A Nation at War

We’re a nation at war.

I’m not referring to the overt and continuing wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, not to the actions the U.S. took in Libya, not our threat of military action in the civil war in Syria, not the clandestine wars we might be involved in some other places in the world.

After all, we’ve already withdrawn American troops in most of these war zones; we’ve found a way to support rebels in Syria but avoid direct military action ourselves; we’ve even, supposedly, cut back on drone strikes against terrorists in various parts of the world.

We’re even in delicate negotiations in order to find a way around a war with Iran.

We’re withholding some of our military assistance to Egypt so that a peaceful democracy might find root again there.

The many who contended that awarding the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to President Barak Obama was mistaken, or at least premature, may have to reconsider their contention.

No, I’m not referring to our nation being at war with another country.

I’m pointing to our civil war within our nation.

I came to this realization – this revelation – in, of all places, Chicago’s Symphony Center (what used to be called “Orchestra Hall) in mid-November.

It was during a stunning performance of Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem, Op. 66,” written in 1961-62, as a remembrance of the dead from both World Wars of the 20th century.

Britten (1913-1976) took the words of the traditional Latin Mass for the Dead and the poetry of Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), who was killed in action in France exactly one week before the Armistice on November 11, 1018.

In one of the Owen poems used in Britten’s Mass, the poet draws on the Genesis story of Abraham and Isaac to portray the setting of the First World War, but changes the ending of that biblical story in its contemporary context:

Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride, instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son, —
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

It wasn’t, however, that jarring and revisionary last two lines that provided the revelation. It was, instead, the earlier six lines from the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) of the traditional Mass that struck me as revelatory:

A book will be brought forth,
in which all is written,
by which the world will be judged.

When the judge takes his place,
what is hidden will be revealed,
nothing will remain unavenged.

The “hidden” civil war now being fought in the United States is over which Americans will be allowed to live into the future because of their access to quality and affordable health care, or be left, as in the past, to die because that health care will still be denied.

This is, of course, a prolonged civil war within our nation, with the rebels seeking to overthrow the existing order, in which health care is understood as a commodity, like everything else, to be secured by purchase in a free market economy rather than a right to be enjoyed by all.

The revolutionaries, over the decades, have made many major gains, with the adoption of such programs as Medicare and Medicaid and the additions to them, such as CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program) and Medicare Part D (Prescription Drug Program). But they haven’t come close to winning the civil war that would make the right to health care nearly universal.

Not until the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law in March, 2010.

Before that time, it was estimated, based on research, that in this “hidden” civil war 45,000 Americans died unnecessarily each year from lack of health insurance – one American every 12 minutes. (Reuters, September 17, 2009)

That was the death toll in our “hidden” civil war.

To be sure, the adopted legislation wasn’t everything the rebels had hoped for: it still was based on a free market economy and there would still be millions uninsured. But it was, without question, a major advance.

But it turns out that the civil war isn’t over. The existing order isn’t giving up. Dozens of attempts have been made to reverse, defund, and delay the legislation. The New York Times reports this week that opponents of the legislation are putting in place a plan to launch a major assault. (November 21, 2013)

So the battle of this civil war rages on, with thousands of human lives at stake, and with little acknowledgement that:

A book will be brought forth,
in which all is written,
by which the world will be judged.

When the judge takes his place,
what is hidden will be revealed,
nothing will remain unavenged.

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