This wise, and heartbreaking, letter appeared in this morning's Hartford Courant. If you wade through to page A7, you can see it online here. (Click the image to see it larger.)
The writer is 99 years old, and his grandfather fought for the Union side in the Civil War, with the 62nd Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers. My own great-grandfather was a sergeant with the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry and participated in all the principal battles fought by the Army of the Potomac, including Gettysburg, where there is a monument to his regiment that Porter has seen, though I have not yet had the pleasure. Nathan Smith died six years before the 50th anniversary reenactment in 1913, but I have little doubt that he would have been one of those veterans who "respected what each had done for his cause." In the words of President Woodrow Wilson on that occasion,
We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor.
That caused me to remember a line in C. S. Lewis' The Last Battle: “Has not one of the poets said that a noble friend is the best gift and a noble enemy the next best?”
One hundred years later, for all its progress in other areas, America has regressed in its ability to recognize valor and goodness in the opposition. After World War II, we quickly made peace with the Germans and the Japanese (were we ever seriously against the Italians?) and have much respect for them today, if not for some of their past actions. But we can't seem to make peace with our own history and people. God help us.