Erin M. for October 6th

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Among the many poems we read for this week’s reading, Whitman’s “Reconciliation” stood out to me beyond all the others. It wasn’t a straightforward statement of patriotism or a simple recount of a battle. “Reconciliation” humanizes the exprience of war. In the poem, Whitman crosses battle lines and mourns an opponent while at the same time appreciating the fact that the war has ended. He writes: “Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost” (Whitman p 453 line 2). He continues and seems almost glad that death has come; he sees it as a cleansing experience (line 3). But, it is the humanization of the speaker’s enemy that is most striking. “For my enemy is dead, a man as divine as myself is dead”, he says at line 4. Even in wartime Whitman’s love of equality is not stifled. The speaker sees his enemy as equal to him and even mourns his death and seems to wish him peace as he bends down and  kisses him in his coffin (line 6).

This poem made me wonder about war today. Do you think today’s soldiers see their opponent’s as equals and mourn their death? In a perfect world I would like to believe that at least occassionally soldiers take the time to mourn for those they’ve had to kill, in addition to those lost in their own units, but I just don’t know. Today our military is a strictly trained force; they are trained soley for the purpose of defeating the enemy, and in order to accomplish that task the military removes the human aspect from war. Not only do they deindividualized the men themselves by shaving their heads and having them all wear uniforms and go through the exact same training process in order for them to assume their role as soldier (yes i know the head shaving and training is also considered a bonding experience for the units.), but they also dehumanize the opponent by refering to them as “targets”.

However, during Whitman’s time the military wasn’t as fully formed as it is now. The men fighting were just that: men. They didn’t have formal training, so to speak and both sides were doing their best to fight for their country. The speaker may have even known his opponent. But, regardless whether he knew him or not he still took the time to recognize that he caused his death and to mourn him, despite the fact that they were defending opposite sides. This poem should reminds us that you can stand up for and defend your beliefs and even, literally, fight for them while still recognizing your opponent’s point of view. As he has done with all his work thus far, Whitman has reminded us of our human-ness and celebrated it. He recognizes our human spirit and capacity for love and equality even in wartime.


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