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.
You heard it here first. According to an NPS press release John Latschar has decided to stay on after learning from the Department of the Interior that his ability to continue to work with the park as the president of the Gettysburg Foundation would be severely curtailed. This conflict of interest was mentioned by a number of people in the blogosphere, but it is encouraging to know that Latschar will be able to stay on indefinitely in his current position at Gettysburg. Latschar had this to say:
I had been looking forward to the challenges of moving to the private sector and working for the Gettysburg Foundation. However, I can’t complain about going back to the best job in the National Park Service as Superintendent of Gettysburg NMP and Eisenhower NHS. We’ll now redouble our efforts to make our wonderful partnership with the Gettysburg Foundation the best that the National Park Service has ever seen.
Latschar is responsible for some of the most significant changes to the Gettysburg landscape, including new view sheds as well as a state-of-the-art visitor center. The future does indeed look bright under Latschar’s stewardship.
Update: Looks like the crazies [check comments] are once again coming out of the wordwork to voice their displeasure. Art Bergeron has left a comment over at Eric Wittenberg’s blog indicating that Latschar may have asked for the ethics review. If true, it should stifle the crazies who have assumed the worst about Latschar’s character throughout this transition.
There is no one I respect more in the NPS than John Hennessy, who is chief historian at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. John offered the following as an assessment of Latschar’s tenure at Gettysburg. You will notice that his observations stand in sharp contrast with the comments found over at Eric Wittenberg’s blog.
Speaking from the narrow (though important) perspective of one who helps manage a battlefield landscape that is also a national park, John Latschar is the most important superintendent any NPS battlefield site has had in our lifetime. Through the park’s GMP and the rigorous implementation that followed it, he was the key figure in:
- Establishing the primacy of wartime resources and landscapes over all else–a point much in debate for a very long time.
- The reclamation of the patterns of forest and field at Gettysburg have made it possible for all other sites to seriously consider and pursue such a course–something, again, that was, in the mid-1990s, only a faint dream.
- Regardless of what you think about the park’s approach to interpreting the battle and Civil War, Gettysburg has helped re-establish the importance of interpretation, and especially the many reasons why these places matter (or ought to) to the nation. What the NPS does in the way of interpretation may not much interest those already immersed in the story (though I think it really does–there are few things as compelling as a powerful interpretive program delivered on-site, no matter how many times you’ve been there), but it is everything to the bulk of a park’s visitors. Otherwise, these places are just fields and forest without significance.
Think back fifteen years. All of these issues were much in debate. Our battlefield landscapes threatened to become little more than museums of commemorative expression, with the resources related to the battle managed and interpreted with the same earnestness that we devote to CCC culverts, 1964 visitor centers, and postwar forests. While many people have had something to do with the reordering of our priorities, Gettysburg under John Latschar’s watch have given those reordered priorities tangible form–much to the benefit to park visitors, both casual and hard-core.
John Latschar has accepted a position as the next president of the Gettysburg Foundation after 14 years with the NPS. During that time he has overseen major changes to the battlefield, including the demolition of the national tower and landscape rehabilitation. His most important project was the planning and completion of a new state-of-the-art visitor center, which includes what I believe to be the finest Civil War exhibit to be found anywhere. It’s no surprise that Latschar would want to move on to new challenges, but it is comforting to know that he will continue to work closely with the NPS to maintain one of this nation’s most cherished sites.
Latschar’s detractors are already unleashing their venom. One fellow blogger has described this appointment as a case of Latschar “feathering his own nest”. The article linked to in this post suggests that Latschar was surprised by the offer and took a few weeks to consider it. This doesn’t sound like a conspiracy to me but, than again, what do I know.
Today the Washington Post ran a column by George Will published ten years ago about the state of the Gettysburg battlefield and plans to build a new visitor center.