April 9: A national day of reflection and reconciliation

America needs a holiday dedicated to reflecting on the many ways we have failed to meet our founding ideals. We need such a holiday to reconcile the past with our common hopes for a better future, to ‘bind up the Nation’s wounds’, as Lincoln suggested in his second inaugural address. I suggest we make April 9 that day.

Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9, 1865 in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, a month after Lincoln’s second inaugural. This ended the military portion of the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in American history. But in a very real sense, the conflict never truly ended. It simply shifted to other battlefields, several of which rage on today.

I suggest that the American project is stronger when we, the people, view our history openly and honestly, with the courage to acknowledge our shortcomings. Indeed, lacking such an honest accounting, our sense of pride may appear prideful or worse, willfully ignorant of the price so many have paid for this progress.

Where and how has America fallen short? My list may differ from yours, but here are some suggestions: Our genocide of Native Americans, our history of slavery, our treatment of any number of immigrant groups, the long delay in granting women suffrage, the Japanese internment, the ways American white supremacists inspired the Nazis, the interminable war on terror no one seems willing to end, and our failures to confront and address climate change.

A truly great and powerful nation can muster the courage to face its own flaws and to hold itself account. Indeed, lacking that courage, how can any people aspire to righteousness or assume the responsibilities of leadership?

Like the Jews, who atone for sin on Yom Kippur by seeking forgiveness from one another before facing judgment from the almighty, let us set aside April 9 for a national day of reflection and reconciliation. Let us find strength in examining our weakness. And let such a day form a more perfect union among us that we may secure the blessings of liberty, as we the people have ordained in our Constitution, for all posterity.

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Rick O. Gilmore
Professor of Psychology
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