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Sunday, June 05, 2005

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: A grateful nation

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: A grateful nationA grateful nation

Wars as controversial as the one in Iraq can make us deaf, dumb and blind to the facts of our military history. All conflicts can be seen as irrevocably muddy, which extreme leftists and long-gone pacifists seem to believe is always the case.

Yes, we've fought for freedom and democracy, and we've been involved in imperialism, whether pushing the United States to the Pacific Ocean or doing in native populations when it served our interests. I mean those interests defined by the fine men, bigots and opportunists of Washington. Those foghorns of situational ethics led us into the fog as often as they led us through it.

Yet we can be quite proud of the war that inspired the Memorial Day celebrations that have been reduced to flag-waving and barbecue smoke. Except for those who have lost friends or relatives or limbs in armed conflict, most of America looks at the Memorial Day weekend as a chance for as much fun as possible. Such is the national life.

We should remember that the conflict that inspired the holiday weekend was the Civil War. It cost the lives of 646,392 soldiers, 260,000 of whom were in rebellion and had the job of defending the slave states that had seceded, intending to maintain ownership of the human chattel upon which their economy was built and flourished.

The initial task of the federal troops was to hold the Union together, but it evolved into ending slavery.

Along the way, Abraham Lincoln grew into a President of unchallenged greatness. He came to know what the deal was and did not bite his tongue about it. His second inaugural made that clear. Standing tall in comparison to the average man of his time, Lincoln let forth the speech that must have deepened John Wilkes Booth's resolve to assassinate him.

Lincoln, with great eloquence, regretted the loss of blood and the terror of the war. But near the end of his address, he laid the issue down so that there would be no doubt what the war meant and what might have to be paid:

"Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"

Few conflicts have had such a noble purpose while addressing, with mournful recognition, the tragedy of armed force as shown on the bloody ground of Gettysburg.

It is in the shadow of those Union men who died by the thousands that we should humbly give thanks to our fallen military personnel and to those others who stood and stand in harm's way, ready to die for the people of the United States.

Originally published on May 30, 2005

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