This week is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. In Charleston, SC, there are thousands of Civil War re-enactors who will be commemorating the anniversary with encampments, and a recreation of the canon bombardment of Fort Sumter.
They are in Charleston because on April 12 and 13, 1861, the first shots of the Civil War were fired upon Fort Sumter, a military base on an island in Charleston harbor. President Lincoln reacted to the siege by calling for the enlistment 75,000 troops to suppress the rebellion in the South. This officially began the “War between the Sates,” in which 600,000 Americans died.
Last week, there were serious worries about the possibility of a federal government shut down because of stagnation in reaching a congressional agreement on the budget. While the possible shut down could have affected many different federally funded agencies and programs, one story about the shut down caught my ear in particular, because it had an interesting connection to the anniversary of the Civil War beginning.
You see, Fort Sumter is now a National Monument, and is run by the U. S. National Park service, a federally funded organization. So, if the federal government had shut down, so would the Park Service, and visitation to Fort Sumter would have been closed. All of the people who had come to Charleston to re-enact the beginnings of the war would not have access to the actual grounds where it began. This was a potential big disappointment to thousands of people who had come from all over the country to commemorate the start of the conflict. I find it ironic that a gathering to commemorate the beginnings of our nation’s biggest internal conflict could have been upset by the ramifications another, current political conflict.
It seems that one thing is certain; human beings will always have disagreement with each other. Politics is the process and form of figuring out these disagreements, and one might argue, it is not a perfect process, nor typically is the end form.
I am utterly frustrated with the recent of lack of progress and dedication to mutually beneficial compromise that this current Congress has shown in this budget debate. At this sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War, I have been thinking back to what it might have been like to live with that level of disagreement that led citizens to take up arms against the federal government. I wonder what it might be like to apply those circumstances to today?
What if America really became divided by war? What if it was more than just “red state,” “blue state” rhetoric? What if we were called up to arms against one another?
Now, if it there were the same regional based conflict of North vs. South, what would it mean for my relationships with friends who live down in Atlanta? Would I have to fight against them? Could I do it if called to my country? These are scary thoughts, and I don’t like to dwell on them, but it does raise the point that I believe we need to try to encourage real dialogue among political sides. We need to look shamefully on divisive tactics and praise cooperation. We also need to remember what can happen if conflict goes too far. The lost lives 600,000 Americans who died starting 150 years ago are proof of what can happen.