Thursday, June 4, 2009

National Archives

I’m staring blankly at the TV, specifically focused on the permanent smirk perpetually pasted on the face of one former Vice President, Dick Cheney. He is extolling in his consolatory, used car salesman monotone about how successful “enhanced interrogation techniques” (which he had years earlier denied our government was using) have been in keeping our country free from terrorist attack. Naturally, he won’t (cannot) cite specific instances we have been spared because they are, of course, tippy-tippy-top secret. I am easily and often disgusted by what I see on TV, so I migrate to the computer and brows some of my favorite blogs.

Most blogs are, to put it kindly, rather uninteresting. But tonight my mind craves intelligent discourse and gravitates to one of my favorites, the excellent blog “Resident Alien,” written by Mary Whitsell.

Mary is currently living in Turkey, and her recent entry is about Kemal Mustafa Atatürk, one could say, the father of modern secular Turkey. Specifically she writes about being moved emotionally by a quotation by Atatürk carved on a monument in dedication to him. You can read her specific blog entry here.

I note how similar Atatürk’s speech is to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Within two seconds Google p
resents it for me to read -- tears well up in my eyes as I take in the words.

The tragedy of September 11th, horrible as it was, pales in comparison to the American Civil War. For us, the Civil War was just one of endless subjects we learned about in history class. But it remains the most horrendous time ever to befall our nation. All the actors, all participants, butchered and maimed, physically and mentally, were perpetrated by the hand of our fellow countrymen. Not foreign faces hiding beyond our borders. 2,740 died in the 9/11 attack - over 620,000 died in the Civil War -- Americans all.

When looking at photographs of President Lincoln by this time in the war, his face belies the immense personal burden he bore at this awful moment in our history. By November 19th, 1863 the war had begun to wind down; he was asked to speak at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I can just imagine as he penciled his thoughts on the back of an envelope on the train approaching Gettysburg how deeply, by this time, he must have fallen into a “enough bullshit” frame of mind. His words were drawn from his heart and laid out by this eloquent mind.

Lincoln never lost sight of WHY and HOW this country had come into existence only 87 years previously. The men who drafted our Declaration of Independence and later our Constitution knew viscerally and personally the inhumanity of imprisoning men merely for their ideas, of imprisonment for no cause or with no recourse for indeterminate periods of time, and of “enhanced interrogation techniques”. So abhorrent were these practices to these men that they resolved to construct a government where these things would be forever stricken from human consciousness and practice.

I wonder: is Dick Cheney really that stupid or did he somewhere just lose his way? Reading the words of Atatürk and Lincoln and others I believe that the ultimate underlying strength of our country lies in the principals on which it was founded. Any time that we stray from those principals, or even simply become complacent about them, we demean ourselves and the people who relinquished their precious individual lives for these ideals.

I wince at the smirk on Cheney’s face, and at the garbage that spews from it, and I struggle to contemplate my response. But I don’t need to -- the 16th president of the United States already has: “It is better to be thought a fool than to speak out and removed the doubt.”


kara said...

AND they say he was gay. lincoln, not cheney. i doubt it's true, but if he had been, wonder how that would've would've influenced his empathy.

brendan has a t-shirt and it says "lincoln shot first" and there's a pic of him packin' heat.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Well, the dark blue Union uniforms were pretty snappy, come to think of it. The Confederacy made a major strategic tactical clothing faux pas in selecting gray which is much more difficult to keep clean while engaged in nasty battle. And the little Johnny Reb caps - dare I say over accessorized. Case closed!!

Mary Witzl said...

Wow, thank you for those kind words! Honestly, after YOUR last post, I was ready to write this about your blog!

I love Lincoln, and I agree with you about the Gettysburg address. My best friend's great-grandfather died decades ago at age 106. He could remember sitting on his father's shoulders as a little kid, listening to a tall man in a top hat speak. He'd actually been there to hear the Gettysburg address, and it still fills me with awe to imagine this.

It's sad to picture the tacky little minds of some of today's politicians compared to Lincoln's greatness.

Robert the Skeptic said...

We visited Manassas, Virginia a couple of years ago. And "Bull Run" where two battles were fought. Depending on whether you are Union or Confederate, it is called either the "battle of Bull Run" -or- "battle of Manassas". Some of the small stone houses pictured in the old dagerotypes still stand today. The comparison adds an eerie reality to the scene. Very moving indeed.

Rachel Noy said...

I don't know if I'm allowed to have a favourite as I'm not American, but mine is Lincoln.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Ahh, tut tut... you Brits were probably just sitting around back then hoping you might get to take half your colonies back. After the great deal with pulled off with France and the Louisiana Purchase, there was no stopping us... Uh, except for the territory we took from Mexico - it seems to be returning to them by default. (Fodder for another blog, I guess.)