SATURDAY, JANUARY 15, 2022
Next year in Sarajevo: We well remember, with great clarity, the first time we read Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address.
We were standing in the Lincoln Memorial with a group of Baltimore fifth-graders. The full text of the short address is carved into one of the building's walls.
We were stunned to think that anyone had ever said any such thing in public. Essentially, Lincoln said this:
We in the North did this too.
As Lincoln delivered that address, he had only a few weeks to live. In search of balance, we should note the miscalculation this president made at the end of his First Inaugural Address.
Lincoln's more famous second address was delivered in poetry. The first was delivered in prose.
At one point, he almost seemed to affirm the "revolutionary right" of the Southern states to attempt to secede, if they so chose. But at the end his speech, he said this:
LINCOLN (1861): I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
We are not enemies, Lincoln said. Within a matter of weeks, the nation was at war, with an astonishing death toll to follow.
For better or worse—consider the outcomes!—the better angels of our nature didn't keep us from mounting that war. In the present day, those better angels are perhaps being tested again.
Meanwhile, can anyone here play this game? As a people—as a species—do we have the moral and intellectual skills to maintain a grossly imperfect "democracy" under current circumstances?
We'd planned to suggest that the answer may be no. But we think we'll leave it there for today, with this added note:
In the end, any large nation has to run on the fuel of comity. At least to some minimal extent, its citizens have to fall back on the sense that they constitute an actual "people," that they are fellow citizens. On the sense that they aren't enemies, but are something a bit more like friends.
"We must not be enemies," Lincoln advised. For today's most interesting news report, we recommend a fascinating profile of filmmaker Jasmila Zbanic, who is negotiating questions like these within the deeply fraught Bosnian context.
The profile appears in today's New York Times. The types of dilemmas we're wrestling with obtain all over the world.