Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What Might Have Been

Upon July the fourth I watched with pride
As floats and bands and banners came and went
To celebrate the patriots who died
So each of us could live in such content.
Down Peachtree street I watched the veterans
Of foreign wars, who held their heads up high,
And marched as unified Americans
Approach my own position and pass by.
I marked that some of those in uniform
Were wheelchair bound from age or injury,
So I saluted them with all my heart
And felt upon my cheeks the teardrops warm
That on them fell involuntarily,
And no attempts could make the tears depart.

That night the fireworks made a fine display
To light the sky above Atlanta's parks,
And used each burst of powder to convey
Triumphant images within the sparks
That heralded our independence dear.
The grand finale was extravagant.
I marveled at the means to engineer
An exhibition this significant.
But I could not delay departure more
To celebrate my nation's heritage.
I had to travel home to Tennessee
And be in Chattanooga long before
The dawn imposed itself upon the stage.
I knew that I could make it easily.

Yet as I fought to clear the traffic jam
And took the entrance to the interstate,
I thought of those who, in memoriam,
Had given all so we could contemplate
Our freedoms bought with selfless sacrifice.
I wondered, "God, what evil might now be
If not for those who paid this awful price?
Would we be slaves to Nazi Germany
Or labor under communism's yoke?"
I pondered for an hour, but yawned so much
I slapped my face to try to stay awake,
Then stopped the car to use my lids to cloak
My sleepy eyes and rest them until such
Exhaustion had been conquered by this break.

Then while I slept, the ghosts of New Echota came to me,
And in a long procession this impressive panoply
Paraded through my mind and left its imprint on my brain
That in my recollection I now struggle to retain.
Each one of them imparted how the Spirit had decreed
That they had been selected to address my pressing need.
I told the solemn phantoms that I did not understand.
What was the grave necessity that prompted this command?
In unison they answered, "You requested to be taught
The things that might be otherwise had evil not been fought."

Then all of them fell silent as the images appeared
That showed how New Echota's people fell to what they feared.
The clarity enabled me to see in great detail,
And many accurate accounts now threatened to assail
The patriotic feelings I held dear within my heart.
However, I now witnessed things that tore it all apart,
And never will I know again the peace of ignorance
Or proudly lift the banner of such grave indifference.
The story that I now relate to all the world is true,
And lends a frightening perspective that I never knew.

In eighteen hundred thirty-eight the general Winfield Scott
Commanding seven thousand troops and officers had sought
The relocation of the nation known as Cherokee.
They rounded up the citizens who loved their liberty
As much as any others into concentration camps,
Where dysentery tied the peoples' abdomens in cramps
And food was scarce enough that many starving people died
Before they were compelled to take the trail where they cried.
In Oklahoma, New Echota's people were interned
If they survived the journey that not one of them had earned.

For no one came to fight to save the Cherokee from fate,
And so the Georgians were at liberty to confiscate
The democratic lands that they desired in greediness.
While better men like Daniel Webster hastened to express
Dissatisfaction with the actions of their government,
No heroes armed themselves for war to save the innocent.
It was not long before the doctrine that could justify
American expansion came to be the battle cry
Of every politician who was eager to command,
And "Manifest Destiny" was heard throughout the land!

From the fifty-second parallel to southern Mexico,
From sea to shining sea the land of liberty would grow.
For God Himself had ordered that America should lead,
And those inferior races who attempted to impede
The progress that was needed to secure the living space,
Would be destroyed for daring to consider such disgrace.
The racist spirit, unopposed, was quickly dominant,
And decimated tribal groups were more than prevalent.
As to the general Sheridan these words are credited,
"I saw some Indians who were good.  Those Indians were dead!"

These images departed, and the specters stared at me
And asked me to consider how my valued liberty
Had been acquired by avarice and motives less than pure,
Much more than by my noble heroes willing to endure
The agony of battle where the tyrant's forces stood
Preventing evil's triumph over champions of the good.
And as their piercing questions shook my being to its core
I was overwhelmed with reasons not to honor but deplore
The blood stained banner waiving as the symbol of the pride
That prompted so much slaughter of the innocents who died.

The phantoms were not finished and they asked, "If history
Had left all Europe underneath the Deutsch hegemony,
The proud swastika flying free from Norway to Ukraine
Across the steppes of Russia to the sunny land of Spain,
Would freedom and prosperity suffice now to excuse
Atrocities committed to destroy the Slavs and Jews?
Could later generations simply wipe the record clean
By building pretty monuments and parks at every scene
Where brutal acts had happened and where now a statue sits?
Would this be compensation for Treblinka and Auschwitz?"

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