Do Civil War Re-enactors Not Order Domino’s Pizza?

I missed having the opportunity to comment on this story last week.  First, let me say that I couldn’t be more pleased that developers will be prevented from building a casino at Gettysburg.  That said, I’ve always thought that the battlefield preservation debate is best understood as a negotiation between legitimate competing interests rather than a moral crusade.  Gregg Segal’s photography project in which he situates re-enactors in various scenes of urban sprawl is perhaps the most extreme example of this tendency to offer a mutually exclusive choice between preservation and commercial development.

Do Civil War re-enactors not shop at Staples, order pizza from Domino’s and do they not live in condominium developments?  The assumption seems to be that we must acknowledge these people as the official guardians not only of these important landscapes, but of the past itself.  It’s as if we are supposed to believe that they alone commune with the past through a deep connection with the landscape.  Consider author David Von Drehle’s over-the-top exercise in melodrama:

The images, which are first of all very inviting with their bold color and dramatic lighting, pack a complex wallop. At first they are funny—proving the theory that humor arises from the unexpected collision of jarring frames of reference. But deeper lies a strong poignancy. These ancestors are all around us, if only we could see them. And what do they think of us, and of what we’ve done with the world they passed along?

These pictures ask us to remember that it happened right here—right where our car slowly drips transmission fluid onto the vast parking lot outside Staples, or where we stand and drink a beer with the neighbors while steaks sizzle on the shiny new gas grill and kids thumb their new Xbox controllers in the basement. And they tell us it could never happen again. We’re too busy shopping.

I don’t mind admitting that I will take a strip mall over the preservation of a large Civil War-era camp site any day of the week.

 

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67 thoughts on “Do Civil War Re-enactors Not Order Domino’s Pizza?

  1. MississippiLawyer

    Perhaps I’m wrong given that tone is very hard to pick out in the written word, but the tone of your article kinda makes you sound a bit jerky Kevin. As far as I could tell, nobody in the video or anything you quoted forces anyone to make an “assumption” that only reenactors can commune with the past or whatever. I really don’t know where you got that idea from because I totally missed it. Is there some melodrama in all of this? Yes. But the tone of your article, insofar as I can tell, almost comes across as an attack by someone with sour grapes.

    As long as I’ve been reading your blog you rarely, if ever, have anything positive to say about reenactors. I was, like you, also a history teacher before going to law school, and while I understand that many reenactors are just rube who might use their platform to educate children incorrectly, the majority of them are intelligent men who only want to do their best to inform our society about the war. I think they are a very valuable tool when used properly. And juxtaposing them with modern buildings is a clever use.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I actually agree with you that living historians provide a valuable service when done correctly. Based on my experience I tend to think that they are in a minority, but that is beside the point. There is no “sour grapes”; rather, I think the juxtaposition of reenactors in modern scenes is cheap. We are to believe that Domino’s, Staples, etc. is the enemy and that is an unfortunate oversimplification.

      Reply
  2. Jared Frederick

    I found these photos poignant, effective, and even humorous. I’m not sure I disagree with your sentiments, but I envisioned the photographer’s mission as creatively imagining how Civil War soldiers might react had they stepped onto their former battlefields as we know them today. I think it gets the message across from a preservation standpoint. What price consumer convenience?

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Jared. Why do you believe it should matter at all how Civil War soldiers would react had they stepped onto their former battlefields? I suspect that many of them would go shopping. The images may make the preservation argument, but I think it is a huge leap to assume how Civil War soldiers might respond.

      Reply
  3. S. Thomas Summers

    Kevin,

    In days past, I’ve read of your book and its submission. How all that moving a long.

    I recently fiinished my CW book and sent it along to an interested publisher.

    A fellow teacher (literature),

    Scott

    Reply
  4. James F. Epperson

    True story: When I was on the math faculty at U-Georgia, back in the 1980s, I made a point of befriending Emory Thomas (a real good guy). Anyway, he came back from a trip to Gettysburg with the announcement that he had finally figured out why Pickett’s Charge failed: The attacking column was almost to the Union lines when they espied the Golden Arches, and being starving Confederates, they broke ranks for a Big Mac attack!

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I guess what troubles me about the images and accompanying text is the sharp distinction it implies between the past and present. So much of the preservation debate boils down to an emotional appeal rather than engaging people in a rational discussion of why historic sites are important to preserve. This post is not really about reenactors at all, but about our habit of pointing to commercial development as a great evil.

      Funny, but today in my AP classes we are discussing the role that consumerism played in shaping American identity at the height of the Cold War.

      Reply
      1. Timothy Orr

        Don’t you believe that emotional appeals are inextricably linked with rational discussion in the development of social movements, Civil War-related or otherwise? In my experience, people have to care about something before they will care for it. Perhaps it is cheap to juxtapose re-enactors against a modern landscape, but without a spark of passion, how are people going to get involved in the battlefield preservationist movement?

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          I am certainly not suggesting that they have no place, but unfortunately this debate seems to be dominated by them. More importantly, I think the way they frame the debate is misleading and ignores the complexity of the issue itself.

          Reply
          1. Raffi

            Kevin,

            You say, “This post is not really about reenactors at all, but about our habit of pointing to commercial development as a great evil.” Interesting, because I did not get that impression — it did not say commercial development is always bad, so I’m not sure why you went that far. You are reading more into it than is there and jumping to a conclusion that is not there.

            You also say, “I am certainly not suggesting that they have no place, but unfortunately this debate seems to be dominated by them. More importantly, I think the way they frame the debate is misleading and ignores the complexity of the issue itself.” What debate? I didn’t see a debate, nor did I see a comprehensive presentation about the pros of battlefield preservation. What I saw was a photo exhibit to provoke people into thinking about an issue. I’m not sure why you treat this artistic piece of cultural commentary as your example of a comprehensive argument about battlefield preservation. Once again, you’re making it what it’s not — so the only “debate” is you arguing against what you read into the exhibit.

            Neither of these is “rational” — that which you hold so dear. For one, I’m not sure if you study philosophy, but one of the first things I learned in my “logic” and also “argumentation” classes was that what is “rational” is up to debate (and inherently based on morals) — and I’m not sure I like your oversimplification of the “debate” on rationality to favor your definition of what “rational” is.

            Also on the topic of ignoring complexity, as you say… to quote you again: “So much of the preservation debate boils down to an emotional appeal rather than engaging people in a rational discussion of why historic sites are important to preserve.” Interesting, because I have taken 52 graduate credits of coursework for a Master of Historic Preservation degree, and I don’t remember taking any classes on emotional appeal, the morals of preservation, the ethics of preservation, etc. I did, however, take courses in: law, economics, architecture, cultural resource assessment, historic landscapes, design, interpretation, and more. I also just heard a nationally famous preservationist speak to the College of Environment and Design: he spoke of the economic benefits of historic preservation in cities. Again, not much emotional appeal — though I suppose, you could argue that wanting economic prosperity is emotional too (but this speaks to my point above, about the blur between what is emotional and what is rational). Once again, I am not happy with how you misrepresent a much more complex field/movement based on your selective evidence that you read into so you can easily argue against it. Perhaps you should do more research before you make blanket statements about it.

            Speaking of more research, are you not emotionally invested on the issue of black Confederates? Sure, you like to show evidence to construct a rational argument, but why do you do it? Is it because you enjoy the topic? Is enjoying it not emotional? Moreover, I think you feel you are on some level fighting for justice against those that often hold some dubious racial views that use the black Confederate argument in their favor: why do you care for justice? Is that not emotionally driven? Once again, then, we see the blurring of the “emotional” and the “rational.”

            Reply
            1. Kevin Levin Post author

              Nice to hear from you, Raffi. I may be reading too much into it, but it is my interpretation of the presentation. As to my reference to a “debate” I was offering an observation in the context of the broader public discussion, which is certainly an ongoing debate between various interest groups.

              I am certainly not sufficiently acquainted with the preservation debates that take place behind the walls of our colleges and universities so I will leave it to you to educate me. I was simply referring to the tone and content of the conversation in newspapers, magazines and other popular media outlets. Of course, I agree that my understanding is narrow, but I am much more interested in the popular discussion as opposed to the more academic conversation.

              Finally, I certainly agree that the line between the emotional and rational is not clearly defined and I am emotionally invested in the black Confederate issue. :)

              Reply
              1. Raffi

                Hi Kevin,

                I think what you’re missing is that the debate I refer to is not just behind college and university doors (note: unlike history, in HP, almost every single person who gets a degree in it goes on to work in the community in ways other than universities, so all these ideas are indeed in the community, via local governments and other organizations). It’s on city councils, state boards, state preservation offices (every state has one by federal law), architectural review boards, nonprofits in town and in the state, etc. It’s in mainstreet programs, tax credits, and city planning. It’s in the public, if you pay attention to it. It even makes it in the newspapers — quite often. Anytime you see a downtown revitalization project (note: using historic resources to adaptively re-use them to grow in the future, rather than an issue of either making a museum out of it or utterly destroying it), or if you see a new building designed in the character of the district it is in, you are seeing historic preservation philosophy at work. I can go on further, but you get the idea. It’s all around you — but I feel you selectively chose this strand to represent as “preservation” and then you tore it down while overlooking the complexity of “preservation” that is not only in universities but all around you (and this is particularly troubling when you are accusing who you’re arguing against as oversimplifying).

                Moreover, I feel even within this particular strand/type of preservation, you read too far into it, because the photo exhibit is not saying we should leave all battlefields untouched, but rather that it’s wrong to completely wipe them out (this reminds me of “adaptive re-use” concept in the aforementioned downtown revitalization idea). Where does the video say that they think all battlefields should be untouched? Rather, it is saying these scenes where “no trace” (of what once was) exists is what the problem is (again, think of the mixed use concept I represented above).

                Finally, if you still disagree on the above two points I just made, and you feel that perhaps your interpretation of this photo exhibit is an accurate portrayal of those who support specifically battlefield preservation, I think it is unfair to take the message of this photo exhibit (as you interpret it or as I interpret it) to represent all pro-preservation voices even within the narrow realm of battlefield preservation. Again, because there are plenty of people who don’t want to see a battlefield completely wiped out of existence, and at the same time, do not necessarily demand that the battlefield be an untouched museum.

                Reply
                1. Kevin Levin Post author

                  Thanks for the follow up, Raffi. You said:

                  “Moreover, I feel even within this particular strand/type of preservation, you read too far into it, because the photo exhibit is not saying we should leave all battlefields untouched, but rather that it’s wrong to completely wipe them out (this reminds me of “adaptive re-use” concept in the aforementioned downtown revitalization idea). Where does the video say that they think all battlefields should be untouched? Rather, it is saying these scenes where “no trace” (of what once was) exists is what the problem is (again, think of the mixed use concept I represented above).”

                  First, you are applying your own interpretation to this presentation, which is exactly what I did. We simply disagree on its implicit message. Second, you are imparting to me an interpretation that I never explicitly stated in the post.

                  Finally, I think you are reading way too much into this short post. My observations were meant to apply as a reflection on those things that I’ve commented on at CWM. Nothing that I’ve stated here is meant to apply to the preservation movement as a whole. I am simply commenting on examples that I’ve seen as they relate to Civil War battlefields.

                  Reply
                  1. Raffi

                    Kevin, when you quote me, you are assuming that I am assuming they meant adaptive re-use. What I meant to say was that it’s possibilities that you overlook when you look into the video more than is there. I think what I’m doing is taking it at its word: that wiping out these battlefields is not the right decision. My point of showing other possibilities was that you ran with the point of the exhibit to mean much more. I think I am taking it at its word, you are going further with it.

                    Yes, I took from your comments, not the post, but I think your comments reflect a clarification about the post, thus I think it’s fair to take from your comments.

                    If you don’t mean to apply your conclusions about the preservation movement as a whole, then why in so many places do you imprecisely refer to “preservation” etc. in broad terms? I think you could me more careful, that’s all. Even you admitted earlier that you overlooked the debate behind university doors as you put it, but note how I pointed out it’s all around you in ways that perhaps you didn’t notice — including in C’ville and Boston :-)

                    Reply
                    1. Kevin Levin Post author

                      Raffi,

                      I think we simply disagree on how to interpret this specific photographic exhibit. You said: “I think I am taking it at its word, you are going further with it.” Isn’t this just another way of saying that you claim to have the correct interpretation? I honestly don’t want to get into a philosophical debate about the nature of aesthetic judgment.

                      I probably should not have referred to “preservation” given that you assume I am speaking broadly and not narrowly. My previous comments should have already helped to correct this and I probably should have chosen my words more carefully. Keep in mind, Raffi, that I sometimes write these posts on the fly.

  5. Jacob Dinkelaker

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with this post Kevin. Battlefield preservation shouldn’t be characterized as a moral debate – rather, it needs to be a debate on why this place matters to us today. We have to ask ourselves why it matters to us as Americans today, instead of coping out and arguing the standard party line of “Remember the soldiers…honor them…it’s what they would have wanted…they’re turning in the graves right now seeing us destroy battlefield land for a Wal-Mart.” That whole argument is bunk – like you mentioned, how do we truthfully know the feelings and thoughts of men and women who lived 150 years?

    Reply
    1. Raffi

      Jake,

      You say: “Battlefield preservation shouldn’t be characterized as a moral debate – rather, it needs to be a debate on why this place matters to us today.” So isn’t that a moral assessment on your part? On what basis do you assert that your terms are what the terms of the debate need to be? It’s based on what you VALUE (key word) most.

      Moreover, in addition to your approach being inherently moral, any conclusions you draw by answering “why it matters to us as Americans today” are also going to have some moral support. See my post above on the difficulty in separating moral and rational.

      Finally, “how do we truthfully know the feelings and thoughts of men and women who lived 150 years?” Well, if that’s the case, then how do you have any historical conclusions? Or, to touch on your favorite issue (and to borrow your paradigm: how do we truthfully know the feelings and thoughts of men and women ON SLAVERY who lived 150 years?

      Reply
      1. Jacob Dinkelaker

        Raffi,
        I should probably clarify my comments more clearly – in the morning rush I was a bit brief. What I was trying to state was the idea that battlefield preservation is such a good vs. evil debate. Either you’re with us or you’re against us. What I’m trying to get at is there isn’t one particular meaning or value for everyone at every historic site, and we need to recognize that fact. Broad emotional appeals to what we think our ancestors would have done is not the way to cultivate understanding, relevance, and meaning in historic sites – The preservation debate needs to be about us today, and what it means to us now, recognizing that while some may make a personal connection to their ancestors, not all will, and that that value doesn’t supersede others’ values.
        As to the thoughts of men and women 150 years ago – I was referring to their thoughts on preservation ‘today’ – we have no idea, yet this is often the point that many preservationists start their appeal from. how many times have we heard something similar to: “Think of your great-grandpa, what would he be doing now? Rolling over in his grave!” We can conclude what their thoughts were on issues of their time, but not on issues of our time.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          We could survey the veterans on both sides who were involved in the establishment of the first national battlefields, though that doesn’t tell us where they might stand on issues facing the preservation community today.

          Reply
  6. Matt McKeon

    While you make an interesting point in terms of historical memory, actually zoning and preservation disputes are battles, not discussions. It’s politics and money. Strong images are some of the weapons used to carve out a few postage stamp sized pieces of land for preservation. Kudos to the creativity of the team who created this campaign.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I completely agree with you that it is a matter of politics and financial resources. Is there any evidence that these emotional pleas translate into action?

      Reply
  7. Matt McKeon

    I don’t know about this particular campaign. But ever since Oliver Wendell Holmes penned “The Harpies of the land pluck the Eagle from the sea” about the proposed scrapping of the USS Constitution, its safe to say emotional pleas have had their place. What percentage did the emotional pleas against the proposed casino at Gettysburg effect that outcome? I’m not sure how to quantify it, but it played a role.

    In politics, emotional pleas are bread and butter. Without emotional appeals, how can it be morning in America again? How can we listen to the better angels of our nature? In the midst of a terrible depression, how can we have nothing to fear, but fear itself? The effect of emotional pleas? Have you no decency, Mr. Levin, at long last, have you no decency?

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      “Have you no decency, Mr. Levin, at long last, have you no decency?” No decency, indeed. :)

      As I stated before, I am certainly not suggesting that emotional appeals have no place. I just find these appeals in the context of this debate to be poorly constructed.

      Reply
  8. Brian W. Schoeneman

    Kevin, I think the evidence is how often the developers lose. Emotion matters in politics – it trumps reasoned debate almost every time.

    That’s why emotions are so often used – because they’re so often effective. Leaving the emotion out takes an effective tool out of our political toolbox. I don’t see any reason to do that. If seeing reenactors staging photos in parking lots will help ensure the battlefields remain protected, I’m fine with that.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I am not suggesting that emotion has no place in this debate. Clearly, there are many people who are emotionally engaged in this issue. I am as well as a teacher who values these sites for their educational value. Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  9. Craig

    I think we should in all fairness compare the battlefield preservation organizations with the environmental preservation organizations. On the whole, even the most radical of the former stand as “reasonable” compared to some of the more moderate of the later. That has much to do with the political neutrality which is the rule for most battlefield preservation orgs.

    As of today, I’ve not seen any battlefield preservationists chaining themselves to trees, sabotaging bulldozers, or forming human walls in front of dump trucks. When it gets to that point, I would agree things are “over the top.” But for now, there is nothing in that spot you linked here that is “over the top” or out of bounds. Heck, rather tame compared to politicians making fanciful screeds about the starving elderly, don’t you think?

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Point taken, but I don’t see any reason to take the environmental movement as any kind of standard. I was simply sharing a few thoughts about how I responded to this particular pitch.

      Reply
      1. Craig

        Because it is the closest “apples to apples” comparison we might draw. And it does demonstrate that your claim of “over the top” is more exaggeration than actual.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          Craig,

          I don’t understand why you want to make such a big deal out of this. You can choose to compare my comment with whatever you choose. I still stand by it.

          Reply
          1. Craig

            I’m not making a big deal over it, only answering the questions you posed in the post. As with many of our discussions, I’m only pointing out the gaps in your logic. If you take umbrage over that, then I’m sorry.

            Reply
            1. Kevin Levin Post author

              You suggested a comparison that may or may not be relevant to this discussion depending on how you choose to interpret it. Nice try, Craig.

              Reply
                1. Kevin Levin Post author

                  No thanks. That’s a game that I choose not to play today. Your comparison begins with an overly simplistic picture of the environmental movement that isn’t worth much consideration. I commented on one presentation in light of what I’ve seen elsewhere in popular media concerning the preservation debate.

                  Reply
                  1. Craig

                    And your post begins with an overly simplistic view of what Segal was attempting. You present in isolation a single presentation and hold that up as representing the whole of a movement. From which you conclude “I’ve always thought that the battlefield preservation debate is best understood as a negotiation between legitimate competing interests rather than a moral crusade.”

                    I would ask you to consider the charters, mission statements, and public policies put forward by battlefield preservation organizations around the country. If you can, then provide any evidence for this “moral crusade” that you see.

                    Again, prove the comparison I make is invalid. Otherwise, I’ll just conclude you concede the point, and make the next logical conclusion – that your premise is based on nothing but thin air.

                    Reply
                    1. Kevin Levin Post author

                      Your comparison fails on any number of levels and it is downright silly.

                      The passage you quote – though I admit it could have been more clearly articulated – alludes to the point that you are making. My problem with Segal’s presentation is that it presents the debate in terms of moral absolutes: preservation v. commercial development. I don’t believe that it is helpful at all; in fact, I think it makes it more difficult to engage intelligently on this important issue.

                    2. Craig

                      “My problem with Segal’s presentation is that it presents the debate in terms of moral absolutes: preservation v. commercial development.”

                      And that is your interpretation. Personally, I don’t see any moral absolutes presented here. I see a lot of symbolism and concern expressed. Perhaps the better way to interpret the spot is “exploiting known moral sensitivities as a vector to promote a cause.” That being the case, again, the comparison I make is very valid. But that is not to say the preservation movement is a “moral crusade.”

                      Again, if my comparison is so silly, you shouldn’t have a problem proving it invalid.

                    3. Kevin Levin Post author

                      And you just presented your preferred interpretation.

                      When you provide a comparison with some meat to it I will take it seriously.

                    4. Craig

                      I assume you are again poking at me. I honestly don’t see why you are making such a big deal over this comparison. Anyone who has watched the “crying Indian” commercial or the present day “stop the drilling” spots would instantly agree the same constructs are used in the Segal effort. In fact, I’d bet that if interviewed Segal would actually cite some of those commercials as inspiration for his approach. All I’m looking for is some reason to call Segal’s an example of a “moral crusade” as you put it. Where is it?

                    5. Kevin Levin Post author

                      I am poking at you?

                      I tried to explain what I meant. Once again, I was simply trying to point out the tendency to paint a black and white picture between preservation and commercial development, which I do not believe is helpful.

                    6. Craig

                      Were is this “black and white” message you speak of? Is anyone in the spot saying “all development is bad”? Again, all I’m looking for is some evidence to support the premise you make (which as you admit yourself was probably poorly worded.)

                    7. Kevin Levin Post author

                      We clearly disagree on how to interpret this presentation. Why are you trying to turn a matter of opinion/interpretation into a question of fact? I’ve already said that the continued juxtaposition of the reenactors and various commercial developments strikes me as extreme. Again, it seems we disagree on how to interpret this.

                    8. Craig Swain

                      “I’ve already said that the continued juxtaposition of the reenactors and various commercial developments strikes me as extreme.”

                      Yes, and to which I asked for you to put the “over the top” presentation which you bemoan here in context with other, more extreme presentations made by similar movements on other issues. To which you responded “that is silly.” I don’t see this as so much a disagreement over interpretation. Rather I’m asking you why you interpret this the way you do. What do you see that many of us (looking at the comments here) don’t?

                      Maybe this isn’t a class room, but in those I was exposed to in my education, we discussed this sort of stuff with the aim of expanding the body of knowledge.

                    9. Kevin Levin Post author

                      You said: “Maybe this isn’t a class room, but in those I was exposed to in my education, we discussed this sort of stuff with the aim of expanding the body of knowledge.”

                      What body of knowledge are you referring to? I have attempted to flesh out my reaction to the extent that you have. The juxtaposition of the reenactor and commercial development suggests to me that the choices are mutually exclusive. Add the text from the article and you have little more than the standard emotional plea for preservation. I am simply not impressed.

                    10. Craig Swain

                      OK, so there is indeed room for a comparison of public presentations from both of these preservation centric organizations. So the next question is if the use of emotionalism (or as you put moral absolutes, which BTW I cannot find at all in the video) is extreme when used by either organization/group/movement. You are certainly correct that is a matter of opinion. But by the same token, I’d have to ask if we are holding the battlefield preservationists to a higher standard here, perhaps because of inherit expectations or proximity to the issues?

                      In other words, are there some marketing tactics which we should deem “off limits” for Civil War battlefield preservation issues, but are fair game for other issues (such as environmental groups)?

                    11. Kevin Levin Post author

                      I never denied that there was room for comparison. What I had trouble with was your sketch of the movement. I am not holding the battlefield preservationists to a higher standard. You seem to be stuck on that assumption.

                      You said: “In other words, are there some marketing tactics which we should deem “off limits” for Civil War battlefield preservation issues, but are fair game for other issues (such as environmental groups)?”

                      I have never suggested that anything is “off limits” for battlefield preservationists. Once again, I simply shared my reaction to the presentation. It suggested that the terms of the debate be drawn along a sharp line between preservation and commercial development. As you and Raffi rightly pointed out, the conversation is much more complex and involves numerous interest groups with legitimate interests.

                    12. Craig Swain

                      Um… didn’t you say this: “Your comparison fails on any number of levels and it is downright silly.” Pardon me for interpreting that to mean you denied there was room for a comparison.

                      With regard to “I have never suggested that anything is “off limits” for battlefield preservationists,” you did state the Segal approach was extreme. Again, words are important here. If you call something extreme, then there must by definition be a range of “acceptable” alternatives. Thus you are indeed suggesting something is “off limits” here. My point with the comparison made above is that what you have deemed “off limits” is considered “fair game” by the general population in regard to other issue-based organizations.

                      So the question stands, what are acceptable approaches for battlefield preservationists to use, and why must they differ from those used by other issue-based organizations?

                      “As you and Raffi rightly pointed out, the conversation is much more complex and involves numerous interest groups with legitimate interests.”

                      And this is why I’m posing questions to gain some insight from you with regard to these complex issues. I call that expanding the body of knowledge.

                    13. Kevin Levin Post author

                      I did say it is extreme, but that is not to say that it is off limits. It’s extreme to the extent that it limits the terms of the debate, which I don’t find helpful. In that sense, the video link you provide is also extreme in my view. Again, if I had to re-write the post I probably would have chosen my words more carefully, but I still stand by what I wrote.

                      I would point you to the Civil War Trust’s website as the best overall argument for preservation. That’s not to say that I agree with everything included, but the overall thrust of the site makes a strong case for preservation.

                    14. Craig Swain

                      OK, so we’ve stripped back the notion that Segal’s presentation is some moral crusade. And we’ve demonstrated that his approach is acceptable in other venues, and although perhaps extreme, not off limits for a Civil War preservation appeal. All we are left with in considering your post is your end statement, “I don’t mind admitting that I will take a strip mall over the preservation of a large Civil War-era camp site any day of the week.”

                      Yes, I would agree you probably should chose some different words if you re-write the post. In particular, remove the axe you’ve been grinding.

                    15. Kevin Levin Post author

                      Congratulations! You’ve stripped it down to the point I was making all along. Nothing has changed.

                    16. Craig Swain

                      Sad, that I would have to point out the linkage between our collective memory of the Civil War and the way we approach the geographic sites related to the Civil War… On a blog named Civil War Memory!

                    17. Craig Swain

                      I spent the last hours trying…. trying.. to carry on a proper conversation with you. I didn’t insult you or belittle you. If you feel the need to laugh at the dialog or take it to some confrontational level, then so be it. I won’t. I’d rather try to converse with one person with whom I find a disagreement, in the hopes of gaining some insight into the subject; than to carry on a conversation within an echo chamber of 100 people who are in complete agreement.

                    18. Kevin Levin Post author

                      You said: “I spent the last hours trying…. trying.. to carry on a proper conversation with you”

                      From your last comment: “Sad, that I would have to point out the linkage between our collective memory of the Civil War and the way we approach the geographic sites related to the Civil War… On a blog named Civil War Memory!”

                      I guess this is your idea of a “proper conversation”. I answered your questions. You are the one who is hung up with issues that I did not raise in the post. It was a short post written on the fly about a specific presentation. As I stated before, I stand by my overall observation. It’s your problem if that what I’ve said is insufficient, but let’s not resort to silly accusations that I am insulting or belittling you.

                    19. Craig Swain

                      Well you are the one who has (once again) chosen to turn dialog into personal insults. It is not my problem that your post was poorly written or ambiguous. And it is not my problem that you seem to walk around quite a bit while “standing by” what you originally wrote. I didn’t result to accusing you of acting inappropriately. I only said that I had not resorted to insults against your character. I don’t understand why you must turn comment I make into some overblown argument. You clearly have some personal issue with me. That said, it is your problem, not mine. You have a good rest of the day.

                    20. Kevin Levin Post author

                      Where did I insult you? I don’t know anything about you so how could I have a personal problem with you? It is your choice to play the victim.

  10. K.P. Marshall

    I grew up on James Island, SC 100 yards away from the parapet of Fort Lamar. The invader butted his head up against the fort in June of ’62. The resulting engagement is known to history as the Battle of Secessionville. For a large part of my life the battlefield was unprotected but undeveloped. Plans were made to develop it and a group purchased it. I am glad they did. The site is a peaceful place today and is one of few where it is possible to see the whole field, due to the narrowing of the peninsula of land which Fort Lamar is built across, from just about any location upon it.

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  11. James F. Epperson

    ISTM that historical preservation is a matter of making choices—and choices have to be made, or virtually all of eastern Virginia would be one big mega-park. IMO casinos near Gettysburg and huge shopping outlets near the Wilderness or Second Manassas are Bad Ideas, and obviously so. The more interesting preservation issues arise around Richmond and Petersburg, where some interesting sites still exist and have been preserved and added to the parks.

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    1. Craig

      I think you are correct, James. And I’m glad you bring up preservation efforts away from the “limelight.” The fast majority don’t get coverage above the local newspapers. Often some of the most important landscapes, particularly when you are looking at the battlefield from the aspect of cultural memory, are preserved through simple negotiations at the local level.

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  12. Alex in Germany

    Kevin,

    I’m not a “battlefield preservationist” in any way. Just an amateur Civil War buff who doesn’t enjoy the ridiculous and wasteful “growth” that sprouts up from year to year. Often times the prosperity just migrates from one sector of town to a new area of town.

    Maybe it’s just because I grew up in Litchfield, CT which pretty much shunned fast food and strip malls in favor of doing the best it could to preserve the town’s character. I was a 25 minute drive from Mickey D’s and 30 minutes from a real movie theater. Somehow we survived.

    One thing I have figured out since moving to Europe is that America does a pretty poor job of using the land it has. In Germany we tons of pizza joints, massive highways, condos a German version of Wal-Mart and all of the other niceties that Americans like, but they still have plenty of green space between towns.

    You seriously would take another strip mall over preserving another an historic site? That line of thinking just baffles me. We can have both if we just use the land more efficiently. Otherwise America will become a big gigantic strip mall.

    It’s not just “battlefield preservationists” that have issues with sprawl. Just about anyone who enjoys being outdoors pretty much doesn’t like it. I don’t know about you, but I would like to be able to go hiking or fishing and not be in direct line of sight of a Wal-Mart.

    As for the pictures. You are reading into them way too much. I think for most Americans, the idea of open warfare happening in what is now where they shop, live, eat etc.. isn’t a reminder, but really revelation. A good portion of this country can’t even name or identify who the Vice President is, I can’t imagine how little those people know and understand about the Civil War. For certain, the idea of battlefields in our backyards is a foreign concept. That’s what I took from the pictures.

    I enjoy your blog but, you really ought to check the tone of your blog postings. You come off as a total jerk in a good percentage of them.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Alex. The historic site that I was comparing to a mall was a former camp site for Confederate soldiers. I was simply trying to make the point that not everything can be saved. Certain regions of Virginia would be entirely empty if we had to save every Civil War camp site. I should also point out that I enjoy the outdoors just as much as the next person. We clearly disagree with how to interpret the presentation, which is fine. As for our general lack of knowledge of history I suspect that it is no more a problem than it was 50 years ago or at any previous time.

      Finally, I appreciate the advice regarding my tone from someone who than goes ahead and issues an insult. Real classy, Alex.

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      1. Alex in Germany

        As a sometimes jerk myself, it was not meant to be an insult. It was really an observation. I’ve been lurking on your blog for a while. You have two types of posts here. Thought provoking and informative ones, and snarky little rants. The rants seem out of character. It’s totally your blog but I don’t get the impression that you want to be a snark.

        I also realize that can be hard to do at times. I laughed out loud at the “Lincoln’s Faith” video.

        As for the pictures, the great thing about art is that sometimes people see something different beyond what the artist was depicting. If it were any other way it would be science. I bet that most people who glanced at those photos were probably reminded that people once fought on that ground.

        I think the whole Battlefield Preservation movement is sort of a derivative of the NIMBY, rather it’s NIMBF. They want the development, as long as it is somewhere else. Except that somewhere else is along a trout stream, wetlands or near a golf course. Those groups have interests as well. Meanwhile we have massive portions of our cities that are economic dead zones. Kind of makes you wonder if we can’t grow inward instead of outward.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          Thanks for the clarification, Alex. I am the first person to admit that on occasion I can come off as snarky. It may have something to do with my mood on a particular day or more likely with the emails that I receive on a regular basis that express the most extreme vitriol. To be completely honest with you, I think that I’ve handled myself pretty well all things considered.

          I am perfectly willing to concede that most viewers of that presentation did not concluded anything close to how I perceived it, but that is the beauty of aesthetic judgment. We don’t have to agree. Let me reiterate that I fully support the need to preserve our nation’s historic sites. As a teacher, I rely on them year after year.

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    2. Lyle Smith

      About land use in Germany compared to America. I was an exchange student in Germany for a year and spent a summer there working at a iron foundry (in the business offices). So I have some perspective, I think.

      The big difference between Germany and the U.S. in land use is that the U.S. has a ton of land and it’s mostly inexpensive to build on it. So there is no need to overly regulate land use when you can just go buy land somewhere else and build on it. The people will come. That’s why most large American cities have large spread out suburbs.

      Some of this might also be a difference in culture as well, in that America is perhaps more defensive about property rights than Germany. If you own it, you can do what you want with it is the default cultural position, I think. Whose the government to tell you what to do with it? Germany’s culture and history is different whereby a lot of land has been historically owned by the state or the local count, church, or whatever kind of feudal lord.

      America also has much less history to preserve than Germany. There’s just less stuff to try and protect. And lot of what exists isn’t worth protecting. Therefore, the emphasis is on building the new and destroying or moving on from the old.

      That’s my simpleton’s take on it.

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  13. Lyle Smith

    The comment about segregation in the Deep South still being a reality is ludicrous. Yeah, there are predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods, but that would also be the case in Boston, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

    My god, two Deep South states have racial minority governors at the moment. My congressional Representative is a black woman. Her office is 8 blocks down the street from me. My neighbors are Mexican.

    Pay some F’ing attention people.

    Reply

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