Rarely do I deviate from my main themes here at ScienceThrillers.com (science-themed fiction, science education, and science entertainment). But yesterday I took my kids to see the new Spielberg movie LINCOLN and I can’t stop thinking about it.
I’m not going to critique the film. Personally I loved it. Some of the subplots were weak, I thought it should have been shorter, and yes it gets a bit brainy at times. None of that was a problem for me.
The reason I can’t stop thinking about LINCOLN is the fresh perspective it gave me on present-day American politics.
We Americans just suffered through an election season that most would agree was fairly depressing. America faces big problems, but it feels like solutions and leadership are lacking. We are a nation divided, our Congress is a den of vipers, and many citizens feel the future of our country is bleak.
Get thee to a theater and watch LINCOLN.
Today we argue about how to manage the tremendous wealth of country: how to give everyone opportunities, how to fairly distribute our abundant resources, how to be good stewards of wealth for future generations. We also argue about marriage and marijuana and foreign terrorists and wars fought on other people’s land. In 2012, we see our divisions in red and blue on a map on TV.
In 1865, the colors were blue and grey. They weren’t pixels on a screen. They were real-life fabrics worn on the bodies of more than 600,000 dead men. These men were citizens of the same country—our country–who killed each other.
Now that is a nation divided.
Put this number in perspective to our current controversial wars: approximately 4500 US soldiers killed in Iraq; 3000 coalition soldiers so far in Afghanistan. I do not trivialize a single one of these deaths. But 600,000 deaths—that was about 2% of the entire U.S. population at the time. Can any of us imagine the impact?
Again put yourself in 1865. The political debate wasn’t about marginal tax rates or who should pay for health care. It was about whether to abolish the entire economic foundation of a substantial portion of the country—namely, slavery—for moral reasons. And slavery was not only the basis for the South’s economy. It was an integral part of the entire social structure.
About 4 million slaves were freed by the 13th Amendment. Four million people who had been denied any education, whose family supports had been destroyed, who had every reason to hate or rise up against the white people they were now supposed to live with.
Was there a grand plan for solving this problem? No.
How about a plan for the bitter survivors: parents and orphans and widows who were supposed to accept the reconstruction of the Union and share power with senators and representatives from the other side? Not really.
And just to destabilize the situation even more, add the assassination of a much-beloved and respected President a few months into the start of his second term.
Makes our current situation look not so bad, doesn’t it?
Granted, things did not go well after 1865. My point is merely that America has survived much, much worse. That our way of governing, our way of living, and our values have endured bigger problems than the ones we face now.
Thank you, Mr. Spielberg, for reminding me that I am blessed to live in the interesting times of today.