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?