Still healing after 150 years

Published 9:37 pm Monday, April 11, 2011

Today’s newspaper is delivered with a special section and a section front commemorating the start of the American Civil War, which began 150 years ago today in the harbor of Charleston, S.C., when Confederate forces shelled Fort Sumter, where 128 United States soldiers were garrisoned. After 33 hours of lobbing bombs into the fort, the rebels were victorious, securing the surrender of the facility in an incredibly bloodless battle that was in that regard completely unlike the four years of wretched war that followed.

Note that this is a commemoration of the start of those hostilities, not a celebration. There is little to celebrate in regards to that great conflict between America’s North and South. More than 600,000 men lost their lives in or as a result of battle. Untold numbers of civilians died, as well. The landscape of the American South was devastated. Families were torn apart. Economies were ruined. And the brotherhood that had created a great nation fewer than 100 years earlier had been destroyed.

The nation’s scars are still deep and ugly 150 years later. The evidence lies in the continuing enmity that some have for the other side, in the stereotypes that persist regarding Northerners and Southerners alike, even in the fact that people on either side of the Mason-Dixon line still have a hard time agreeing on what they should call the conflict. Was it the Civil War? The War Between the States? The War of the Rebellion? The War of Northern Aggression?

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As a nation, we still argue over why we went to war in the first place in debates that are now academically sterile with the passage of time. Were the southern states trying to protect the institution of slavery, or were they merely fighting for their right to self determination separate from a federal government that sought ever more power? Clearly, the contemptuous and shameful history of slavery throughout our nation set the table at which so many brave men from the North and the South would eat their last meals. But the issue of states’ rights had been a matter of intense debate (as had slavery, for that matter) from the founding of the republic, and it continues to inflame public discourse even today.

They say that time heals all wounds, and with the proper application of restorative salves time can, indeed, do its curative work. Surely, America has come far since two generals met in a farmhouse at Appomattox in 1865 and agreed to lay down their arms. Surely our nation has come far since the days when one man could own the life of another.

If there is anything to celebrate today, it is that progress. Even more importantly, though, all Americans — North and South, black and white — should take a moment today to honor the memory of those who were lost in that great and awful conflict so long ago and yet so recently in our nation’s consciousness. An appropriate commemoration, both individually and as a nation, will help heal those old wounds and remind us of the terrible cost of sin against our brothers.

Pray that we never let it happen again.