Peggy Noonan in today’s Wall Street Journal writes:
But what is the meaning of Appomattox? What explains the wisdom and mercy shown? How does a nation do that, produce it?As you see these past weeks, I have been back to my history books. You learn a lot that way, not only about the country and the world and “man,” but even yourself. Would you have let your enemy go home in dignity, with the horses and guns? And not bring the law down on their heads? And the answer—what does that tell you about you?
The now largely forgotten lesson of the American Civil War is this: What binds Americans as a nation is not so much a commitment to liberty but to forgiveness. It is here that the animosities of the “Old World” could be set aside.
To be sure, as the Civil War also demonstrates, we created our own new American animosities chief (though hardly the only) among them slavery.
But now the lessons of the War Between the States are fading. We no longer see, or maybe even want to see, in those with whom we disagree the nobility and good intentions mixed with their error. Forgiveness doesn’t deny error but sees the goodness hidden within the mistake.
This is also the lesson of the Cross.
God sees the goodness of those who crucify Him even when that goodness is twisted and disfigured beyond all merely human recognition. There is nothing weak or sentimental in the words Jesus speaks from the Cross: “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” because He bars in His own flesh the cost of those words.
America’s role, if not quite a vocation, as “an almost chosen people,” is not to be perfect, not to export democracy, or police the world by force of arms. Rather, we offer an often failed example of a nation built not on blood or soil or philosophy but on the mundane practice of forgiveness.
And how could our example be anything other than failed? After all, forgiveness is the response to failure.
This is the lesson of the Civil War, that what binds us as Americans and as human beings is forgiveness. If we have forgotten this lesson as a nation, it is because Christians, those Jesus calls yeast in the dough of humanity, have forgotten the lesson of the Cross.
A blessed and peaceful Good Friday to all.