Our natural angels
Submitted by Lindsay
The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and heartstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1861
(7/2013) Lincoln got it right. Memory does become mystic after a time. No one can recall in exact detail what happened to them last month, let alone 5 or 50 years ago. We are left with our highlights, and all else is fuzzy. That doesn't mean our memories are faulty, merely partial; above all, we remember the feelings we had at the time.
Were we angry, amused, joyful, awestruck? Yet no one's memory is able to conjure up anything like that at which it was not present, making us rely on the reports of others. And there's the rub: How do we know those reports are accurate and true?
For that we rely on corroboration by many others, who have been there or have had firsthand accounts, sources we trust who have proved their honesty and integrity. And then only when the passage of time confirms the essence of the truth.
But some events stretch out into the future. They are of such import that they become engraved on our collective mind; they are never forgotten, are regarded as turning points in our history. They withstand contrary accounts, naysayers, and become truths that stand apart from the falsehoods that abound. There are not many of these, but the president,
quoted above, knew that the outcome of the civil war would be one, would resonate through the centuries, would be a source of both pride and humility, a yardstick for cooperation, a lesson in leadership, and a blueprint for the future.
This had been a war between friends who saw things differently, who put that friendship aside to pursue their own interests, and were prepared to spill the blood of fellow citizens for them. It could be understood, grieved over, and fill the heart with sorrow. But it was within the nation. It was not an attack from outside; no one was invading, bent on
winning victory, taking spoils. That has never happened, nor is it likely, but after the second world war the fear of just that became lodged in the heads of pentagon pundits who envisioned not just the loss of trade, but the ascendancy of Russia as the only thing the nation needed to worry about.
The Red menace was made to loom larger and more terrible than the conflict between the South and the North had ever been. The balance of power was seen to be shifting from the right-thinking, charismatic west (the U.S.) to the warmongering, cruel dictatorship of Russia. Europe was in thrall, South-East Asia was following, and a line had to be drawn
before America was surrounded by the blood-red menace and made to worship the hammer and sickle. Vietnam was the domino that must not fall. It mattered not which way that nation was facing, America would stop the reds, stop them cold, and we could all rest safe and secure in our rose-petal beds.
The war was begun. The draft was brought in, every means used to stop the Viet Kong.
But not everyone agreed that this was necessary, good, or wise. That is always the case, but in a democracy those that disagree have the right to say so, have the right to say so vociferously, to demonstrate and to make their point in any peaceful way they can. And they did. Around the world a whole movement sprang up, anti-Vietnam war demonstrators,
opposed to the government edicts, opposed to the rightness of that war. The centre of resistance was America. Folk songs became the cry, the barricades of a new French revolution, the voice of outrage. Famous names were out in support, and university students, ever the biggest voice of opposition, rallied the troops of peace and resistance. The rallies, marches and mass
protests went on for nine years, growing in anger, rhetoric, and violence - until a bank guard was shot. By protesters who had decided that peace rallies were going nowhere.
And the unthinkable happened. On May second, 1970, The National Guard were sent to Kent State University in Ohio to control the demonstrations. When the order came to stop the students, they shot and killed four. That sure stopped them, but all hell broke loose. Mass rallies occurred around the nation, the government saw red and refused to consider an
end to the war, but failed to see the reality of that event - that what happened was exactly what was happening in Russia. The communists shot dead those that stood out against them. They sent them to gulags, (not the ones named Guantamo, but the idea was the same), because they were a dictatorship. They were evil. And what that action said was that The land of the Brave, the
Home of the Free was anything but.
Democracy was out, and in the paranoid world of politics it has remained so, for there is profit in fear, security in weaponry, and certainty in repression. The threat of war, of armies marching , of more terrorist bombings have so coloured the American psyche that it is no longer possible to see it any other way. Remember, however, that for all the
hubris over Vietnam, the war was still lost -something the pentagon prefers to forget. Vietnam, China, Minimar, North Korea - all are still communist; none have invaded America or been linked to overt terrorism, none will be, and the export of American style Democracy will not reach those shores. A country has to be weak and oil rich or strategic to merit that.
Lincoln had a vision of the future, one he was sure would be better than the one they endured. He believed in our natural angels, our better nature, our basic and underlying goodness, and that it would rise to the top when memories of the civil slaughter pierced our conscience. He fought for the ideals of democracy, where everyone was assumed to be
innocent until proven guilty. Where dissent was tolerated, enemies were treated with humanity and understanding, patriots were from both sides, and the nation could hold its head high because of it.
I can hear him raging and weeping for our world of today. I can see the look of disgust on his face as he views the hawk led military rulers strutting their stuff, I can see him praying that our better angels will fly once again.
Lindsay, with salutations to Abe - hoping you will join me in honouring him,
From the land down under.
Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker