You should definitely take a look at Drew G. Faust’s NEH 2011 Jefferson Lecture, titled, “Telling War Stories: Reflections of a Civil War Historian.” [pdf] It is incredibly thoughtful. [Click here for David Blight's introductory remarks.] I think Faust effectively explains the difficulty of trying to capture the horrors of war as well as the dangers involved in trivializing it. The following passage at the end caught my eye and pretty much sums up why I have little interest in attending the Manassas reenactment this summer:
There is just something about reenacting that I find troubling and yet I know that there are very serious people, who are passionate about it and who see it as a form of education. I don’t want to be entertained by representations of battle, suffering, and loss. On the other hand I don’t have a problem with a reenactment of a slave auction, which also depicts violence and personal loss. This may be an inconsistent attitude on my part, but I just can’t imagine ordering a hot dog or picnicking at a slave reenactment.
What I do completely agree with, however, is Faust’s final comment regarding our current wars. I do believe that battle reenactments help to trivialize war and prevent us from considering the tough questions that any citizenry in a democracy must consider before going to and during war. In the end, I am skeptical that the narrative of a reenactment gets us closer to any meaningful understanding of what it means to go to war as well as the costs.