12 / CHRONICLESnTHE PACTnbyJ.C. HallnChildren and loversnAct so safe in sleep.nHow can they trust us so?nWhat is the pact we keep?nAstonishing that a light’snShaft or an elbow’s knocknScarcely disturbs them. They lapsenBack to themselves. The shocknOf such insouciancenIs not theirs but ours—nThat nature should chance all nightnHer brief gifts, like flowers.nWhen in the doorway’s streaknOur shadow falls on themnThey murmur it’s you perhapsnAnd stretch an armnBut do not swim up to meetnOur watchful eyes.nThe sleeping are careless ofnLife’s frailties.nNightlong the city prowls,nThe victim receives the knife,nThe unfaithful cars cruise home,nThe river lets down its griefnBut these who do not knownHow lightiy they draw breathnOr might wake up alonenCorroborate those they’re with.nHow can they trust us so?nWhat is the pact we keep?nLovers and childrennAct so safe in sleep.nbanner of “cultural conservatism” by which is meant a newncivil religion of secularized holidays and the celebration ofnPresident Lincoln and Dr. King. A fairly large number ofnAmericans who might have reservations about a politicalnleader with certain dubious political connections and anpersonal life that many regard as scandalous, will all benconsigned to the very inmost circle of hell where Satannfeeds upon parricides and traitors. (I wouldn’t be in SenatornHelms’s shoes for anything.) We probably had to have somensort of formal recognition that black Americans had foughtntheir way into the political mainstream, but a BlacknAmericans Day or—better—a Roy Wilkins Day wouldnhave served the purpose.nIf cultural conservatism were a gambit likely to succeed,nnnmost of us would swallow our pride and say, “Go ahead.”nMost Southerners are willing to accept the canonization ofnLincoln, and they, along with the rest of Middle America,nmight, in time, learn to accept Dr. King. But for Lincoln,nthe warming-up process took about three generations (andnthere are still, I understand, a few holdouts in Texas).nCandidates for sainthood usually struggle {post mortem) fornat least two generations and have to face the investigation ofna hard-nosed devil’s advocate. In 1964 we were all sure ofnJohn Kennedy’s status as “King and Martyr.” We even apednthe Soviet practice of renaming places, but now we are backnto Cape Canaveral, and the golden legend of the Kennedysnis a coinage as debased and despised as the Susan B.nAnthony dollar. In a free country, the government onlynrecognizes heroes; it does not create them. The insistencenon pushing Dr. King, while a majority of Americans retainnsome memory of his, let us say, controversial career, isnbound to backfire.nMany Americans, especially in the urban North, have ancounterstory to tell about the 1960’s, of power-crazednjudges who seized control of school systems, of riots thatnburned down half of downtown Detroit, of a whole generationnsacrificed to the vanity of preachers and politiciansnengaged in yet another crusade for moral uplift.nWhich version of events will prevail is hard to predict.nTen years ago, journalists and historians were certain thatnRichard Nixon was the Antichrist of American history.nNow, they are not so sure. The proverbial horse led to waterncannot always be made to drink.nOther nations have suffered far worse conflicts and, if leftnalone, managed to heal their wounds. The emperor Augustusnis said to have praised Cicero (whose death sentence henhad approved) to a young relative caught with an incriminatingnbook. For some men, the end of hostilities is enoughnto reconcile them to an enemy. The Puritan AndrewnMarvell composed the most moving lines ever written onnthe martyrdom of Charles I, and Charles Francis Adamsnspoke a eulogy at the funeral of Robert E. Lee. For mostnRomans, however, I suspect it took a national epic, thenAeneid to renew their sense of national purpose. On a lowernlevel, Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln hagiography and Gone Withnthe Wind performed the same function for us.nAmerican filmmakers are up to something similar withnall the Vietnam films that run the gamut from Rambo U tonPlatoon. The civil rights movement and the rest of “the 60’snthing” has yet to be translated successfully into an importantnfilm, much less an enduring novel, much less an epicnpoem. If someone from the current generation of novelistsnwere to get off his comfortable professorial chair and take anserious look at the great civil struggle of 20 years ago, henmight single-handedly restore the fortunes of the novel,nalthough such an effort may take another 40 or 50 years.nScott’s Waverly has the suggestive subtitie Sixty Years Sincenand Margaret Mitchell completed her vulgar epic about 70nyears after the end of the Civil War.nTime heals all things. The ground upon which battiesnhave raged is gradually cleansed as the rain leaches outndefoliants and petroleum, as metal shells rust into the soil,nand the bleached bones and rotted flesh yield a rich blacknhumus. There is no good way to hasten the process.n—Thomas Flemingn