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 presents 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.”