Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Division in our Country--Nowhere Close to Civil War Days

I can't believe the callers who tell my fave radio talk-show host that our nation is as divided now as it was during the Civil War, which began 150 years ago today. As he keeps pointing out: Not anywhere close!

As a young teenager I was caught up in the "hootenanny" fad, and learned a lot of traditional folk songs, to which I added my guitar accompaniment. One of them was called "Two Brothers," and as soon as I heard today's radio debate, the song immediately came to mind.

It was written, interestingly, in 1951 by Irving Gordon, so has no historical basis, though the notion of families so divided that sons fought on opposite sides is well-recorded in lore, and probably fact about the War Between the States, or "The Great Rebellion," as it was alternately called.

I ran to the cupboard and hauled out the fat, aged notebook in which I'd collected my typed lyrics with the guitar chords I'd arranged all those years ago.  The pages were aflutter with clippings detached from the yellowed Scotch tape that once affixed them among the categories I'd catalogued: Beatles, British Artists, American Artist, and Folk Music.  In my Folk sub-section called "war" was the page with words I attributed to The Weavers' Song Book, page 64:

Two brothers on their way, two brothers on their way; two brothers on their way,
One wore blue, and one wore gray....the fife and drum began to play, all on a beautiful morning.

One was gentle, one was kind...one came home, one stayed behind. A cannon ball don't pay no mind, if you're gentle or if you're kind. It don't think of the folks behind, all on a beautiful morning.

Two girls waiting by the railroad track...one wore blue and one wore black. Waiting by the railroad track, for their darlings to come back, all on a beautiful morning.

Today we cannot fathom the idea that two brothers, raised in the same American family, sharing the same God-fearing values, devoted to the same mother, would be so vehemently divided that they would give their lives for opposing sides of an issue.

We are appalled to hear of Muslims killing their co-religionists over variations in doctrine or leadership.  Here, in our American culture, where reason in avoidance of conflict is the first strategy, we vocally disagree on certain topics, but simply can't understand that members of the same family would part, knowing the great likelihood that at least one would perish over their differences.

The Civil War confronted geographical, lifestyle and philosophical schisms so much deeper than whether Planned Parenthood should get federal funds, or even whether to be involved in foreign conflicts.  Despite Obama's failure to be the great uniter bearing hope and change, the events nearly a decade ago--9-11--showed the constant soul of America, when we, like the Children of Israel receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai, stood as one, singular in our love for this country and our determination to defend it and our common values.

But 150 years ago, national divisions even pit brother against brother.  It was unique enough in our history that a song commemorating the phenomenon would be recorded by popular singers, and captured the imagination of a teenage girl.

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