Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Monday, August 10, 2015

To Gettysburg over the weekend, an experience I am still processing.

I've not been before, and had intended to defer going until I'd done some immersion study of both the Civil War in general, and the battle in particular. Now that I've been I can say that I have more questions than formed opinions, and the big question is foremost: What does Gettysburg mean?

By way of background I should note that the reason we went this weekend is that CLA and A had learned that on July 1st, 2nd, and 3rd (the dates over which the battle was held) there was to be a reenactment. Apparently this is an annual event, and A booked tickets for it. The event was postponed due to weather, and so there we were. Unknown to me, the reenactment was not held at the actual battlefield, but was instead staged at a big field a few miles down the road. This site was where much of the 1993 movie was filmed, but was otherwise of no real historical interest. As I would subsequently learn the actual battle sites would not be suitable for reenactment for reasons entirely apart from good taste. Reenactors are a bunch of weird cats. Playing dress-up and going camping is not my idea of fun, and it's not my idea of serious historical study either. It seems grotesque to pretend to be a participant in an event like the Battle of Gettysburg, and it is horrifying that there are people sitting in bleachers eating soft pretzels and Italian ice who have paid to watch this bit of make-believe. Worse than that, to me, is that the vendors also include people selling books with titles like Lincoln Uber Alies, and kitch like Nathan Bedford Forrest coffee cups. What kind of person buys something like that? We wandered among the tents, watching the kooks in dress-up do things, but once I'd seen the coffee cups I was pretty unnerved. We stayed for a demonstration of cannon and mortar firing, confirming in my mind that these people were, on top of everything else, Second Amendment nuts, and then split to go to the actual Battlefield National Park.

This was a different experience, but still a troubling one. The Venn Diagram of people who went to each seemed to have very little overlap-- the Battlefield group seemed older. There were more grandparents with grandchildren at the National Park, I'd say, and the people at the reenactment were younger generally, with younger children. The various presentations-- the movie, the cyclorama, the museum, the monuments-- all of it-- is evenhanded, perhaps excessively so. The point of commemorating this horror, these three days of individual atrocities committed in the name of perpetuating the greater historical atrocity, the thing that William Faulkner called "America's Original Sin", seems to be twofold. The first is that as an exhibition of military tactics the battlefield is a canvas that may be unparalleled. There it is-- you can see it all. If that were all it is, or all it aspired to be it would be of interest to specialists. What it aspires to be is what Lincoln was driving at a year latter in his speech. Gettysburg wants to be a symbol of reconciliation. Monuments commemorating the men from each state, North and South; generals and officers from both sides; granular detail from the various docents about the experiences of the men in both armies- and the discussions of the reunions that were held until the last survivor was dead, are all intended to celebrate the United States that emerged after the War. Unfortunately, in order to believe in that one has to do a good bit of squinting at the United States that we had then, and still have.

I believe the United States has as its chief value in the world its aspirational qualities, and I believe that those qualities are best expressed in the Constitution and its supporting documents, particularly the Federalist Papers. The Constitution, a living document, is, like all scripture, flawed. The 3/5ths Rule, for starters was the seed for the horrors of the war I've spent the weekend thinking about, but we spent the next century plus-- up to and including now, today-- addressing the problems created by the country's economic dependence on chattel slavery in an incomplete and unsatisfactory manner. It's great that we have the 14th Amendment, but it would be a far better thing if we had more Supreme Court Justices that believed that the 14th Amendment means what it says.

| Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?