The same year Congress directed that the words “under God” be added to the pledge of allegiance, Sr. Marie Pierre directed my 5th grade civics class to memorize the Gettysburg Address. She said we weren’t old enough to understand what the words mean, but the speech “is a beautiful statement of patriotism from a very great president, and you should never forget it.”
Seventeen years later, while blood was flowing on college campuses across the nation in protest over a bad war in Southeast Asia and an even worse war at home, in the Old South, trying to win civil and voting rights, Mr. Lincoln’s words ran through my head almost daily. We were again engaged in a great civil war, on two fronts, each for very different reasons. Both were testing whether government of, by and for the people would survive. Each time I was tear-gassed, President Lincoln’s inspired words at Gettysburg reminded me what I was fighting for, and sent me back into the protest for yet another day.
Forty-two years after that, on the cold, windy March day Wisconsin’s governor broke the state unions and the people’s government was perishing beneath our feet, I stood outside the state capital, in solidarity with 12,000 disenfranchised union workers. By now I understood what civil wars really mean, the bravery required of those who fight them, and that civil uprisings are the only means for consecrating a government of, by and for the people. Standing on the Gettysburg battlefield Mr. Lincoln bestowed the responsibility for saving the nation upon future generations and his words made me understand this responsibility is a privilege.
Paula vW. Dáil,PhD
Emerita, Iowa State University
Spring Green, WI