Saturday, July 01, 2017

Questioning American Spirit

Artist's rendition of the Battle of Gettysburg

And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.

~ Mark 3:25

One hundred and fifty-four years ago today* marked the beginning of the three-day long Battle of Gettysburg, which marked a pivotal point in  the U.S. Civil War. This long and bloody conflict, the effects of which reverberate in our modern times, is also referred to as the War Between the States or, often popular in our southern states, "the War of Northern Aggression." A staggering 52,000 soldiers died fighting at Gettysburg--just one battle.

Consider the fact that the entire Vietnam War claimed 58,000 American lives, and you begin to understand the enormous carnage of The Civil War. Total war deaths over the four terrible years, 1861-1865, was far in excess of 600,000 soldiers.

It was during junior high school (now called "middle school") that I first studied The Civil War. I remember asking my father why it lasted so long. His answer was simple, clear, and direct: "The soldiers on both sides were Americans, and Americans never give up. "

I like to think that the American spirit survives today, that we have the tenacity and dedication--the "grit"--to stand together, strong and unwavering against attack. Perhaps the national reaction to September 11, 2001, represents a remnant of what used to be called "The Spirit of '76." But 9/11 was more than a decade and a half ago, and the world and our country have changed dramatically in that time period. In view of our bitter divisions and inflamed discourse today, what is the American spirit made of now? And how well would our collective and individual spirits serve us in a national crisis?

*Correction: 1863 was 154 years ago, not 104--but of course, you know that. Sorry, math was never my strong spot.