U.S. President Abraham Lincoln delivered The Gettysburg Address during the American Civil War, on November 19, 1863. This is accepted as one of the greatest speeches ever. The text of the speech has only 246 words in ten sentences. It is both a prose poem and a prayer. Scholars have written volumes on the speech.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Discussing this text with the teachers of Shree Bharathi Vidyalaya, the following similarities with Bhagavad Geetha struck me:
- The scenes are from battle field. Krishna stops the divine chariot between two armies – and that is the place of discourse in Bhagavad Geetha . “We are met on a great battle-field,” says Abraham Lincoln in his speech at Gettysburg.
- Both the texts emphasise on dedication, devotion to duties, and positive actions.
- Bhagavad Geetha does not talk ill of the enemy. Krishna addresses Arjuna too with very respectful words throughout. Lincoln could have blamed the confederacy for the civil war and its ill effects. Lincoln does not use a single negative word in the speech, leave alone blaming the opponent. He accepts the facts and resolves the next actions. No blames, no slander. There is not even a mention of the enemy – there is no enemy, but some unfortunate events.
- There is talk of rebirth in Geetha and about new birth of freedom for the nation itself in Lincoln’s speech.