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.