This weekend I spent some time at Gettysburg National Park taking the time to tour the battlefields and listen to park historians lay out the day by day events of what should have been the lead up to the 4th of July. While I'm pretty sure backyard BBQs and fireworks were a rarity back then I know for a fact nobody wants to celebrate it in a war zone.
We are now 154 years removed from those four days in July and when you watch the news today, you see protests over civil war statues and what they mean. In places like Charlottesville neo nazis and Antifa protesters battled it out using billy clubs and fists. Neither giving ground to the others ideology. When it was over no dead littered the streets, nor were there any critically wounded crying out for help. Instead, civil war statues in cities all across the country were either torn down by angry mobs or quietly removed by city workers in the dead of night.
Both the left and right parties sent en mass talking heads to all of the 24 hour news stations to defend their position and attack those who did not agree with them. In the end the only thing everyone except the neo nazis agreed to was racism is bad and neither party wants to be affiliated with them or acknowledge their support. But neither side could agree on what to do with our history and how it should be represented in public. Nor could either side agree on who was allowed to have pride in one's heritage and what the appropriate celebration thereof should be.
And while many people have weighed in on this subject I would like to put some perspective that washed over me this weekend.
Between July 1st and July 4th, 1863 two armies stared across the fields of Gettysburg at each other and probably pondered the morass and black abyss of what was about to take place. The Generals who commanded tens of thousands' of boy soldiers who by this time were seasoned veterans of many battles. But what lay before them would go down, as the bloodiest day during the civil war. At the end of the 4th day close to 9000 boys and young men would lay dead, thousands more would lie limbless, gut shot, arms and legs broken by a stray bullet and worse yet left to their own fate because help was not on the way. Not to mention the wounded and killed animals like horses and mules shared the same fate as their human counterparts.
The bodies of the dead ripe and rotting under the hot summer sky. The acrid smell of cordite, commingling with the loosened bowels of the dead and dying not to mention the metallic smell of blood that covered the ground. All of this overlay the sounds of war. The screams from the injured drowned out by the barrage of cannon and gun fire.
What they must have thought and felt everytime they were ordered back into the breach. At what point did the numbness of it all settle in. The courage it must have taken to continue fighting over a mile long grassy field that held no particular advantage for either side. What was the mental toll of the command staff that continued to send mere boys to their fate?
I don't think many, if anyone can comprehend the chaos of it all. The sights and sounds enveloping all of them into an inferno of destruction. Nobody has taken the time to contemplate what the survivors lived with after it was all over. The waking nightmares and living with the gargoyles who lived in their nocturnal hours.
And what do we talk about today? Offensive statues of a bygone era that should serve as a reminder to us all what happens when we cease to talk through our differences. Nor do we take into account the extreme illiteracy, the uneducated and socioeconomic backgrounds of the people, or the word of mouth news propagating the false narratives of the times. Not to mention what was the accepted practices of the day. What we do have is an unending supply of self righteous judgement and the benefit of hindsight, historical education and the modern day views of morality. But in 154 years will we be given high marks for our actions and beliefs?
Flags, statues and speech are three things that cannot break bones, loosen your bowels or leave you bloody and dying on a green field in western Penneslvalynia. I think we have lost sight of what is important and quite possibly we have allowed others to co-opt and obfuscate the conversation.
There is always a solution to what divides.
Rarely if ever does that include a pathway to violence. If we remove what is offensive to some then that means the alternate viewpoint is entitled to remove what is offending to them. Pretty soon so much is removed, we are left with nothing. Who is the arbiter of what or who is removed? Where does the line end and who decides what is a bridge too far?
Just because you are offended does not make you right nor does it make you just in your actions. Every discourse has an alternate viewpoint. In this country you are entitled to your views and the announcement of your beliefs.
Continuing down this road and there will be another Gettysburg. Except the blood that is spilled may very well be your own or worse the blood of child soldiers.