Categorized | Light Lines

Can pen truly be mightier than sword?

Posted on 24 August 2017 by admin

I am not now, and have never been, a political person.
I vote — but I don’t talk about whom I vote for. I support organizations and causes I agree with by lending my name and writing my checks, but I don’t attend rallies. I still, in this time of guns and violence, continue to believe in the power of words.
That’s why I’m using this space today to present a poem:

This is the land where hate should die —
No feuds of faith, no spleen of race,
No darkly brooding fear should try
Beneath our flag to find a place.
Lo! every people here has sent
Its sons to answer freedom’s call;
Their lifeblood is the strong cement
That builds and binds the nation’s wall.
This is the land where hate should die —
Though dear to me my faith and shrine,
I serve my country well when I
Respect beliefs that are not mine.
He little loves his land who’d cast
Upon his neighbor’s word a doubt,
Or cite the wrongs of ages past
For present rights to bar him out.
This is the land where hate should die —
This is the land where strife should cease,
Where foul, suspicious fear should fly
Before our flag of light and peace.
Then let us purge from poisoned thought
That service to the State we give,
And so be worthy as we ought
Of this great Land in which we live!

Yes, I know it’s old-fashioned poetry. It should be, because it’s almost 100 years old. It was written in 1920 by Denis McCarthy, born in 1870 in Ireland, an immigrant who arrived in America at age 15 and fell in love with his new homeland. He became a teacher, and his poem was widely used in acculturation classes for newcomers from many places, for many years.
I first read this as a high school senior, back in 1950, and never forgot it. For all the years since, I could have recited it from memory. But I never had a reason to — until now. Suddenly, this old poem seems to speak directly to every major problem we’re having in America today: immigration, religious conflicts, racial conflicts, fears of “others,” whomever they may be. And there is also this irony: The poet’s name harks back to another McCarthy, who in his Communist witch hunts silenced many.
Can the pen be mightier than the sword?
I was a child during World War II. Then, we knew patriotism, but we never learned the realities of war. When the State of Israel was born in 1948, the Jewish population of our neighborhood cheered, and our high school responded by adding Hebrew to its standard language offerings: Spanish, French and — yes — German. We didn’t see the irony in the latter yet; we knew little or nothing of the Holocaust for years to come. We grew into adulthood in college years that ended for me just as Korea exploded; later, the newspaper I worked for assigned me to compile a column about servicemen; it was killed itself when most of what I had to report each week was the deaths of local young men who had been fighting in Vietnam.
Then, I never understood why we were involved in either of those far-away places. And I still don’t…
But I understand that our country is now confronting problems that have simmered under its surface for many long years, bursting out then with full force only occasionally. Now, those problems are our everyday occurrences. That’s why I’m putting the words of this poem in front of you, and asking you to read it again, and to pass it on to others. Denis McCarthy lived through the era of “No Irish Need Apply” to write his dreams for his country.
Now: “This is the land where hate must die.” That is not political. It is our only hope for America.

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