The Civil War Anniversary 150th Anniversary: Reconciliation

Gettysburg reunion in 1913

I’ve been thinking about that Library of Congress photograph, used in Monday’s weekly anniversary post, of some of the survivors of Pickett’s division and the Army of the Potomac who were at the wall on the Gettysburg battlefield, where 50 years earlier, they had so earnestly been trying to kill each other.

Those are Pickett’s men in the foreground, at “Bloody Angle,” and in the background are the former members of the US Army who stood there on July 3, 1863.

The politics of destruction

Those who have been following this series from the start know that I followed a very vague path into it. All of 1860 is missing (and most of 1861), as well as any coverage of the political and social run-up to the war.

I did read up on those years, about 151 years later, in McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom. The political tone of the late 1850s was remarkably familiar. Groups of extremists – minorities in the greater society – had everybody upset and yelling at each other. There was a lot of self-righteous hatred, and it led to shooting.

We’re no better now. We’re again defining ourselves by what we hate.

Oh, it’s hate for mostly right reasons – just like it was in the northern and southern US in 1859 and 1860 – but it’s still hate, which is a sharp thing that always cuts those who wield it.

And it always leads to shooting.

Getting Personal

In the documentary Jefferson Davis: An American President, someone said that a problem in the Confederacy was that there weren’t multiple political parties, so all arguments among government and military members got personal and therefore were almost impossible to resolve.

As we are wont to do when viewing such documentaries, I just nodded my head and kept watching, but on thinking it over now, I realize that’s not true.

I grew up during the Sixties, and our high school class, even in rural upstate New York, was very politicized. That was something new, back then, and believe me, multiple political viewpoints did not lead to rational discussion: exactly the opposite.

Like the rest of the America we saw on TV and read about in the papers (computers were not yet mainstream, young whippersnappers, let alone the Internet), we were always shouting at each other or building ourselves up and putting others down because of politics.

Politics enabled everything to become personal. It was a live wire, and hate was the current running through it.

And it led to shooting, of course.


The Absence of Hatred

Today we think we’re much more civilized, but we’re not. At the moment, our hate is carefully controlled and manipulated. We ourselves do that; our family does it, as do our friends and coworkers; and so do strangers who want to sell us stuff or get our votes.

It’s all extremely complex and usually very subtle.

When I signed up for Major League Baseball TV online, there was a question on the profile form, after asking me which team I love (Go Cards!), which was, “Which team do you hate.”

Sure there was a team I wanted to name, but I left that line blank, because I’ve learned a little bit about hatred over the years. Even on such a mundane thing, it can cut me – I’ve got the scars. I just let it go.

As a society, we don’t really have hate under control. Such deluded thinking is just another way hate actually manipulates us. It’s so acceptable to hate now, in fact, that we can’t love something without hating something else.

Love peace? Then you must hate war (and people who sponsor it, fight it, etc.) Love diversity? Then you must hate bigots (you yourself are not one, of course – you just have the right way of looking at things and those other people are wrong and need straightening out).

These are just a couple of general examples. There are many more, but I don’t want to inspire flame wars, etc. Hate is present all around and in us and is always hungry. When fed, it tears us apart, even if we keep it bottled up inside or think we can just “smile” or “mellow” it away.

We can’t. We will keep feeding it and it will keep cutting us until the shooting starts once more.

The only thing that can save us is the absence of hatred and that is so terribly hard to achieve.

Gettysburg reunion in 1913

It can be done, though. Let’s look at that 50th reunion image from Gettysburg again.

If you saw the movie Gettysburg, you have a faint idea of what those men are reliving in their minds, there at the wall. But they can see so much more than that horrible moment – they can see the early years, everything that led up to it; all the soldiering before July 3, 1863; and all that came after.

They have lived the reality of hatred. And now they are there together at the spot where it came into terrible focus, remembering, reconciliation.

For just a few moments, captured on film, there is the absence of hatred.

Must things always lead to shooting before we can realize that?

Categories: American Civil War

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