The Fight of Our Lives

by Tom Swift

“See, my children, resolute children / By those swarms upon our rear, we must never yield or falter / Ages back to ghostly millions, frowning there behind us urging / Pioneers! O pioneers!” -Walt Whitman, “Pioneers! O Pioneers!,” Drum Taps: The Complete Civil War Poems

You would not have liked to live in the time of the Civil War. The bloodshed, the hardship, the despair; those years are simply hard to fathom. Plus no air conditioning! Yet as you read Whitman’s clarion call — his expression of love for his country, his countrymen, his countrywomen — something not altogether displeasing strikes: how singular was the clarity of purpose of life then.

If ever there was one, this was the good fight. This was about right. To lose the fight would have been to lose the republic. Historians may argue that the war should not have been necessary, that other nations were able to resolve — dissolve — slavery without two percent of their populations dying in trenches and camps and communities. Yet to live through the actual rather than the hypothetical … was to know (at least if you were with Whitman and those he called his brothers and sisters) you were on the good side, that you were directed and inspired by a moral leader, that you were doing the only thing that could and had to be done.

Fellow human beings were being treated like farm equipment. This had to end. Full stop.

There are no truly apt comparisons to the American Civil War. But as you read in the newspaper about the tens of thousands of troops called to guard the nation’s capitol against those would overthrow a presidential election, it’s not altogether inappropriate, either. More than a few of them carry the Confederate flag, after all. There is, at minimum, a sort of cold civil war underway that also will decide whether the American experiment endures.

On one side are those who wish to conserve and strengthen democracy. On the other side are those who wish to weaken if not abolish American democracy. Again, the analogy is not perfect but does fit in this respect: there is no middle here. This is not like a policy debate where you can meet halfway. Democracy or autocracy. It is one or the other. It cannot be both.

The arms needed in this struggle are of ones of words, not firearms, of resolve not bombs. Action, however, is required — the battle is not going to be won with idleness.

You have few global answers but it is important to be mindful about your engagement:

  1. Many causes deserve attention but nothing is more important than saving the republic.
  1. This is more a social problem than a political one.
  1. No news or information source is perfect but journalism matters. Many people receive information that is outright propaganda and/or the product of an army of computers deployed to capture our attention and scatter it. The computers want us to be scared — so we keep coming back to them. To consume responsible sources and amounts of news is no easy task but an essential one.
  2. Baseless theories and delusional ideas should not be given credence.
  3. When responses are necessary sarcasm is seldom useful.
  4. There are fine lines: humiliated people feel rage rather than contrition. You can’t make people change but you can allow them space to do so. This is altogether different than tolerating intolerance. You can’t negotiate with insurrectionists, terrorists, or those who support them.
  5. Being on the right side doesn’t make you right about all things. Humility is called for.
  6. Focus on your responsibilities. Your words. Your actions.
  7. Praise those doing useful work toward point No. 1.