When I am at a loss for words, I turn to our poet, Walt Whitman.
He was there the last time we had a civil war. The one before this one, this one when we’ve spent the last four years at war, at war for the soul of the nation, for our souls. I sit here now on the eve of the inauguration that spells an end to this war, for now at least. Joe Biden is going to bind up our wounds, set us back on the path to promised land.
The last civil war cost over 600,000 American lives lost. The count for this current one is 400,000 so far — dear mostly modest, ordinary lives succumbed in cruel pain and separation by a pandemic that became the final, signature horror of what these last four years visited upon us. Before it’s over it may be 600,000, too, given how helpless we were rendered by our mortal foe.
Whitman was there in 1865 in Washington, D.C., the same place where we now await, on Jan. 20, 2021, the formal liberation of our American people from the puss-faced, hissing, gurgling terrible emanation of hell that declared war on us when it arose to the presidency of this land four years ago.
Walt was at the historic Grand Review of the Union Troops (by great-great grandfather among them) that, but two months after winning the surrender of the treasonous, slavery-obsessed Confederacy, marched up, in the tens of thousands, Pennsylvania Avenue past the reviewing stand where President Lincoln should have been, but for his own murder weeks before.
Whitman saw the ferocious consequences of horrible war in the faces of those men he gazed upon that day.
“How solemn as one by one.
“As the ranks returning worn and sweaty, as the men file by where I stand,
“As the faces the marks appear, as I glance at the faces studying the marks,
“(As I glance upward out of this page studying you, dear friend, whoever you are.)
“How solemn the thought of my whispering soul to each in the ranks, and to you.
“I see behind each mark that wonder a kindred soul,
“O bullet could never kill what you really are, dear friend.
“Not the bayonet stab what you really are.
“The soul yourself I see, great as any, good as the best,
“Waiting secure and content, which the bullet could never kill,
“Nor the bayonet stab, O friend.”
There you have it, in 1865 Whitman chronicles the images before him or war-worn veterans of our first great domestic clash between good and evil, and as he is doing that, he turns to look at us, to you and me, to acknowledge us in this struggle, too: “As I glance upward of this page, studying you, dear friend, whoever you are.”
Yes, O friend Whitman, we have come through a great civil war, too, just now. We’re not going to be present on Pennsylvania Avenue today, but we are there in spirit, at our nation’s Capitol, where the last four years of war against us culminated in the most debased assault on our sacred house, on January 6, 2021, a day that will live in infamy, when filthy demons carrying the flags of our most grievous enemies, the Confederacy and the Nazis, were paraded in that house, cheered on by an evil force, like the force compelling lust for a right to slavery into a terrible civil war.
We’re looking back on this page bearing your words at you, Walt. Yes, you see us and we see you. We see in what you saw then, in those weary, dirty troops, ourselves reflected. We’ve been through hell, sir, and finally on this day we get to lift for a precious moment a toast to our victory.
For the last four years, there were so many of us who fought, beginning with the million woman march just hours after our enemy took office. We never let up. Heroic journalists were relentless in their pursuits of the truth, even as GOP party members over and over again displayed their souls’ allegiance to the devil.
In the end, we prevailed.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]