By Levi Anderson
by Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982) Written during WWII
"The young dead soldiers do not speak.
Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses: who has not heard them?
They have a silence that speaks for them at night and when the clock counts.
They say: We were young. We have died. Remember us.
They say: We have done what we could but until it is finished it is not done.
They say: We have given our lives but until it is finished no one can know what our lives gave.
They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say; it is you who must say this.
They say: We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning. We were young, they say. We have died. Remember us.”
By Hannah Stuwe
The United States has one of the most unique, and recent histories of any country in the world. Our past is relevant -close to us- and much has happened in the 240 years since our founding. We -as a country- have experienced great highs and tragic lows, and we still forge on today. When we set out as a new country we defined ourselves as such: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (The Declaration of Independence) We have defined a citizen as anyone “born or naturalized in the United States” (the Fourteenth Amendment) and to those citizens we say “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States…” (the Thirteenth Amendment) These ideas come from the Reconstruction Amendments in the Constitution, which were ratified in the late 1800s -far before the 1960s when segregation was still a debated issue. So, the question seems to be “why and how was our society segregated for so long?”
When the thirteen colonies were still the thirteen colonies, indigenous African people were being raked in for profit primarily by Dutch slave traders. The slave trade was well established by this point and slavery wasn’t a solely American concept. However, slavery and civil rights seemed to be a much more drastic issues in the US compared to other countries. Why? For a country that was founded on the basis that all men are created equal, this seems to be hypocritical.
The presence of slavery in the US sparked the Civil War, which claimed the most casualties of any US armed conflict. Gettysburg would remain the most horrific battle in American history until WWII on Iwo Jima. During the Civil War both the Union and Confederate sides believed fiercely in their cause -either for or against slavery- proving the presence of both good and evil thriving in balance throughout the country. This was shown in the massive bloodshed that was simply the result of conflicting views -views that shouldn’t have been conflicting because the answer was spelled out in the Declaration of Independence.
After the Civil War the country went through a period of Reconstruction, where we had to agree on what the true definition of America was. The Union would be leading the transition into the new America -one where the promise for equality for all would be fulfilled. The Fifteenth amendment was ratified in 1870 at the end of the Civil War and it states “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Yet even after the abolishment of slavery, black Americans were discredited in society and discouraged to vote. The fight was not over and it would not end for many more years; it arguably has not ended yet. There are still restrictions on voting that discourage people, like ID cards.
In the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, a man who had lineage consisting of 1/8 African American, was denied the right to sit in a white train car. Plessy wanted to test how strong the chains were that bound his race and the response he got was that the fourteenth amendment gave everyone “equal protection under the law”, and things were “separate but equal.” Chief Justice Brown was wrong when he wrote “A statute which implies merely a legal distinction between the white and colored races — has no tendency to destroy the legal equality of the two races. … The object of the Fourteenth Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.” However, Justice John Harlan said “Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.”
The Jim Crow laws denied black citizens the right to vote, and general civil rights. They made segregation law and enforced segregated drinking fountains, schools, hotels, restaurants, etc. Blacks had to give up their seats on busses to white patrons and when they started to fight back the reactions that ensued are some of the most well remembered of the civil rights movement. Rosa Parks denied strong cultural standards when she simply said “no”. They fought with the Montgomery bus boycott and other ways of just saying “no”. In the Supreme Court case of Brown v. the board of education America said no to segregation in schools. Our children would all get the the same opportunity for a quality education; not separate, but equal. Freedom riders said no to those that wanted to keep blacks from voting by taking them where they could cast their vote free of fear. People said no with every march and protest, and they won the civil rights act and voting rights act as a reward for their valiant efforts in making this country a little more liberated.
Today our journey has not come to an end. We are fighting the same war but different battles. The voting rights act has been amended five times, the most recent being last year. There are still imaginary lines separating us and there is still prejudice. However, prejudice spans over any label -any condition- and people are still on the path of learning that all people are people and we are “all created equal”. We can only hope that one day the truths our founders defined will really be self-evident.
by Hannah Stuwe
The U.S.’s involvement in the Vietnam War began slowly obtaining critics in small numbers in 1964 on various college campuses in the United States and grew into massive demonstrations until 1971. Thus began a cultural revolution centered around the ideals of world peace. A new American culture was born -one of Countercultural songs, plays and other literary works encouraging a spirit of nonconformism, peace, and anti-militarism. Although many would believe the movement to be idealistic at best, the underlying idea of the possibility of a peaceful world is tantalizing. The scars that war leaves behind in society are painful and ugly. Most anyone when you ask them if they want peace would say yes. Yet, looking around today there doesn’t seem to be the massive tiedye armies that there once were. The question today seems to be “where did all the hippies go?”.
The anti-war movement of the 60s and 70s rapidly expanded to include a wide and varied chunk of the American population from all walks of life. Many Vietnam veterans, including the present Secretary of State and former U.S. Senator John Kerry actually spoke out against the Vietnam War. However, the anti-war movement wasn’t strictly cultured in the 60s. Anti-war movements in America can be traced back to the antebellum era -following the war of 1812. We, as a nation, seem to know that war is bad and people seem to have this perception of -and desire for- peace. This provokes one to question what peace truly is, and what is necessary to obtain it.
Nobody wants war. Most people are opposed to massive human suffering and death, and the human race has seen -over and over again- the aftermath of war. War produces motherless children, obliterates and impoverishes nations, and gives birth to the ultimate kind of sorrow. Mostly, we fear this happening to our own country, our own families, ourselves. But, does the thought of this happening to someone on the other side of the world make you feel the same fear?
There must be a reason behind why we fight. We are all human and -when we get down to the real meat of it- there isn’t much of a difference between you and me. “I feel that if war can be avoided it should be avoided. Before it comes to the point of war I think all options should be sought out to settle a conflict before war is declared. In other cases when all options have been exhausted I think it is necessary to go to war to defend our great nation and our allies.” said Adrina Thornton, a US military soldier for 11 years who has been on two deployments to Afghanistan. She defined peace as “[having] no conflict or when the conflict is being resolved in a manner that people are sitting down and talking rationally to come to a compromise.” Those who have been involved first hand in war agree that it isn’t rational and should be avoided at all costs. So, why does it continue? “You can’t abolish evil, there will always be war. It is never necessary but it is life. War should only be necessary to stop bad people from hurting good people.” said the 32 year-old owner of the worlds largest private army who goes by the codename “Ghost”. When asked about his views on the meaning of peace he said “To me peace is not having to worry. To be at peace with yourself means not having to worry about things you’ve done in your past. World peace means not having to worry about things anyone does in the future.” It is possible that world peace and inner peace may be connected. To be at peace with yourself you must accept and forgive yourself, because you are -in fact- only human. To have peace throughout the world we should be able to view our enemies as people -real human beings- who make mistakes and have opinions and beliefs that shouldn’t be violated without cause. Thornton said “[the purpose of military is] to settle a dispute, or to stand up for others who cannot stand up for themselves.” That is such a beautiful -maybe idealistic- hope for military: to fight for those who can’t. Yet, if the whole world was free of its oppressive mindset then the need for military would be gone. Of course some military forces throughout history have been the cause for oppression and discontent. “I try to use mine to help and protect people. Others can use them to harm. Not all government militaries are good. Not all are bad” said Ghost. It is habit to fight fire with fire. The human race has a rich history of carrying out the most complex paradoxes. To battle against the threat of a powerful milicia, we create our own.
“I have been through the worst of the worst and the best of the best, but overall I am thankful for my military experience. It has definitely opened many doors for me… I have stood next to my fellow soldiers and watched as they loaded our fallen soldiers into a plane to take them home to their families one last time. On my last deployment I left my husband and 4 children behind to serve my country,” said Thornton. To serve our country, and to serve our cause fuels us. It seems everyone who fights, fights because they truly believe in their causes. People tend to believe they are always right and their beliefs are the most important. However, the way we think, we can’t all be right. It’s probable that we are all wrong. One thing is for certain: We are wrong to think that anyone elses ideals are invalid or that our causes are just when we don’t think of the long-term effects and the wants and needs of our nation, and of the world. We fight for ourselves without recognition of the ramifications we pass to the next guy. Fight for your fellow man.