Memorials and War -- A Reflection

Tomb of Civil War Unknown Soldier -- Arlington Cemetery
Memorial Day is a national holiday that has its roots in what was once known as Decoration Day. It was established in the late 19th century to honor Union Soldiers who had died during the Civil War. Since war has been part of our national ethos for much of our history, a day of remembrance of those who died to keep together a nation that President Lincoln had declared could not survive half slave and half free has become a day to remember all who have died in service to country. That is as it should be, though we can pray that the day will come when we're no longer adding names to the long list of those who have died in times of war.

Because this observance has its roots in remembering those who died in the Civil War (specifically
Bloody Lane, Antietam
Union war dead), it is appropriate that we stop to remember a war that kept the nation together and ended slavery in the nation (at least in those states that had rebelled).  While the nation remained one and slavery ended, we're still living with the ramifications of the war. For former slaves slavery might have ended, but the now free African American faced great hurdles, hurdles that often remain present to this day, that prevented them from entering fully into national life. The myth of separate but equal emerged as a cover for discrimination and bigotry. The cause of "state's rights" continues to be pushed to this day, with calls for secession and nullification being bandied about, often in the region that made up the former Confederacy.

I must confess that I have always identified with the Union cause. It is ironic that the party of Lincoln has now become the party of states rights.  I am troubled, I will admit, by those who fly the Confederate battle flag. To me that runs contrary to one's identity as an American.  We are the United States of America, not the Confederate States of America. As a result of that war we cemented the idea of our unity as a nation, so that we are first Americans and only secondarily citizens of a particular state. 

For the past four years observances have been held remembering the Civil War. Now that we've reached the 150th anniversary of the end of the War, it will be easy for us to forget that defining moment in our nation's history, but we dare not forget. Calls for secession are a betrayal of our national identity. We dare not forget that we are many and diverse, but we also one nation. It is in that spirit that I stop to remember those who have died down through the years in service to country. It is also in that spirit that leads me to pray that war would cease and that would pursue peaceful means of resolving our differences.  


Steve Kindle said…
Bob, I wonder if you can have it both ways; that is, can you revere your
country and hope for a time when war will cease? Nation-states are
nothing more than a sophisticated tribalism, and tribalism is the bane
of civilization. In my view, as long as nation-states exist, with their
sole commitment to their own self-interests, we will continue to have
Robert Cornwall said…
I don't think that war and love of country are so entangled that we can't have one without the other. Nation-states might be a more sophisticated form of tribe, and they are surely not ultimate in any sense, but I'm not sure what the alternative is. Even if I can envision a United Federation of Planets, there is still conflict within the Federation and the Federation is itself caught up in conflict. So, the question seems to be how we live in cooperation rather than competition in our groupings. Of course this might all be a dream!

Hopefully the reflection shows my own conflictedness. I love my country, but that's not ultimate. I also know that God loves other nations and other peoples as well.

Of course, I find it difficult to understand how you can fly a Confederate flag and call yourself a lover of America!
Steve Kindle said…
The alternative is to provide a counter-cultural community opposing all violent answers to problems. It's how the early Christians overcame Rome and it's still the only way.

What does it mean to "love your [tribe] country?" I want nothing more for it than I do any other nation or peoples. Perhaps the best form of love here is to admonish it and seek correctives that will keep it from mistreating its own and others.
John McCauslin said…
I think humans are sociologically, if not pathological in their tribalism. We feel an instinctive compulsion to belong, and not just to the "great multitude," but to something unique and set apart. That being said, as we watch other families (tribes) from within the emotional safety our own families (tribes) it's not unusual for us to pray for the health and well-being of the "other". And Scripture teaches us to care for the outside/foreigner as one of our own. That Scripture speaks to this ought to suggest that such care for the "other" does not come automatically, but requires effort, education and accountability, from generation to generation.

I too wince at the confederate flag wavers. It seems to me that they harken to past glory days which were, for them and their ancestors, likely not all that glory-filled. Most likely their ancestors, if they were actually from the Old South, were not a whole lot better off than the slaves which were freed through the struggle of the Civil War. In the Old South the 'one percenters' were far fewer than one percent.

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