Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Pilgrims' Progress

You think you've come so far
In this one horse town
Then she's laughin' that crazy laugh
'Cause you haven't left the parkin' lot...
- John Hiatt "Slow Turning"

The great Mr. Hiatt, undoubtedly, was waxing poetic on the artifice of forward progress on an intimate, personal scale when he wrote "Slow Turning" more than a quarter-century ago.  Yet, in consideration of the fact that it was on this very date - at or about twelve noon - one hundred and fifty years ago that The Army of Northern Virginia, under the command of General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate States of America, surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Potomac at Appomattox, Virginia, I thought that - at least for today - I might extrapolate Mr. Hiatt's prescient observations to a much larger scale.  

The War Between the States (for there is no greater euphemism than the term "The Civil War") would sputter on in isolated pockets across the South and not formally be declared over until August 20, 1866, which it was courtesy of President Andrew Johnson's Proclamation.  However, General Lee's surrender to General Grant at Appomattox is widely considered to represent the end of the Confederacy's ill-fated secession effort, which effort that had begun almost four years earlier with the firing of shots on Fort Sumter in South Carolina.  

"It would be useless and therefore cruel to provoke the further effusion of blood and I have arranged to meet with General Grant with a view to surrender."   Robert E. Lee was correct, of course, regarding the intertwined futility and cruelty of prolonging that particular conflict.  On this, the Sesquicentennial of those words and the deed that accompanied it, one cannot help but wonder just how far we have come.  We, the people of these United States, might be surprised - and a bit flummoxed as well - by the disparity between the advances we have made in the area of bright, sparkly things and in the area of things that are far more substantive but significantly less bright and sparkly.    

Now that I think about it, Mr. Hiatt's lyrical poetry is not the only poetry that one can extrapolate to fit the occasion of this day...

We've given each other some hard lessons lately,
But we ain't learnin'  
We're the same sad story that's a fact
One step up and two steps back...
-Bruce Springsteen "One Step Up"


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