28 March 2011

Civil War Sesquicentennial Editorial - Another View

The good folks at North South Trader's Civil War recently made available, online, an editorial from their next to last edition which addresses certain concerns and aspects surrounding the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Publisher and historian, Stephen W. Sylvia, makes some salient points and comments. It is certainly a different view from what we're hearing from many younger historians now involved who were not around during the centennial and don't have the benefit of the wisdom that comes with seeing how things have changed - some for the worse, some for the better - over the last 50 years. Mr. Sylvia was around and speaks from experience. His comments are sure to spark some discussion here . . .

On January 1, 2011, the Civil War Sesquicentennial will begin in earnest.  If the politically correct crowd has its way, it will be a far cry from the Civil War Centennial celebration of 50 years ago.  Alas, many of those who have managed to assume positions of control of various state commissions are motivated by politics rather than history.  It is ironic that 150 years after the greatest division in our nation’s history, its very anniversary is experiencing divisiveness.  Now, rather than North against South, it is the politically correct crowd versus anyone with a knowledge and love of Civil War history.  

The piece notes the following about Virginia:

Virginia witnessed the greatest proportion of military activity of any other state.  As expected, Virginia is leading the nation in plans for the Sesquicentennial.  Unlike the proud commonwealth of 1861, however, Virtus, stripped of her spear and her pride, will soon be lying prostrate next to Tyrannus.  
 And . . .

Delegate Bill Howell, speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates and Sesquicentennial Commission Chairman, says this time they want to take a different approach than that taken during the Centennial.  “This is a commemoration.  It’s not a celebration,” he said.  “I think 50 years ago there was primarily reenactments of battles and what we’re trying to do is make it an education opportunity in Virginia.”  Perhaps Delegate Howell misremembers the Centennial.  I was a youngster during that era, and the Centennial was most definitely not a just a slew of reenactments, despite what a few revisionist historians may have led Howell to believe.
And more . . .

It was precisely the celebratory atmosphere of reenactments, parades, Blue & Gray balls, and the like that drew the media’s attention.  As a result of that initial attention, the public’s curiosity was piqued and the Centennial snowballed from there.  Had the Centennial been presented as a dry educational history experience, the nation’s collective eyes likely would have glazed over and the Centennial would have fizzled very quickly. Yet despite the historical proof of the huge impact powered by the Centennial, Speaker Howell announces that it was “primarily reenactments” and the Sesquicentennial is going to be different because it will focus on “education.”  Odd.  The one I relished 50 years ago was an educational and cultural explosion.

 And the bottom line:

Instead of criticizing that momentous celebration, members of the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission would do well to study it and try their best to duplicate it.  I hope Mr. Howell will yet recognize that the final act necessary to cement the union of the states is indeed something to celebrate, not simply commemorate.

I've responded before
to criticisms surrounding the "celebratory" aspect of remembering our collective history. I'd also recommend this piece and how the celebratory aspect inspires and encourages boys to study history. And, one of my favorite TV series illustrates, in a humorous way, why "celebratory" history should be an integral part of the teaching process - despite what the PC crowd and enemies of American Exceptionalism say.

I don't want to put words into Mr. Sylvia's mouth but what I take away from his piece is that he believes that the study of, and interest in, the WBTS is for more than just academics and professional historians and their rather dry conferences where attendees often battle to stay awake as the presenters offer their perspective of the conflict - void of passion, celebration, or much of anything interesting.

You can read the rest of North South's piece here. I'd recommend not only it, but becoming a subscriber as well. It's an excellent publication.


Susan Hathaway said...

Excellent commentary, but I take criticism of the commission a step further...
I think I speak for many Virginians when I say that we are very disappointed in the Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission and its blatant exclusion of any recognition of the 32,000+ Virginians who answered the State’s call to take up arms in her defense and never returned home, or the thousands more who survived the war and returned to help rebuild the ruins of the State.

While no one denies that slavery was one of the main issues that led to the conflict and deserves a place in any discussion of the War Between the States, this commission has taken its original focus of inclusion, which we applaud, and twisted it so far as to make slavery/emancipation its main focus, in effect excluding any rememberance of the men and women who so valiantly defended Virginia.

The commission’s Facebook page is closed to comments, based on the fact that there were many Virginians who questioned the content as being void of any mention of the rich history of our State and the War, other than that which relates to slavery/emancipation.

Throughout the years the State has made many promises to honor the memory of its Veterans, many of which have been broken. That in itself should be enough to cause an outcry, but this commission, which is funded by the tax dollars from the descendants of these brave heroes, has stepped the offense up from disregarding promises to actually attacking their memory.

Even if one has no interest in honoring these valiant men, the economic fallout of the decisions made should be questioned. Virginia is rich in its history, with battlefields, museums, cemeteries and other places of interest, which, if promoted properly, could draw in tourists and revenue. Instead, in the name of political correctness, these treasures are left ignored at a time when additional revenue is desperately needed.

General Patrick Cleburne, CSA said this, in the midst of the War…
“Surrender means that the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern school teachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the War; will be impressed by all the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, and our maimed veterans as fit subjects for derision”. How prophetic…and how sad that we would see it propigated not by Northern school teachers or school books, but by those who are being paid by the Commonwealth of Virginia to promote the Sesquicentennial, with our tax dollars.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"The commission’s Facebook page is closed to comments"

They would be better off not to have the page than to shut down commentary.

Yes, there are some (not all), involved in the official Sesquicentennial who tend to see the WBTS as the "crazy RICH uncle in the basement." They want the benefits he brings, but are embarrassed of him at the same time.

As is so often the case with these issues, we've gone from one extreme to the other. It is a knee-jerk reaction and I believe Sylvia (who was at the DIV event this past weekend) hits the nail on the head w/his commentary which is, of course, why I posted it.

Also, I've also noted in several previous posts, were it not for the despised "heritage types", the various CW magazines and other for profit entities (which help to keep the memory of the CW alive), would fold over night.