MY WIFE AND I recently attended the world premier of the opera "Appomattox"--the story of the end of the American Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history. This country's march toward democracy had broken down and, but for Pres. Abraham Lincoln's stubborn refusal to accept a divided union, history would have bequeathed us two Americas, one condoning slavery and the other continuing to undermine the political and social institutions of the South. "Appomattox" was conducted at the beautiful Opera House in San Francisco, built after the famous earthquake of 1906; it opened in 1932, during the Great Depression, and was a commemoration of our recovery from the devastating earthquake and subsequent fire as well as of the power of people to overcome tragedy with triumph.
My first view of the Opera House was in 1945, where the United Nations was assembling at the end of World War II. My parents knew that this event was an important part of world history and that I should know something about it. Although Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt had died less than a month prior, the assembly went forward as planned. I remember sitting in the balcony as a visitor, and knowing that this indeed was a historic moment. I could see the foreign minister of the Soviet Union, Vyacheslav Molotov, looking very stem, and sitting on the stage with many other delegates I could not name. The purpose of this assembly, of course, was to carry out the reconciliation tasks which fell to the victors of the war. The U.S. and USSR then were united as allies and, through their joint strength, had overcome the perfidy of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. Hitler had deceived the world and, of course, the Soviet Union, when he double-crossed Joseph Stalin and invaded CCCP territory without warning.
"Appomattox" is a tale of reconciliation between brothers and states from the North and South, a story of gentlemanly negotiations between Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, commander of all Northern armies, and Gen. Robert E. Lee, the military leader of the Southern forces. It was not coincidental that the portrayal of this story of peace and reconciliation should take place at the Opera House, site of the grand reconciliation ending World War II. This building again would serve as a symbol of peace and reconciliation in 1951 for the Japanese Peace Treaty. Notwithstanding Japan's ferocious defense of its homeland with suicide attacks from the air and elsewhere that nation and the U.S. have become close friends and allies. Each side forgave the other, an essential prerequisite for reconciliation.
Unfortunately for the free world, an Iron Curtain descended across Europe, and Stalin began pursuit of an independent course, refusing to accept Marshall Plan funds from the U.S. to rebuild Soviet cities and infrastructure, although he did pocket millions of dollars worth of lend-lease aid from the U.S. Still, Stalin refused to acknowledge America's preeminence following World War II. He was a dictator who had his own plans to increase his reach throughout Eastern Europe and as much of the Orient as possible. His atomic scientists. with the help of experts from the fallen Germany, brought the USSR into the nuclear age. At this juncture, the Soviet Union was fearful of the U.S. and its plans to dominate the world, while Americans expressed similar reservations concerning the Soviets. These mutual feelings of potential annihilation fueled intense anxieties between the two nations and led to the arms race.
In 1949, Secretary of State Dean Acheson organized NATO as a counterforce in the Cold War launched by Stalin. In June 1950, with the backing of Stalin's forces, North Korea crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea and launched the first hot war between these East and West factions. Pres. Harry Truman immediately convened the new United Nations and, taking advantage of the temporary absence of the Security Council delegate from the USSR, secured UN approval of a resolution condemning the invasion and authorizing the organization of a UN army to be led by the U. …