Thursday, July 9, 2020

A Bloody Price to Waste

This is a picture of the Vietnam War memorial. A sacred place. I’ve been there many times, it strikes to my heart every time, so the story I tell you here is not meant in anyway to disparage the sacrifices made by the patriots whose names are etched on this wall or the sufferings of their families and friends.

One year while walking the monuments on the DC mall with my family, something we’ve done often, we were walking from the Lincoln memorial to the Washington memorial by way of the Vietnam memorial wall. There happened to be a tour group there and we overheard a portion of their tour. The words the guide spoke left an indelible impression in my mind and heart. As he talked about the number lost in the Vietnam war he asked everyone to look up and across the mall to where the Washington monument stands in the far distance. He then said, “If America were to construct a wall like this and engrave all the names of Americans who died in the civil war on that wall, the wall would run from here all the way to the Washington monument and back.”

That thought has come back to my mind many times over the years as I have pondered how much American blood was spilt for the sin of slavery. It’s on that subject I wanted to share a few thoughts.

Often we hear the sentiment that while slavery was a great evil and a stain on America’s young life, it is also true that America is the only country in history to fight a war to end slavery. This concept angers some people and I’ve often heard the retort that it’s also the only country that fought to keep slavery. Both are true, but thank God the righteous prevailed.

What I try to remember when I think about the significance of the civil war is the fact that no other western nation paid such a bloody price for slavery than America. So antithetical was slavery to the righteous principles of the American founding that God saw it a just punishment for our sin against the great light we had been given to wash the landscape in the blood of Americans. By the grace and will of God the union was preserved but only through the bloody purge of that war. Some estimate that as many as 750 thousand Americans died fighting against the institution of slavery or protecting the institution of slavery, which ever side they died for, still their blood soaked the landscapes of our nation. In a great act of unity and conciliation Abraham Lincoln chose to honor that loss of life and suffering as one great American loss. Those who died on the right side of history would never be memorialized in a prominent monument in DC because we could not heal the breech and memorialize the dead of both sides of that sad war. Their sacrifices are entombed in silence but we must never forget the bloody price they paid.

Whether you see the Civil War in the optimism of the sentiment that America fought a war to end slavery or you choose to focus on the sad reality that so many died to retain their control and oppression over others, one thing is certainly true, a great deal of blood was spilt in the civil war as a result of the great evil of slavery and all of it was American blood. Slavery nearly divided the country to its utter peril and dissolution, and yet, by the grace of God the union was preserved. Will we undo this salvation because we think it am unworthy offering?

Though the war continued for another hundred years in the great political and cultural divides within the United States, though the South in particular continued to try to subvert the consequences of their loss, and were successful for a time in continuing their racist oppression of black Americans, I have often hoped that the extraordinary amount of blood that was spilt on the battle fields of that tragic war would in some great measure be viewed as an acceptable beginning to the righting of the wrongs of slavery. The greatest desire held in the hearts of decent and honest Americans of that time, both white and black, was that the nation could heal, that the blood spilt could be viewed as an acceptable sacrifice in the eyes of our black brothers and sisters, and that through the grace of God every former slave and their children’s children could realize the blessings of American liberty and equality under the law.

Racist did not fully surrender their designs at the conclusion of that awful war, evil never relinquishes it’s designs. The war continued in political and cultural divisions, in the oppressions committed by those remnants of hate. This being true should not disparage the virtues of the slow but continual trod to a true American brotherhood. As with most lofty and exalted ideals, we still fall short of the glory of God, but our more temperate and wise forefathers were content to resign themselves to the human condition and hold the ideal as a heavenly dream worth the pursuit. The dreams of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln were long suffered for and hard fought, they were held in the hearts of black Americans and given voice by Martin Luther King Jr.. The dedication of former generations of Americans have yielded remarkable progress, progress that honors the lives of those who died on the battle fields of the civil war. Those who struggled to retain their dignity and faith under the oppressions of lingering racism, those former generations of peaceful freedom loving Americans who inspired a nation to extend the arm of support for civil liberty for all, have honored those who suffered and died in the great struggle.

Let us try to see the losses of the civil war through the eyes of those who lived through or died in the tragic war and at least muster the same strength they did at it’s conclusion. The strength to forgive, the strength to try to see the value of every imperfect human life. Have we forgotten that they strived to forgive though they wadded through the bloody battles that to us are unimaginable. Abraham Lincoln tried to express the emotions of his times when he spoke of both sides of the war in this way:

“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty 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 three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Would that we could muster this kind faith, love, and forgiveness! Our nation is being torn apart because we are cut off from the lessons of the past and have turned away from the trust in the Lord that our forefathers leaned upon. The voices that today demand more reparation for the evils of slavery and racism have forgotten the judgements of God that scourged this nation and left the land heaped with the bodies of the dead. Was not the blood of 700 thousand enough? Was not “every drop of blood drawn with the lash paid by another drawn with the sword?” Those who deny the continual progress made in the aftermath of that great reckoning cast aside the significance of those who have striven to finish the work and bind up the nation's wounds. The actions of our generation do not cherish the sacrifices and triumphs of generations of civil rights activist who did more to achieve a just and lasting peace than any living today.

It would be an unimaginable tragedy if, after coming all this way from the bloody battle fields of the deadliest war in our history, our nation were to lose the dreams of patriots and freed slaves in a tyrannical wave of hate and destruction. What great crime it would be, after all that was given to preserve the union and realize more fully the American ideals, we were to tear down this great nation and lose the inalienable rights it was created to protect. Dishonoring the sacrifices of so many, spurning the generations who have struggled to forgive and press on, tearing down the shared faith and noble ideals of our nation; these will not set us free, these will not make right the wrongs of the past. NO! It can only dishonor the dead patriot dreams and the impassioned stress and sacrifices of the civil rights pilgrims who trod a thoroughfare of freedom beat to the promises of the American founding.

Much has been accomplished and much progress will still be made so long as we don’t tear down the ideals that brought us this far. If we don’t preserve this union it will have been a bloody price to waste.

No comments:

Post a Comment