I weep for the United States …

I weep for the United States of America, that great nation, and our next-door neighbour.

This thought comes from my recent experience of seeing Steven Spielberg’s magnificent film, “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day Lewis as  Lincoln. The action of the film takes place almost entirely within the years of the American civil war, 1861-65.  The film presents Lincoln, during that time of terrible carnage and struggle, as an almost-still centre, a political contemplative. As with Winston Churchill during WW II, the outcome of that war depended on one person as no other. Surveys of the views of Americans about their presidents regularly place him as first or second in greatness, with only George Washington in some surveys taking precedence.

The United States now, it seems to me, is involved in another struggle of equal significance, a second civil war. The phrase in common parlance is “the culture wars”; but in my view the contemporary struggle is better characterized by the dreadful term, civil war. It is not a civil war such the first, nor such a civil war as is going on currently in Syria; but it nonetheless claims many victims resulting from the very high murder rate, the suicide rate (especially of veterans), the use of illegal drugs, and the deaths of military personnel sacrificed in foreign lands on the altar of “national security.”

In the original civil war, the issue was one of enormous significance: slavery.  In this second civil war, there is not one issue but a complex of issues, with Americans divided by attitude or position in regard to human nature.  There is a division among Americans between what I would call “the truth people” and “the love people.” (This is a distinction I got used to using in the struggle within the Anglican Church here in Canada over same-sex unions.) The truth people believe that the love people play fast and loose with the truth, and the love people believe that the truth people put rationality or theory ahead of human needs for justice and inclusion. Yet how, ultimately, are not truth and love one reality, as I believe they are in God?

I weep for the ways in which the United States, in my view, is betraying the ideals of its founders and of a moral giant like Lincoln. I think of the use of drones to kill purported terrorists.

I think of people held for years–soon to be decades–on Guantanamo without trial. I think of the surveillance state which monitors every email and blog which appears on the web, including this one, in the name of “the war on terror.” I think of how the sense of paranoia which arose during the Cold War has metastasized into a network of US military bases in dozens of countries. I think of the disproportionate number of black Americans held in the penal system. I think of the power of the Zionist and Christian Zionist lobby against any realistic resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. I think of the malevolent and disproportionate influence of wealthy Americans such as the Koch brothers on industrial and environmental decisions.

On the other hand, I give thanks for the courage of people like Chris Hedges, Bill Moyers, Glenn Greenwald, Alison Weir, Michael Lerner, Lynn Jacobs, Joanna Macy and others. I give thanks for the millions of  other Americans who continue to speak up, be present, donate money and in other ways support the many civil-society organizations that continue to call Americans back–and forward–to a realization of what it means to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. (See on this a YouTube video on a protest by Code Pink at the John Brennan confirmation hearings: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vJs3prigGk).

After seeing the film, I checked out some of the resources related to Lincoln on the web. From among those I chose two selections of his own words to share with you: I want him to have the last word.

First, the Gettysburg address, delivered in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Second, the eloquent, almost transcendent conclusion of his Second Inaugural Address, delivered in Washington, DC, on March 4, 1865, a month before his death.

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan–to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.


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3 Responses to I weep for the United States …

  1. tm says:

    I was just talking to someone about the United States and its struggle and the Lincoln movie. Daniel Day Lewis. What a star. My friend had mentioned that 11,000 people were killed by guns in the States every year and he went on about the reputation Americans have as gun carriers. I suggested that as THE world super power, they have such a huge responsibility and that we as the other countries don’t really know what it’s like to be in their shoes. Sure we all talk about their shortcomings, but we don’t acknowledge that they are a country of 300 million people who harbor a massive amount of the world’s collective consciousness–pain, suffering, etc., and they are learning how to deal with all of it.

    I didn’t love the movie. But I love Daniel Day Lewis.

  2. crunchymonk says:

    What a fine thoughtful dude you are! Thank you for this encouragement and challenge.

  3. As a person with dual citizenship, both American and Canadian, I was deeply touched by this. Thank you!

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