Battle Hymn of the Republic: September 24, 2001

Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2001 04:46:05 -0700 (PDT)
From: Mary
Subject: Days 11&12
To: Friends and Family

These past few days, I’ve had reason to think about the First Amendment. The First Amendment to the Constitution protects our rights of free speech, the press and assembly. There is ongoing controversy over what speech should be protected and in fact speech that incites – hate speech, yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre – is not protected. Your speech is protected – the results of your speech are not.

On Saturday morning, as we ate our cornies and toast, we listened to the radio. The NPR radio hosts don’t often make commentary – they simply interview and report. But on Saturdays, Scott Simon does make a small commentary on the weeks events. This morning he played the words of two very powerful and very conservative televangelists who, a few days before, had said “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians…the A.C.L.U., People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, “You helped this happen.”” (For those outside of the States, the ACLU is the American Civil Liberties Union which vigorously defends free speech, including the rights of the Ku Klux Klan to rally. They’re extremely valuable in American society, we think.) I had read that Falwell had said this, and that Robertson had concurred, but I hadn’t heard the comments myself.

We were shocked to the core that someone – an American – could blame anyone except the terrorists for this action. Then Scott Simon pointed out gently that one of the passengers on the Pittsburgh plane that took action against the hijackers was a gay man. He asked who we would rather be sitting next to on a plane – Falwell or the gay rugby player – and who was closer to God? Scott Simon’s words made me cry into my cornies even more than I had been at Falwell’s words.

What’s the difference between Osama bin Laden’s words of anti-American hatred and Falwell’s? I can’t find any.

Yesterday was “Bike DC” where thousands of cyclists bike around DC on a 32 mile route. Unfortunately the route had to be severely reduced to avoid the white house and major routes. But Mark felt that it was important to join together in a community of cyclists, so we picked up two friends and headed into town. I dropped them off and drove to the mall to wait for them a couple of hours later.

And so, at 8 am I found myself having a wee chat with Abe. You’ve probably all seen the Lincoln Memorial – a great Grecian marble structure with a huge stature of the man himself sitting on a chair draped with the American flag,looking stern and wise. I hadn’t noticed his hands until yesterday – one is clenched tightly, the other caught in the middle of restrained action – as if frustrated at having to sit still. On the wall is carved the words of the Gettysburg Address which he gave at the opening of the national cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania during the Civil War.

It’s incredibly short and funnily enough, of it, he says “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here” – for it has become one of the most famous speeches in history. Partly because it was so unusually short and is incredibly eloquent.

Most of the words struck me as eerily relevant today.

But one phrase stood out for me as a fitting eulogy for the people on the plane that overpowered the hijackers and so saved thousands of lives, and the rescue workers who rushed into the World Trade Center.

President Lincoln had this to say about the Gettysburg battlefield:

“We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.”

The final section reads thus:

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

I hope that we heed him well.

Above Abe’s head are carved these words “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined.”

It does feel like a temple, and it felt like I was speaking to some kind of god when I asked Abe for his help in the days ahead.

Back to the first amendment – on the steps of the memorial, I sat and tried to read my newspaper as I watched a photoshoot for Jockey and Hanes underwear.

Strangely incongruous, but the thing that got me was that they were using an American Flag as a prop – holding it up like a cape, wrapping it around the models between shoots. I’m a strong supporter of the first ammendment, including the right to burn the flag. But I will not defend bad taste or supreme insensitivity. Sunday our flags all returned to full mast. A company should not be using the flag for commercial purposes – not that day, not under these circumstances, not on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and not with such disgregard for what it means to people. They seek to exploit our patriotism for profit. Shame on them.

Then I made my way back to the Washington Monument to await Mark, walking via the Vietnam memorial inscribed with 58,226 names of the dead. I hope we don’t build another wall like it some day. As I passed the beautiful pond which is home to the memorial to the signers of the declaration of independence, I wished a good morning to two homeless men. The first had a youthful face and startling blue eyes, reminding me, with his long beard, of our friend Adam. The second had taken off his shoes and placed his feet on a piece of cardboard to keep his white socks clean. I hope that in the midst of their day to day despair that they were able to find a measure of peace in the mall as I had.



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