Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Nation Conceived In Liberty

On Tuesday, on my way back to my lab, after a meeting on grounds, I cut through the cemetery like I usually do.  As I walked through it, I was impressed to find someone had placed a small American flag at the tombstone of a Civil War soldier in honor of Memorial Day.  I looked at the rest of the cemetery, wondering if others had left flags too.  Then, my eye caught sight of the statue in the middle and I remembered that I was in a confederate cemetery.  These men fought and died for a cause and a nation that no longer exists.

I walked out of the cemetery with Abraham Lincoln's words ringing in my ears:  "Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."

Could the United States endure the war?  We take it for granted that it did.  But, looking at those soldiers' graves, I can see how it was no guarantee.  There were many who did not want a part of any more.

It was certainly a long bloody struggle to make sure that "that nation...so conceived could long endure".  Men and women died for that cause.  Families wept for their lost loved ones.  Friends were separated and sometimes even fought against each other.

I wonder what the Civil War looked like from the outside.  Did France or England watch with bated breath whether this grand experiment in democracy would survive or self-destruct?  Or did they simply yawn and let those Americans fight among themselves like hotheaded teenagers in some family squabble?

Now we live on a world stage where, for better or worse, the world can daily watch all of our infighting and struggling.  Do we look like we are engaged in a great conflict or something much less noble, less honorable?  What issues are we fighting for?  Are they worth it?

I don't really have any answers.  But somehow I feel it would be a tragedy for a country that has fought this long and hard for a country dedicated to the proposition that men are created equal to fall apart because we can't balance a budget.
Flowers outside the UVa cemetery

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