Beat Swords Into Ploughshares

Photo Credit: Jacquelyn Martin | AP - Displayed Under the Fair Use Clause of United States Copyright Law for the Purpose of Scholarship.

In mid September 2009 I Took a Drive to DC to buy a car from my cousin.  We celebrated the purchase in Camden Yards at an Orioles - Red Sox game dominated by Baltimore, a victory that affirmed the natural order of the universe!  The next day, northbound to Central New York, the center of that same universe,  I split with my relatives and spent a couple hours at Gettysburg.  

I know Gettysburg well, having studied the battlefield during visits with Hamiltonians Dave Donahue and Mike Buck, two more knowledgeable, passionate history experts are not to be found, anywhere.  So the day I visited was pick and choose, and on days when I'm feeling particular disdain for the current political opposition, I visit the apex of Pickets Charge, known to History as the High Point Of The Confederacy.  

Ill informed in conception, Picket's charge came uncomfortably close in execution. Close enough to warrant close quarter, hand to hand fighting in the meadow of the High Point.  The Confederates who made it that far were greatly outnumbered, attempts to support them lead to their reinforcements being slaughtered behind those they were trying to relieve, by Union Infantry and Artillery fire.  The survivors were trapped and so surrendered.  

The Battle of Gettysburg remains dramatic and consequential - the Great River of History, embodied in the work of many historians, has brought its meaning and everlasting significance to the world.

Within one Stream of this River, the Historian Heather Cox Richardson writes eloquently about the Anthem of the Union, the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and the Poem by abolitionist Julia Ward Howe upon which it was based:

"Howe's poem captured the tension of Washington, D.C., during the war as soldiers protected the government from invasion, strung in camps around the city to keep invaders from the U.S. Capitol."

Richardson then goes on to describe how the Battle Hymn "went on define the Civil War as a holy war for human freedom:  

'In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.' "

It's not a gentle religious song, it's a fierce exhortation to kill!  During the Civil War hundreds of thousands of young men were killed under the aegis of this religious music.  It wasn't history for them, it was hellish suffering for principles believed in with religious fervor.  Take a couple moments to listen to the included version of the Anthem, beautiful harmonies and pious words, the harbinger of death for so many.  By the ebbs and flows of history, presently our cowardice, our generation has whitewashed it's meaning. The Founder's Generation, steeped in the secular principles of The Enlightenment, would have found it absurd.  But it was deadly and consequential for those who lived, and died, by the principles brought forth in the Hymn.  

One hundred and fifty years later, the High Point of the Confederacy is breached by those the Confederates, and their descendants vowed to keep in subjugation, and the glory yearned for in the Battle Hymn is realized:

Shortly after I arrived on that breathless, 100 Degree day, a van pulled up and six men piled out.  Sunglasses and suits, sweating in the heat, they spread out as a bus pulled in behind them.  Out of the Bus stepped First Lady Michelle Obama, radiant, followed by twenty racing, screeching kids from the DC School System, laughing and having the time of their lives.  Learning the truth of our history straight from the battlefield, a gigantic primary source. While simultaneously creating history by their presence with Michelle, the living focus of the Battle Hymn, and confirmation of MLK's axiom: The arc of the Moral Universe bends towards justice.

There is no denying the overt racism of the Jim Crow Era, the dreadful atrocities committed against Civil Rights Activists, or the ongoing attempt to negate the moral direction imposed by Gettysburg, Antietam, and the Civil Rights Movement.  We're in the midst of a conflict that has lasted for the entire history of our country. However, As dark forces rise once again in this millennium, attempting to destroy women's rights, minority voting rights, educational rights, freedom of speech, and more, an opportunity rises as well.  Let's not lose the significance of a black woman becoming the First Lady of our land, and the historic victory her ascendency represents.  Michelle's opportunities in life, and her use of those opportunities in hard, effective work, confirm the justice inherent in MLK's arc. The Arc of the Moral Universe is not just a word salad, it's a tangible, substantial truth.  We are winning this struggle over the direction of our future.  The issues promulgated on the right fall somewhere on the spectrum between absurd and obscene. Such initiatives, particularly for States Rights, are literally an attempt to sandbag our historic imperative to "form a more perfect union".  There are more of us, many more, we have the critical mass and the firm grasp of morality and common sense to make our policy initiatives prevail.  As in 2008, as in 2020, We need to out organize and rhetorically drive our opponents from the field.  

What does out organize look like?  I'm not going to list every accomplishment of Michelle's tenure as First Lady, but one sticks out to me:  Mrs. Obama continues to strongly advocate for the study of Civics in the inner Cities as a way to educate underserved populations, about their rights and responsibilities as Citizens.  This instruction, neglected in high schools and universities for decades, should be expanded and required. Only eight states and the District of Columbia require a full year of Civics Education in High School.  Civics, not as advocacy, which will undoubtedly lead to contention, but as the presentation of facts, alive in the present day, and alive in our history.  Which just might lead to agreement and convergence. Regardless of economic or social background, this will offer a foundation for effective critical thinking, and offer a buffer against the vicissitudes and idiocy of Social Media. Let's avert the oncoming war that the media relentlessly pushes with education and confidence in our principles.  The Maga Republicans (most of the party) have no policy ideas, just grievance and anger. We can overwhelm that weakness.

So here's a concluding thought:  Wouldn't it be great if after a lifetime of Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, Yuppies, McMansions, Watergate, Tea Partiers, Big Lies, Covid, Q'Anon (Really?), AR-15s, Global Warming, and freaking Fox News we drew together and became the generation that ended the Great American Civil War, and began the process to beat Swords into Ploughshares?  Mine Eyes have seen the Glory!

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