A House Divided Cannot Stand… Sing It

In this video singer/songwriter Rob Tobias uses the “House Divided” meme to make a point about our contentious current political environment. The other day I cautioned my students to be wary of the tendency to equate our own cultural and political battles with the Civil War Era. Such connections simply don’t hold up well under close scrutiny.

The video is well done and is probably worth showing to a class on Civil War memory. It’s another wonderful example of how social media is being used to interpret the past and make memory.

[Uploaded to YouTube on January 21, 2014]

President Obama Edits Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Yes, President Barack Obama deserves some criticism for not attending celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. You can’t spend as much time as this president has over the years identifying with Lincoln without having to deal with questions about why you refuse to attend the sesquicentennial of the most important speech in American history. One of the more absurd arguments (not surprisingly) comes from a FOX News interview with a Wall Street Journal columnist, who actually argues that given the president’s popularity right now it was probably the right decision not to attend. Participation would have just added coal to the fire.

It would be interesting to have poll numbers for Lincoln’s popularity in November 1863. If we follow this argument to it logical conclusion, it is likely that Lincoln himself should have stayed away from Gettysburg altogether. Can you imagine a president so unpopular and still have the nerve to show up at a battlefield in the middle of a civil war to dedicate a new cemetery? Continue reading “President Obama Edits Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address”

“That These Dead Shall Not Have Died in Vain”

We would do well to remember that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was delivered at the height of a civil war, whose outcome was far from decided. I am reminded of this after having read Carole Emberton’s thoughtful editorial in The Morning News:

Although Lincoln’s prose is magisterial, its might depended in no small part on the ability of the Union Army to achieve battlefield victories in 1864 and 1865. In this case, the pen was only as powerful as the sword.

Lincoln issued a rallying cry on the Gettysburg battlefield in November 1863:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain

The “unfinished work” that Lincoln referred to was begun voluntarily in 1861 when the government and tens of thousands of citizens chose to end the rebellion militarily.  Lincoln and others had every reason to doubt as to whether the nation would find the strength in 1863 and beyond to see the “great task” to its successful conclusion? The outcome would ultimately determine whether the dead had indeed “died in vain.”

Is it possible for Americans today to appreciate the sense of uncertainty that hung over the yet-to-be completed cemetery at Gettysburg in 1863 given how disconnected we are from the sacrifices of so many of our military men and women over the past ten years?

To what extent does Lincoln’s hard truth apply to our own wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Did these men and women die in vain? Perhaps we shouldn’t look too closely.

Ultimately, Lincoln’s words serve as a reminder of the responsibility of every citizen when our nation utilizes its military and places our fellow Americans in harm’s way.