• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Memorial Day, 2013

 … that these dead shall not have died in vain.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America, spoke these words at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg.

 Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.

America is again in a great civil war. Like our first civil war, 150 years ago, this one is destined to define our soul. Like our first civil war, this one is about the meaning of the proposition that all men are created equal. The soul of America is defined by the meaning we give to this core proposition.

 We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

Our first civil war was fought on the battlefields at Gettysburg and Bull Run and Shiloh and Antietam and Fredericksburg and Richmond and Petersburg and the other places where 360,000 Union soldiers died along with another 260,000 Confederate soldiers, brother against brother, defining for their time the meaning of all men are created equal.

Conventional wisdom is that the battlefields of today are political and cultural. Benghazi. The IRS scandal. Reporter telephone logs. Drones. Obamacare. Gay marriage. Right to life. Freedom of choice. Gun control. Tax policy, entitlements and budget deficits. Citizens United. Immigration reform. Climate change. Etc. Etc. Etc. In identifying the battlefields, the conventional wisdom gets it right. These are the battlefields.

Conventional wisdom also holds that the ‘meaning’ of our civil war lies in which side ‘wins’ these battles.  In this, conventional wisdom gets it wrong.

America from its beginning has been confronted with the major challenge of a free people: How to prevent the tyranny of the minority by the majority. For politicians, pundits and their true believers, today’s battlefields are viewed as platforms for one side or the other to become a sufficiently large majority that they can impose their will on the minority.

Benghazi for example needs to be about conducting a methodical, fact-based review and analysis of what happened, how it happened and what we might do better. But it isn’t. The Battle of Benghazi is about spinning facts, conjectures and opinions into a narrative that convinces a majority of Americans that their spin is the truth. In this sense, no matter who ‘wins,’ we the people lose.

This example illustrates why the meaning of our generation’s civil war – like the meaning of our first civil war – must be no less than whether our nation … conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal can long endure.

How are we the people to right our rudder and escape the partisanship, the cynicism, the influence of money and all of the other all-too-human qualities that divide us one from the other?

The answer lies — as Judge Learned Hand reminded us in the middle of World War II — in the spirit of liberty, that spirit which is not too sure that it is right; that spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; that spirit which weighs their interest alongside its own without bias …

We the people will only change as each one of us changes, as each one of us shifts our perspective from “winning the battle” to manifesting the spirit of liberty. As Gandhi taught us we must be the change we want to see.

Our challenge is hard for it requires confronting our own human nature. We humans have a tendency to believe we are right, to care too little about those who are not like us, finding it easy to ignore their interests. We have a tendency to believe our truth is the truth. We are too often self-centered and narcissistic.  And our tendency to close our hearts to those we perceive as having wronged us is far stronger than our tendency to forgive.

But this same human nature that separates us also connects us. So long as we hold firm to the proposition that all men are created equal, the spirit of liberty will remain aflame in our hearts, manifesting the better angels of our nature so we may continue to realize the Preamble’s promise of the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.

It’s easy to be closed minded. It’s easy to be a shill for one’s side. It’s easy to think that there are easy answers, that you have all the facts or that God and morality are on your side. It’s easy to be a cynic. It’s easy to bear false witness. It’s easy to manipulate the data to get the results you want. It’s easy to believe you’re entitled while denying the presumed entitlements of others.

Yes, it’s easy to be these things. But that’s not what they died for.

It is … 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, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

My wife, Rita, and I are going to Normandy in the fall. It will be my first trip to Omaha Beach and the other beaches where so many of the Greatest Generation gave their lives so that you and I could be here today. I can already hear the voices of the Allied soldiers who died there, 9,387 of them buried in the American cemetery. “Earn this” they tell me.  “Earn this.”

Let Freedom Ring.


Copyright © 2013. Stan Stahl. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay in its entirety provided its source is identified asThe Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright is included.


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  1. Jim Goyjer says

    I wish I was as eloquent and clear in my writing and thoughts. Another terrific and powerful essay.

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