The cottonwoods are tall and scraggly, leaning over each other as shaking hands in friendship. This is their world, a place where they can stand undisturbed by little more than a few hikers and the buzz of motorboats. Their size alone gives them an authority that allows them to speak silently, telling stories about their world that reach back over the centuries. This is Pike Island, an small speck in the Mississippi that has been allowed to go back to the way it was two centuries ago when Europeans first arrived.
The devastation continues in Ukraine as the civil war shows no signs of ending. As many as 3,700 people have been killed as human rights abuses have been alleged on both sides of the conflict. Eastern Ukraine is in ruins.
But the real loser in this conflict may yet be Russia. Wars these days are fought not just with gunpowder but with money, and while Putin has generously given weapons to his allies in Ukraine he is sitting on a very weak nation that has been sealed off from the West. We can expect him to keep fighting, as would be his style, in both ways – but this could be an extremely long Winter for both nations.
The year was 1648. After 30 years of Lutherans slaughtering Catholics and Catholics slaughtering Lutherans, Europe had become tired of war. The heart of western Germany, the Palatine, was utterly destroyed. A treaty was concluded at Westphalia, near the heart of the conflict, which crafted peace through a new concept – sovereignty. The warring monarchs agreed that each side had territorial integrity and that neither would interfere in the internal affairs of the others.
The entire world was eventually divided up into “sovereign nations” based on this principle.
The year was 2011. Protesters igniting the “Arab Spring” in Syria were slaughtered by their sovereign national army, and eventually formed something like an armed rebellion in what is now known as a civil war. The world watched in horror as at least 100,000 people were killed, about half civilians, for more than two years. Sovereignty means that no one is supposed to intervene, at least not directly. That has held until repeated attacks by chemical weapons occurred, crossing an apparent “red line” that denotes the limits of sovereignty. The world wants to act to stop it.
Why this line? Why now? What is the real limit of “sovereignty” and what does it mean to be a nation-state today?
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Seven score and ten years ago today the Battle of Gettysburg was over. The carnage was horrific and the course of the Civil War was set. It would take nearly two more years to wind it down, but a different nation emerged from the blood that soaked the land. We celebrate 150 years of this battle as a people changed and humbled, yet in many ways still fighting what “liberty” and “equal” mean.
Memorial Day is a special holiday, and not just because it honors those who gave their lives for our nation. It was a spontaneous holiday that came about because it seemed necessary more than politically expedient. There was little official about it until long after it was part of our national calendar.