Why Teach the Civil War

One of the museums that I visited last week was the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland. I didn’t have many expectations going in, but overall I enjoyed my visit and I learned a great deal. What stood out more than anything else was a number of explicit references to recent violence. Executive Director, George Wunderlich, addressed our group by drawing direct connections between developments in medicine and care of the wounded with the recent terrorist attack here in Boston. Even more surprising were the references made by our museum guide to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan throughout the exhibit.

It was the first time that any such reference was made during our ten-day trip from Nashville to D.C.

During our final debriefing of the trip I asked the teachers to think about how we teach our civil war. Here was a war that affected an entire nation and in ways that few could have anticipated in 1861. We talked extensively throughout the trip about the life of the Civil War soldier, the home front, the horrors of battle, the political aspects of war, and they ways in which individuals and the nation worked to properly commemorate the war. Again, it was a war that few could ignore and yet over the past ten years our students and much of the country have been able to comfortably ignore two wars. Continue reading “Why Teach the Civil War”

About a Guy Who Wears a Confederate Flag Mask…


…and just happens to work for a United States Senator.

I guess I could comment on this story about some kook (Jack Hunter) who called himself the “Southern Avenger” and is currently working as the social media director for Senator Rand Paul, but that would be highly opportunist…right? Oh, and that Confederate flag mask is just completely over the top. Check out this lovely editorial with the title, “John Wilkes Booth Was Right” from 2004:

This Wednesday, April 14th, is the 139th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Although Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth’s heart was in the right place, the Southern Avenger does regret that Lincoln’s murder automatically turned him into a martyr.

If you are a patriotic American who believes in the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and George Washington – then you cannot at the same time honor Abraham Lincoln. That’s like praising Jesus and worshipping Satan simultaneously. In fact, the Founding Fathers most likely would have snatched Lincoln up by his beard and hung him from the nearest tree.

And this is some of the more moderate things he has said over the past few years. It’s just way too easy, so I am not going to say anything at all.

Our American Hero


Over the weekend this country lost another American hero from World War II and my family lost a dear friend.  Joseph Weiner was 17 years old when he landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.  From there he fought his way across Europe and in the process was awarded two Purple Hearts and five Bronze Stars.

I first met Joe when I was still in high school.  What I remember more than anything else was his friendly personality and especially his sense of humor.  Joe always had a smile on his face and his jokes were the life of the party.  I will never forget him asking me to think about the theme of a local shopping center that somehow managed to include a BJ’s, Siemens, and Dicks.

Like most kids growing up along the Jersey shore, I spent most of my free time during the summer months on the beach.  Growing up in a beach community you eventually learn where to look for certain people and Joe was no exception.  I could always count on Joe sitting in the same spot with his wife Esther, his step-daughter Janeen and often with my parents as well.  My favorite days, however, were when Joe was alone and we had a chance to talk.  During my high school years it was the war in Europe that held my interest and imagination.  I knew that Joe served in the war and that he took part in the Normandy invasion.  I wanted nothing more than to talk with Joe about his experiences, but early on I understood that this was not going to happen.  He offered little more than a short list of battles he had taken part in and I did my best to respect his privacy.  Even after Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan was released Joe showed no interest in revisiting his past.

The one exception took place on the beach years later after Michaela and I had met.   It was just the three of us. Perhaps it had something to do with Michaela being German.   Joe talked for what seemed like and hour about a weekend furlough in Paris in late summer ’44.  It certainly wasn’t the kind of war story that I had anticipated as Joe described spending the weekend above a bakery with two young French girls.  At one point a woman seated close by, who was previously occupied by a magazine, desperately strained herself to pick up every last detail from Joe’s story.  It was that good. In that moment Joe was 17 years old again.

Later my wife thanked Joe for his service, not simply for helping to liberate her country, but for making it possible for the two of us to meet.  I’ve been thinking a lot about that comment over the past two days.  Regardless of how Joe remembered his experiences in WWII, I hope the thought brought him some comfort.

Thank you, Joe.  We are going to miss you.

Secession Fun

Like many of you I am getting a real kick out of reading the secession petitions that are currently flooding the White Houses’s “We the People” website.  In fact, it’s actually downright cute.  Think about it.  Americans from every region of the country requesting that the federal government allow their state to secede.  The fire-eaters from the Deep South are rolling in their graves.

It does give you a sense of how disconnected our understanding of secession has become from the events that took place in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860.  As a historical concept rooted in the Civil War era it is almost meaningless.  My favorite petition is from the good folks of the state of Washington, who decided to quote the preamble of the Declaration of Independence as justification.  You just can’t beat quoting a document rooted in revolution (as opposed to secession) that specifically points out that, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”  What exactly happened last week?

Ultimately, the image of thousands of Americans logging onto the official website of their government and requesting the right to secede is a sign of this nation’s strength.  I say, sign away.  In fact, I may spend some time this morning signing a few of my favorites.  I may start one for Massachusetts.  Why should we miss out on all the fun.

Finally, a little advice for the most committed secessionists out there.  I seem to remember a reference made by that Republic candidate for president.  What was it?… ah yes, it was a reference to self-deportation.  In other words, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. :-)