined by the relationship between its axes and a reference datum (as the horizon or a particular star) (thought this might be useful)
    6 : an organismic state of readiness to respond in a characteristic way to a stimulus (as an object, concept, or situation)

    I think “me and mine” is both an ideology and an attitude. It’s how people interact one with another. Civil War ideology (please excuse the BROAD generality): If you believe in slavery, you fall outside my group of people to care for. Basically, pro-slavery v. anti-slavery. I look out for the anti-slavery people to the exclusion of the pro-slavery people. If you don’t fit into “mine”, you fall outside my group of people to care for. Basically, “me and mine” v. 299,999,997ish other people. The other 299 Million people are looking out for themselves to the exclusion of the other 299 million.

    A question has come to my mind of what kind of crisis could unite the nation? After 9-11, the nation came together for an entire 2 or 3 months. WOW! Earth-shattering! No, after the few months of flag-waving, people began again to look out for number one, even more so when the next crisis came along of the stock market tumble. Nothing seems to unite the nation. Katrina didn’t do it, it inflamed racial tensions. Rita didn’t do it, it inflamed political tensions. Give me any kind of crisis, and I bet I can guess where the finger-pointing will start.

    Sorry, long comment. I hate politics.

  6. Peonicus says:

    Regardless of my comments, I still find your post interesting. I will be happy if I’m proven wrong.

  7. David says:

    I really like you question about what kind of a crisis could unite the nation. As you say, 9-11 didn’t (on a lasting basis anyway), nor did Katrina. I think I would answer your question by suggesting that you read The Fourth Turning. It talks about history from a generational perspective. It was written in the 1990’s and predicts that a crisis that would unite the nation will occur before 2010. Based on the description it is clear that 9-11 could have been such a crisis, but failed to become the crisis the authors were predicting.

    Will their timetable, or even their thesis be correct? Time will tell, but at least on the thesis I would not be surprised if the authors were right.

  8. Pingback: David Miller » Blog Archive » A New Birth of Freedom

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