Today we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of our nation. But “four score and seven years” later (and 150 years ago this week), the very foundation of the Union was nearly shaken down for good. Dedicating the battlefield in Gettysburg to the memory of the 50,000 soldiers who died there, President Lincoln remarked in his famous Gettysburg Address:
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.”
Lt. Col. Robert Bateman has been writing a fascinating series for Esquire Magazine — “Gettysburg: An Esquire Reenactment” — to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. On this Independence Day, it is wise to hear this soldier’s message:
All war, of course, is a tragedy. It is the obscene failure of humans to reconcile differences with words. Trust me, nobody knows this essential truth better than a soldier.
So please, in the back of your mind, as I tell you the stories of the next three days keep track of that one critical kernel. Remember this, even as you learn about and then remember the men who fought and struggled, were wounded and died. Know this: Had more men talked, no man need have died a horrific lingering death. Had more men reasoned, no families need have been ripped apart by hatreds that would last decades. Had more men compromised, no children need have learned the pain of growing up with little but some mementos and a few stories about their fathers who they never got to know themselves.
But for us now, as it was for them 150 years ago, the course is locked…
If you’ve got some time for good reading, begin at his June 10th post here.