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Union and Confederate dead, Gettysburg Battlefield, Pa., July 1863. Photographed by Timothy H. O’Sullivan.

In this month to reflect on the place of violence in our times, I offer this article written by a Quaker who goes by the name “cabaretic“, posted on Daily Kos – titled “After a time, all losses are the same.”

“… I visited two Civil War battlefields: Antietam and Gettysburg. While part of my motivation to go was purely the tourist’s curiosity, I also went to remind myself of the multitude of ironies present in armed conflict. It does me well to contemplate what I believe to be the overall futility of warfare, regardless of the context. I certainly found plenty of both. I chose to go in part to celebrate Independence Day in a completely different sort of context. While I do appreciate the sacrifices made to establish a new nation and with it a groundbreaking experiment in Democracy, my pacifist beliefs often leave me deeply conflicted. To move nearly one hundred years forward in time from the Revolutionary War to the conflict that tore a hole in our nation’s fabric seemed much more suited for the occasion.

… War is a strange thing. At both Gettysburg and Antietam, two to three days of heavy fighting transformed what had been a quiet, bucolic collection of farms to a muddy mess of bodies, shells, and destruction.  A very brief, but very vicious period of trauma commenced, but then quickly concluded. The troops on both sides left, the dead were buried, local residents returned to rebuild, and over time the natural beauty of the place returned. I’ve always thought of this as particularly poignant.

… It is good to be reminded of all of this from time to time. And on that subject, I have always admired Abraham Lincoln for the context of his Second Inaugural Address. Lincoln’s response to what was only a few weeks away from the cessation of hostilities and a Union victory was not of jubilant celebration, but instead, [a response] of sorrow. In a speech that read more like a sermon than an address, the President noted,

Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding.

Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has  been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes.

To Lincoln, God can not be manipulated by human will to favour one side or the other. He then invokes the Gospel of Matthew (I have used a more modern translation), by stating:

How horrible it will be for the world because it causes people to lose their faith. Situations that cause people to lose their faith will arise. How horrible it will be for the person who causes someone to lose his faith!

In this passage, Jesus is talking about the importance of preventing believers, particularly young believers from losing faith. There will always be evil in the world, but this doesn’t mean that we should have the license to use this evil to divide each other for the sake of our own impure intentions. Young believers, be they young in age or young in allegiance are trusting of those who have been around longer. Thus, they are easy to manipulate for sordid ends. As I read this passage, I think about the politicians, the generals, and the ideologues who sold this war and convinced others to enlist into combat. We are to be like children in our ability to not harden our hearts and listen to the wisdom and guidance of the Spirit, but those who take advantage of this are harshly condemned.

For this reason, I oppose war. As much as we try to insulate ourselves from the harrowing realities of the battlefield, it never stops there. Or, as Catherine Davis so eloquently put it [in “After a Time”]:

After a time, all losses are the same.
One more thing lost is one thing less to lose;
And we go stripped at last the way we came.

Though we shall probe, time and again, our shame,
Who lack the wit to keep or to refuse,
After a time, all losses are the same.

No wit, no luck can beat a losing game;
Good fortune is a reassuring ruse:
And we all go stripped the way we came.

Rage as we will for what we think to claim,
Nothing so much as this bare thought subdues:
After a time, all losses are the same.

The sense of treachery—the want, the blame—
Goes in the end, whether or not we choose,
And we go stripped at last the way we came.

So we, who would go raging, will go tame
When what we have can no longer use:
After a time, all losses are the same;

And we go stripped at last the way we came.

This article written by a Quaker who goes by the name “cabaretic“, posted on Daily Kos – titled “After a time, all losses are the same.”