In Defense of Civil War 150th Anniversary Commemorative Events -

From December 20, 2010, for the next four years, ceremonies and commemorative events all over the United States will mark the Civil War 150th anniversary, paying homage to the 620,000 men who died during the conflict that kept the country whole and abolished slavery. Events thus far have ranged from a controversial Gala to several stimulating speaker series to preparations for major reenactments and tours of important battle locations that will use the Civil War sesquicentennial to highlight the War’s importance.

Beginning nearly a decade ago, arguments about the appropriateness of large-scale commemorative events have raged, especially across the South. Opinion writers from the North proclaim that we must not sugar-coat Civil War history or deny the Southern secession was clearly motivated by a desire to preserve slavery; some representatives of African Americans argue that celebrating the bloodiest war in the country’s history would be patently offensive. Yet if conducted in good taste, as the majority of nationally covered events thus far seem to have been, educational and respectful commemoration of those who fought and died couldn’t be any more appropriate.

First off, no state governments or city councils are using the word “celebrate.” As the Lowcountry Civil War Trust, which is organizing the sesquicentennial events around Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina explains, the sesquicentennial should “be commemorated with respect and honor as we seek knowledge, understanding and unity in observing this unique period of our past.  The Civil War Sesquicentennial is not a celebration but a commemoration to honor the 620,000 American soldiers, sailors, and mariners who lost their lives during the conflict.”

Large swaths of the country immediately lose touch with Civil War history after fighting through their high school history class. But this is a country still deeply affected by race relations and the regional tensions that contributed to the war. The events and outcome of the Civil War bear directly on the United States’ activities in World War I and thus a number of circumstances that define our current national and global situation. If the choices are to expunge real Civil War history or to learn and honor fallen soldiers during the Civil War’s 150th anniversary, then let the commemorations continue.

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