Almost all who visit Gettysburg, best preserved of all the Civil War battlefields, find it a deeply moving experience. This is truly hallowed ground. Here, tens of thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers fought the decisive battle of America's bloodiest war.
From the first clash of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia, to Lee's attempt turn the Union flank at Little Round Top on the second day, to Pickett's Charge against the Union center on Seminary Ridge on the third, to Lee's bleeding retreat back over the Potomac as a frustrated Abraham Lincoln wondered why his newest commander, George Meade, had not finished Lee's army with its back to the swollen river -- it is an incredible story, told wonderfully well by the guides at Gettysburg Battlefield.
Now the story of the heroes in Blue and Grey is to be replaced with propaganda. The 1.8 million annual visitors to Gettysburg are to be indoctrinated in the politically correct history of the war.
"Gettysburg to Tell Story of Slavery During War," was the headline The Washington Times put on its story about how the National Park Service "has embarked on an effort to change its interpretive materials at major Civil War battlefields to get rid of a Southern bias and emphasize the horrors of slavery." A $95 million visitors center and museum is going up to recast the battle in a new light.
"For the past 100 years," says Gettysburg Park Superintendent John Latschar, "we've been presenting this battlefield as the high watermark of the Confederacy and focusing on the personal valor of the soldiers who fought here. ... We want to get away from the traditional descriptions of who shot whom, where and into discussions of why they were shooting one another."
Why the change? Unhappy that so many visitors to Gettysburg are white males, and so few are African-Americans, Latschar called in three historians to study how the Park Service was presenting the battle. The three wise men decided that the interpretive programs at Gettysburg had a "pervasive Southern sympathy." (How one can hear of 15,000 men and boys walking across a mile of open field into cannon and musket fire, in the name of God, country and Gen. Lee, without being put in awe and admiration, escapes me.)
Latschar then visited the Holocaust Museum and was inspired: "Our current museum (at Gettysburg) is absolutely abysmal. It tells no story. It's a curator's museum with no rhyme or reason."
But one visits the Holocaust Museum to learn about the fate of the Jews under Hitler. One does not go there to learn about Dunkirk or D-Day. And Americans who cherish the battlefields of the Civil War -- Vicksburg, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Antietam, Manassas -- do not go there to be instructed on the evils of the Confederacy. Moreover, to convert every battlefield into an endless seminar on the evils of slavery and the South is a fine way to turn these sites of national unity into cauldrons of national division.
President Bush should stop the politicization of Gettysburg. To let it happen would be an abuse of office. It would be to permit ground made sacred by the blood of soldiers to be exploited by ideologues to reopen old wounds. The old battlefields will become new battlegrounds of the culture war. Does America really need that?
There are places to argue the great issues of 1861. Did the South have a right to secede? Was the cause of the war slavery, or secession, or Lincoln's refusal to let the South go in peace? Or was it tariffs, or a desire of the South to separate from a North with which it has less and less in common? Did Lincoln fight the Civil War to free the slaves? Or only to restore the Union?
The forums in which to debate these questions are books, editorials, classrooms, columns, seminars, TV shows. But for the Park Service to impose its orthodoxy on these questions and pervert battlefields to indoctrinate visitors in the party line is to dishonor these hallowed grounds.
That slavery is wrong no one today disbelieves. But when the South fired on Fort Sumter, there were eight slave states in the Union, only seven in the Confederacy. It was Lincoln's call to arms to invade the South that pushed North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Arkansas out of the Union.
In waging cultural war to abolish the West, Gramsci and his Marxist comrades dictated that all social institutions should be captured to advance the revolution -- from children's classrooms to college seminars. Now, Civil War battlefields are to become indoctrination centers of Political Correctness, unless we stop it.