Monday, July 03, 2006
A Moment of Mercy
Although the Civil War is replete with tales of great commanders like Grant and Sherman, or Lee and Jackson, it's not the first thing you'll see if you ever visit the National Civil War Museum in nearby Harrisburg. If you make it atop that steep hill where the museum sits, the first thing you'll see is a sculpture, not of some fearless commander with drawn saber, but of two enlisted men. It tells an interesting story.
In a lull on a battlefield, where many wounded union soldiers moaned in agony after a failed assault, a 19 year old confederate soldier gathered all the canteens he could carry and dashed into the "no man's land" separating both armies, where he gave water to his wounded enemies.
The union commander, amazed by what he saw, shouted "Don't shoot that man! He's too brave to die."
That simple act of humanity, now frozen in cold cast porcelain, tells us who we are. Historically, we're not known as a people who say, "Bring it on" or "Wanted, Dead or Alive." We're not known as a people who condone waterboarding or other forms of torture, or who respond to atrocities with our own American atrocities. We're not known as a people who systematically abuse prisoners, or that senselessly kill 4 year old children in a retaliatory act of vengeance. Don't we believe "all men are created equal?" Don't we believe all men have "inalienable rights?" Does that only apply to Americans?
Viewing that simple slab reminded me of our basic goodness. We, the simple enlisted men, might actually be able to teach a thing or two to our commanders. So far, our commanders have not taught us much of anything. And our Iraq war museum will not be a pretty sight.