Monday, December 10, 2012

Living History Day 1


A number of years ago, a local high school teacher, Ken Buckles, founded an event called Living History Day.  High schoolers were able to take time out from regular classes to welcome veterans to their school, hear their stories, stage their own USO-style shows. 

And to say "thank you" to the living national monuments in our midst:  veterans of wars we have either largely forgotten or never wanted to know.  I've attended a couple of these.  They did my old heart good. 

Washington, DC is filled with monuments.  Prominently at the foot of Capitol Hill is the Ulysses S Grant Memorial.  The general in his cavalry hat and overcoat astride his horse gazes over the battlefield of the Civil War.  Below him are steps leading to a reflecting pool.  Behind, the Capitol dome. 
It is, of course, a perfectly designed stage for large groups of students to have a group photo.  Seat of power of the present in the background; reminder of a troubled past right behind them. 

General Grant is flanked by two lower pedestals, each adorned by a male lion resting atop the spear-pointed staff of a guide-on, the battle flag of an army that is now lying on the ground under the paw of the lion.  Army of the Confederacy, perhaps?    

The lions are in turn flanked, right and left, by two lower and much longer bronze sculptures.  To the right as one views the Capitol, a team of four horses at a gallop is hauling a cannon on its gun carriage.  The soldier riding on the carriage and driving the horses is hunched over, head down, attempting to stay seated during the spine crushing bumpy ride.  

The horses' hooves bespeak the chaos of intelligent, magnificent animals, themselves caught up in the fog of war and obediently doing the bidding of their human masters engaged in frightening explosions of cannon, unspeakable bloodshed.  

I'm reminded of one recent artist's statement on an exhibit of work based on the imperial conflicts of World War I.  The artist's research found that something close to 20 million horses died in World War I.  Horses, just horses...

On the opposite flank of General Grant are more charging horses, this time the cavalry instead of the artillery.  The squad leader with raised sword that has lost its blade leads the others in the yell of the charge:  straight into enemy rifle and cannon fire, swords and fixed bayonets.  

About to be crushed beneath it all is one cavalyrman whose horse has either stumbled or been shot.  His eyes are open.  Both are about to be trampled, possibly causing another horse to stumble and break a leg.  

They shoot horses, don't they?

It's ironic.  The sunshine was so bright that I didn't even see the face of the fallen rider and his horse until I returned home and reviewed my photos.  

I hope the students noticed.  I hope he shows up in some of their photos.  But at least they were there and had a chance to see.  

Remember, we weren't defending our country from a foreign invader.  We were at war with each other, not really over states' rights but over the understanding of the definition of a human being.  

I can only hope for more Living History Days.  And I hope that when we look at the memorials we build to human failings, we let more than historians and politicians speak.  I hope we also let the artists and the prophets speak, too.  I hope we can still hear them.  

They might see the face of that man who fell with his horse.  They might help us ask the question, "What happened to both?"  If that soldier suffered a broken leg or a puncture wound, what were his chances of surviving the amputation and the gangrene?  Without anesthetic and antibiotics?  Did he fare any any better than his horse?     

And what did that contribute to our understanding of what a human being is?  And why?  

Living History Day.  I hope one happens near all of us soon.

Pastor Roger

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