The following passage comes from a statement read out loud on this day many years ago, I’ve removed some sections (replaced by ellipses) to mask the time and place for effect, for the moment:
…. With heads bloody but unbowed, they have yielded to the superior force and numbers of the enemy.
The world will long remember the epic struggle …. They have stood up uncomplaining under the constant and grueling fire of the enemy for … months. Besieged on land and blockaded by sea, cut off from all sources of help …, the intrepid fighters have done all that human endurance could bear.
For what sustained them through all these months of incessant battle was a force that was more than merely physical. It was the force of an unconquerable faith–something in the heart and soul that physical hardship and adversity could not destroy! It was the thought of native land and all that it holds most dear, the thought of freedom and dignity and pride in these most priceless of all our human prerogatives.
The adversary, in the pride of his power and triumph, will credit our troops with nothing less than the courage and fortitude that his own troops have shown in battle. Our men have fought a brave and bitterly contested struggle. All the world will testify to the most superhuman endurance with which they stood up until the last in the face of overwhelming odds. But the decision had to come. Men fighting under the banner (emphasis mine) of unshakable faith are made of something more than flesh, but they are not made of impervious steel. The flesh must yield at last, endurance melts away, and the end of the battle must come. … [Our army] has fallen, but the spirit that made it stand…cannot fall!
Could that have been stated on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox? Does it seem very far removed?
Now, allow me to add in the text removed from the leading ellipses:
Bataan has fallen. The Philippine-American troops on this war-ravaged and bloodstained peninsula have laid down their arms.
Yes, the year was 1942 and the place was Bataan in the Philippines.
The two great “surrenders” of American forces occurred on the same day separated by 77 years. I’m often amazed at how often history seems to pivot around certain calendar dates. No, I’m not one of those numerology types who looks for some hidden code to the universe. Just proves to me coincidences are natural. And it is easy to draw some “tactical” comparisons between the respective armies. But from the higher level, looking at the broader perspective of history, the two armies could not be more different. One might argue that Appomattox was a symbolic end, while Bataan was a symbolic beginning.
The other point I find interesting is the dialogue. That first quote might well fit into any number of memorial texts written after the war to describe the Confederate cause at the very end. Particularly the bit about the banner. I guess what strikes me most, reading the passage, is how words are merely vessels for ideas. The ideas are the context by which we must interpret the words.