Sunday, April 20, 2014
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.
On hallowed ground, which had seen 51,000 American casualties (making it the bloodiest battle on American soil, still to this day), President Lincoln spoke words of healing and resolve.
He spoke of “a new birth of freedom,” and its call has resonated through the ages. The America that we wanted to be was born with those words.
What’s often missed when talking about the Civil War is that it’s still being fought, by every new generation of Americans that comes into their own. Every generation must face powers that want to control them, dictate, hold dominion.
The threat of power wielded by well-dressed villains in boardrooms is one thing. That kind of threat has a face.
But my generation -- and my daughter’s -- faces a new threat.
In America, we learned through death & fire that we must free bodies from shackles. We are learning, slowly, to free souls from the yoke of others’ hatred and intolerance and fear (though we are taking too long and still have far to go).
But we are losing other, more amorphous but no less real freedoms.
Because of our addiction to chemicals and fertilizers and pharmaceuticals, we are losing the basic freedom to drink clean water. Our addiction to plastics threatens our freedom to walk a pristine shore:
(Kamilo Beach, Hawaii)
Industrial fallout has stolen from many of us the freedom to eat what should be the healthiest seafoods in the world. Coal, uranium, and mineral mining threaten ancient places of beauty, as well as the national parks that many already have fought tirelessly to create & preserve.
(Source - Note, more & more of the coal we rip from our lands isn’t even used by us. It’s sold by corporations to nations like China that burn it with no functioning environmental protections in place.)
So today, I’d like to take a few moments to think on the amazing leaps that my nation has made toward freedom. Toward respect for an individual’s dignity & value & rights. And I’d also like to take a few moments to think on the ways we’re slipping, inexorably, backward.
We’re losing something intangible, but very real, of our nation’s fabric each day we allow poison & pollution to creep in.
In real ways, the Civil War is still being fought. And depending on the choices we make, it can still be lost.
Visiting a Maine beach in March 2010, Harold Johnson was shocked by the ocean-borne debris left by recent storms. He grabbed a garbage bag and a camera, and hasn’t looked back.
Since then he has spent most of his free time studying marine pollution, coastal ecosystems, and the mysteries and science of ocean and shore.
Copyeditor and writer by trade, historian and archaeologist at heart, Johnson’s philosophy is simple: Dig below the surface, travel the currents, make the connections, learn. Then share what you learn. He lives in Saco with his wife and young daughter. Follow on Twitter @FlotsamDiaries.