An Elegy

I’ve grown increasingly concerned over the last several months about the divisions in our country, and have been wondering how we’re going to reconcile and come back together. I thought about the last time that an iconic deep fracturing and cultural shift occurred throughout our society – when a liberal, inclusive movement clashed with old guard conservatives who looked up to authority figures.

“How did the country get past that and come back together?” I wondered, hoping to find some clue for moving forward. As I thought about it, though, a nagging worry edged its way into my mind. “Maybe we never did. . .”

Maybe Watergate, Nixon’s resignation, and the Vietnam War were painful enough that in the aftermath people had to put many of their differences aside because there was simply no other reasonable response. But maybe those differences, set aside but never resolved, were simply seething, barely under the surface, rotting away the foundations we thought were strong and were binding us together.

And now I’m left wondering again, how do we get past this and come back together?

From Ken Burns and Lynn Novick: Vietnam’s Unhealed Wounds (NYT):

For more than a generation, instead of forging a path to reconciliation, we have allowed the wounds the war inflicted on our nation, our politics and our families to fester. The troubles that trouble us today — alienation, resentment and cynicism; mistrust of our government and one another; breakdown of civil discourse and civic institutions; conflicts over ethnicity and class; lack of accountability in powerful institutions — so many of these seeds were sown during the Vietnam War. . .

. . . As the antiwar activist Bill Zimmerman told us, “People who supported the war were fond of saying ‘My country, right or wrong,’ ” but the war’s critics didn’t “want to live in a country that we’re going to support whether it’s right or wrong. So we began an era where two groups of Americans, both thinking that they were acting patriotically, went to war with each other.”