In "Intruder in the Dust," William Faulkner wrote: "For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets. ... " Faulkner's sentence continued; you have just read less than half of it. To continue in his style:
Ours would be a better nation if boys and girls of all regions, and particularly the many high school and even college graduates who cannot place the Civil War in the correct half-century, could be moved, as large numbers of Americans used to be, by the names of Gettysburg battlefield sites, such as Devil's Den, the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, Culp's Hill and Little Round Top, instead of being like the visitor here who said it is amazing that so many great battles, such as Antietam and Chickamauga and Shiloh, occurred on Park Service land; and another visitor who doubted that the fighting here really was fierce because there are no bullet marks on the monuments.
Ten years ago, this column asserted that disrespect for the national patrimony of Civil War battlefields should be a hanging offense, and said: "Given that the vast majority of Americans have never heard a shot fired in anger, the imaginative presentation of military history in a new facility here is vital, lest rising generations have no sense of the sacrifices of which they are beneficiaries." Today, at an embarrassing moment of multiplying public futilities, private efforts, in collaboration with the National Park Service, have done something resoundingly right that will help a normally amnesiac nation to long remember.
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