As many of you are now learning John Latschar resigned as superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park. You can read the story here. What follows is my first video blog in which I offer some final thoughts about yesterday’s post. It is meant to clarify some of my remarks, specifically in response to Eric Wittenberg’s initial comment. Things did get a bit heated yesterday and I want to extend an apology to Eric for my choice of words in response to his comment. I hope the video helps to explain the emotion behind my response. Eric and I may not agree on much of anything, but the one thing we do agree on is that, if it comes to it, our Phillies are going to kick the crap out of Brooks Simpson’s Yankees.
According to Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, “John Latschar’s contributions to historic preservation cannot be overstated… His work has preserved and rehabilitated Gettysburg’s sacred ground and transformed the experience of visiting the battlefield for millions of annual visitors.” As far as I am concerned no one has worked harder to preserve the Gettysburg battlefield than John Latschar. One need only look at the new view sheds and tour the state-of-the-art visitors center, which includes one of the most sophisticated and entertaining Civil War exhibits in the country to appreciate his achievements.
The news concerning Latschar’s inappropriate use of government computers will no doubt distract from his accomplishments and give fuel to his detractors. I am not a federal employee so I can’t comment on how they’ve chosen to handle this particular violation. Can someone tell me what counts as a “sexually explicit” photograph for the federal government? Does it include a Sports Illustrated swim suit issue? I do agree that Latschar should be focusing on other issues during his working hours, but I honestly could care less what he looks at. This little piece of supposedly salacious news tells me next to nothing about Latschar’s character.
Stratford Hall will be hosting what promises to be an exciting and educational weekend seminar on Robert E. Lee as military commander on January 22-24, 2010. The program will be led by historians, Gary Gallagher and Peter Carmichael. The weekend includes a trip to Gettysburg for a tour of the battlefield. Not only are Gallagher and Carmichael two of the most respected historians in the field, but they are also extremely knowledgeable battlefield guides. I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with both so do not miss this opportunity. Gallagher will present a talk on Friday evening, titled “The Most Important Confederate: General Lee’s Impact on the Battlefield and the Home Front” and both Gallagher and Carmichael will lead a discussion on Sunday morning about primary sources related to Lee and the campaign. Civil War enthusiasts and teachers alike should consider attending this program.
I graciously accepted a very kind offer to take part in the conference as the “official” blogger. Can’t wait!
Wish I could be part of the festivities up in Gettysburg this week. Well, not really. I read in the newspaper that this year’s reenactment promises to be the “biggest and best so far.” That must mean that there will be more people involved, more noise, and more smoke; it promises to be an entertaining show. Maybe for next year, instead of going for the biggest and best, organizers can work on making it more realistic. You want to get me to Gettysburg in early July than give me real suffering. I’m not asking for much, just something that reflects a reenactor’s sincere interest in wanting to better understand the horror of battle. Perhaps a blow to the head with the but of a rifle or a minor flesh wound caused by a bee bee that could be extracted with period medical tools. Now that would point to a sincere commitment to experiencing the past through the other-regarding emotions of empathy and sympathy.
There is precedent for this. Consider the yearly reenactments of Jesus’s crucifixion that take place in the Philippines.
There is something admirable in their willingness to endure such a severe amount of pain in order to fully embrace what they interpret to be the significance of Jesus’s sacrifice. For many it is the only way to fully embrace both the historical event of the crucifixion as well as its spiritual import. By extension one wonders how the experience of the crowd is shaped in comparison with a less realistic reenactment of the crucifixion. Are they able to identify more closely with the nature of the event being portrayed? Of course, I am not suggesting that Civil War reenactors try to bring a bit more of the reality of the battlefield to their performance. What it does bring home for me, however, is how little suffering and sacrifice comes through in reenactments. Though I’ve only been to a few reenactments I’ve never felt anything close to a feeling of sorrow or even admiration for what the soldiers endured during the Civil War. It’s always been entertaining and fun for me, in part because I know the reenactor is not suffering in any way, and because of that I’ve always felt just a little uneasy about attending such events.