Appomatox: 1865 & 2011

          ‘All glory, laud and honor!’:  So on Palm Sunday  Christians joyfully hymn Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem but with the full knowledge of Jesus’s arrest and execution five days later.  The joy is heavily freighted with foreboding.

          On Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, at an insignificant crossroads in central Virginia, Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant.

          In The Passing of the Armies (1914), Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who would accept the formal surrender the next day, says nothing about what kind of day that Palm Sunday was.  He records only the feelings of relief, shared misery and reunitings of West Point classmates.  No forebodings.

          On this glorious early spring afternoon, as details dribble out of Washington about the budget ‘compromise’, I can’t help feeling as if the wrong side has prevailed, 146 years later.


  1. Ralph Meima said:

    Peter, one way to read your April 9 Bell post is to see the radical Republican/Tea Party political pole – “the wrong side” – as a modern manifestation of the Confederates, not necessarily distributed north-south in US political geography, but located in the “red” states of the South, Lower Midwest, and Rockies. This view sees the struggle over American’s priorities as much cultural as it is economic-philosophical, which I think most people would agree with these days.

    I have personally felt hijacked – the sense that the country was on its way toward reasonable solutions, massive challenges notwithstanding, and that both the vehicle and the crew were up to the challenge, when all of a sudden people with weapons and aggressive determination shouting “Praise God!” have taken over the cockpit, putting our progress and safety in severe danger. (How soon we forget the period 2000-2008, of course!)

    Congressional Republicans were democratically elected. What I wonder now is whether their constituents will rein them in after the current term, installing more moderates and practical politicians, and fewer ideologues, or whether the cultural approval of their behavior is so deep back home that the Tea Party surge will continue long enough to do much more damage.

    It’s a truism that America is fundamentally centrist and that stable majorities favor a woman’s right to choose, government control of Medicare and Social Security, environmental protection, and other “liberal” causes. If so, then the Tea Party will be a short-lived phenomenon. What I wonder is whether the combined effects of unemployment, collapsing middle-class prosperity, widespread mental illness and substance addiction, educational stagnation, the deskilling and disempowerment of many work crafts and trades, and the subtle advance of disruptions associated with climate change are combining to actually improve the prospects for bigoted, extremist demagogues in places with weaker traditions of social tolerance, and whether, once the nation as a whole has developed a clear collective understanding and systemic response to this threat, it will be able to resume stable progress toward where I think most reasonable people want to go.

    Peter, your thoughts?

    April 10, 2011
  2. Lowry Pei said:

    Sometimes I think our culture is slowly committing suicide (see above). Sometimes I think the old has to collapse and decay for the new thing to take root (the lesson of natural processes). Perhaps the new thing is unstoppable in the long run — see recent events in the Middle East — and if so, how long is the long run? And is there any evidence that people can learn some way other than the hard way?

    April 10, 2011
  3. Tom Welsh said:

    As the evidence piles up of the decline of the Anglophone enlightment and the loss of advantage and wealth which accompanies it, democrats have every right to be alarm. They have failed over the course of my life to recognise that globally radicalism was emerging from the Right. This was first Signalled by Reaganism- Thatcherism and their fundamental opposition to anyhting bbut minimalist government. Then the metaphysics of the market took over. Subsequently, with Clinton – Blair – Bush -Cameron therewasa furhter shift from the governance by evidence to governance by faith. ‘Weapons of mass destruction’ was a faith filled mantra indicative of the sense of righteousness.Added to this flow of governance by faith was the movements in the Islamic world where evidence became an inconvenience to the extent that few realise the magnitude of the uK-USA subsidy of the growth and spread of Militant Islam – remember the joy on defeating Russia in Afghanistan! Now that we are confronted across all issures at home with the politics of faith ( little to do with religion) but merely a denial of the place of evidence in the role of governance. When a politici9an declares – I believe – we should demand evidence!

    April 11, 2011

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