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Great Divide

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November 2017

Between the Atlantic and Pacific, there’s a whole lotta landscape going on. With its lakes and rivers, marshes and swamps, mountains and valleys, plains and deserts, our country is a geographer’s dream. But one of its most important features is something we don’t see at all. It’s the Continental—or Great—Divide, an imaginary line running from the Bering Strait north of Alaska to the Strait of Magellan at South America’s lower tip. In the U.S., it cuts through the Rockies. Because the earth is not flat, water will flow to one coast or the other. The Divide shows the separation between the water flows.

Not all of our divisions are imaginary. Recently, PBS aired Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s long awaited documentary, The Vietnam War. The two compiled 18 hours of films, photos, interviews, and narration, filled with music from the era, trying to explain just what happened—the how and why of the war. By all accounts, it was a monumental undertaking.

One I could not watch. My wife and I sat in front of the TV on that first night as the events started to unfold before our eyes. After about 20 minutes, we each reached the same decision: turn it off. Quality was not the issue. The film was just too unsettling, and we knew it would only get worse. We grew up during the turbulent 1960s. In 1962, we had sat in our classrooms listening to the radio, wondering whether the Soviets would run a naval blockade of Cuba and nuclear war would start. The crisis passed, but we returned to normalcy only briefly.

By mid-decade, things were happening halfway around the globe in a tiny country we hadn’t really studied in geography. The American involvement in Vietnam had been growing; before long, we were in the thick of a fight. It was a fight unlike others, for we were watching it from our homes. We we’d hear nightly about carpet bombings and enemy body counts. At first, the war appeared to be going well. But with the news of the war, we’d hear protests questioning the war’s morality, protests that grew too loud to ignore. And as we kept watching, we saw the war’s brutality: the bloodied soldiers, the uprooted families and orphaned children, the destruction of lands and villages. And we’d hear the growing body counts of our own men. Despite optimistic words from government, the realization came that all was not going well.

As the war dragged on, the nation’s divide grew wider. No one could get away from the war. Returning soldiers were treating like dirt. Campus protests erupted in violence. A school building was bombed at the University of Wisconsin, killing a researcher. Fours students were killed at Kent State University in Ohio. The streets were filled with protest as people from all walks of life spoke out. The 1968 Democratic Convention turned into a horror show as police battled protesters on national television. The call for “peace with honor” didn’t end the division. The nation had turned against the war, and the government struggled to find a way out. By 1975, we left Vietnam to the unforgettable scene of people scrambling to board helicopters.

For Ken Burns, “the seeds of disunion we experience today, the polarization, the lack of civil discourse all had their seeds in Vietnam.”  That’s debatable. Our nation seems to have reached a consensus that the war was a mistake, its necessity questionable, its objective undefined. Healing has come for many, and we have moved forward. But Burns is right that we are currently divided and badly polarized. It comes from a different source.

What divides us worse than Vietnam ever did is legal abortion. For though the Vietnam War ended decades ago, the fight over legal abortion has been raging for over 40 years with no end in sight. What’s at stake is the meaning of human dignity. Some people believe that every unborn baby is a child of God, inherently worthy of respect and protection from the moment of conception. To others, an unborn child is nothing more than a parasite. Pro-life messages are censored, pro-life organizations are harassed, and pro-life displays are vandalized.

The longer the fight has continued, the greater has been its toll on our country. Put aside the 60 million already dead from abortion itself. Our country is awash in violence in our streets, homes, schools, and workplaces. Through legal abortion we have created a culture that allows violence to achieve an end. Abortion has cheapened life; killing has become acceptable. No one is safe. And legal abortion is the elephant in the closet of every political issue confronting our federal governmental leaders. Many have sold out the unborn to hold power. In a perverse way, their conduct matches abortion itself, for abortion is not about freedom but instead about the power to control another human—even to the point of killing.

Recently, former President Obama stated that public discourse has reverted back to the period of the 19th century. What was happening back then? Legal slavery, that’s what. It was an abuse of the powerless by the powerful. Today, legal abortion is an even worse abuse of power. It violates our most basic sense of right and wrong. It goes against the most fundamental of all human rights: the right to live in harmony with others.

It is the issue on which the Church is most qualified to teach because it can speak with moral authority. But the Church here has grown silent. Instead of authentically witnessing to the evils of abortion and the protection of life, it has left that job to others. Church leadership seems to have found other agendas to pursue. In the meantime, the culture of death has divided us. That’s how evil works—it divides, then conquers.

When will legal abortion end? When the Church finds its voice and its will. When it becomes willing to challenge politicians, educate the culture, and exhort its faithful. When its leaders are willing to stand in protest. Legal abortion will end when the Church reasserts its moral authority, an authority that can heal and unite. It won’t end any sooner.


Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.

© Paul V. Esposito 2017. Culture of Life. Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted. Visit us at and on Facebook.

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