Being divided is nothing new for this country. It has struggled since its inception 240 years ago. “The work of Democracy has always been hard. It has been contentious and at times bloody.” (Barack Obama)
April 19, 1775, the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. The country was divided between those who were Patriots, loyal to England, and those who wanted Independence. Families and neighbors were often bitter enemies.
From April 12, 1861-1865, our country became embroiled in a Civil War when the Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter. The Southern states had an agricultural society that depended on slaves to do the work. They sought to establish themselves as a separate nation. The Northern states were more involved with industry and commerce and voted to abolish the institution of slavery. Again, members of families and neighbors became enemies.
April 1917, under Woodrow Wilson, our country reluctantly gave up our neutrality and went to war with Germany, when their submarines attacked American ships which carried American passengers. After four years of war, the United States public opinion favored a return to isolationism.
December 7, 1941, the United States went to war following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. We again found ourselves fighting against the Germans in Europe. At first, President Roosevelt limited the strike against Japan and focused on Germany. Americans were united in this effort. It was after this war that the United States became a world power.
From 1950–1953, we came to the aid of South Korea, who was invaded by North Korea.
In 1951, we began the process which drew us into a war in Vietnam. The North Vietnamese communists were fighting against the South Vietnamese non-communists. Our involvement became intense between 1965-1975. The devastation of this war was horrendous and it became clear that this was a war we could not win. At home, multitudes gathered to protest the war. Our country was bitterly divided at this time.
Further turmoil exploded as a movement took hold in the ‘60s to integrate the country. We were fortunate that the leader of the movement, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., encouraged his followers to practice a strategy of non-violence. He was not just a leader of Black America, he is a Hero for us all! Without his leadership, we could have easily found ourselves in a bloody civil war.
Rev. King was inspired by the success of Mohatma Gandi, the Indian spiritual and political leader who coordinated and led a national struggle for Independence against British Imperial rule. (March 12, 1930)
In 1994, Nelson Mandela was sworn in as President of South Africa. He, along with the Rev. Desmond Tutu, founded a commission that promoted the ideology of “Truth and Reconciliation” after the fall of apartheid, which fostered the transition to a full and free Democracy in South Africa. Again proving that change can be brought about through peaceful means.
October 2, 2006, there was a shooting in an Amish school in Lancaster, Pa. Ten Amish girls ages 6-13 were shot by Charles Carl Roberts, who then committed suicide. The Amish community responded with forgiveness and reached out to Roberts’ family and invited them to attend the funeral for the girls.
June 17, 2015, 21-year-old Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church and shot nine people, including the Pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney. In the Bible, Christians are taught “Love your enemies – do good to them who would despitefully use you – turn the other cheek.” In a surprising number of cases of mass murder and street killings, we see survivors refuse to allow anger and hate to consume them and take over their lives.
Perhaps history can be helpful in giving us a perspective on what is dividing us today. It is reassuring to look back and see that good can triumph over evil and love over hate. What is unique in our time is that the division we are experiencing is intensified by the rapid acceleration of technology and globalization. Nevertheless, the human qualities that can lead us out of this impasse are still faith and love, and most importantly, an unwavering pursuit of the truth and a passion that is constrained by reason.