THIS AIN’T YOUR FATHER’S NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
To those of us who are older, the National Park Service with its Civil War Battlefields, conjures up images of the Civil War Centennial, of living histories on hallowed ground, and of venerable old Ed Bearrs doing one of his dramatic (or melodramatic) narrations of Pickett’s Charge .
Sadly, however, times have changed, and if you are anything at all of a "civil war" devotee, you’d have to have been living in a monastery not to have heard of the Park Service’s moves to “revise” its civil war battlefield presentations. As one news release put it, the Park Service "will explore new historical currents in linking the battlefield experience to such issues as the historical, social, economic, legal, cultural, and political forces and events that led to the Civil War" and “….will focus on the institution of slavery.".
If this period of history is at all important to you, you would have to be living on another planet not to have heard of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s 1999 political move which mandated that the Park Service incorporate the mention of "the unique role that slavery played in the cause of the conflict" into its civil war battlefield park presentations.
Recently, the museum of the Confederacy announced its intention to lend 2 of its battle flags to the new visitor’s center, scheduled to open in Gettysburg in 2006. A leading figure in the SCV followed up with an article in the "Confederate Veteran" which seemed to be supportive of this move. According to the MOC, both flags are in dire need of restoration, a very expensive process costing of thousands of dollars. Display of those flags in a National Park Visitor’s center that draws 1.8 million people per year would be one way to solicit donations, according to the MOC’s director. It would also, he said, be a good way to “get our foot in the door” to “tell our story”.
What I hope to demonstrate in this article is that the Park Service is not the Park Service of old, they are not to be bargained with, and they are clearly, our enemy! Ed Bearrs still does his melodramatic renditions, and not every ranger or guide exhibits hostility to all things Confederate. But, the National Park Service, as a governmental agency, IS avowedly hostile, and plans to present the story of the War Between the States as a simple conflict between good and evil. (i.e., North = good and South = evil). Collaborating with them, assisting them, hoping that if we are “nice” they will be fair to “our side of the story”, is at best, a dream, and at worst, we are assisting in our own demise.
Many blame the whole thing on Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., (D) Illinois. As one who’s been following the Park Service changes for 4 years and who has delved extensively into the subject, I can tell you that this would be a mistake. Jackson is indeed a race-huckster and an opportunist, and his 1999 legislation did make these changes law, but if you’ve ever read his ramblings, you’ll see he’s not bright enough to power up a 25 watt light bulb, much less engineer the radical changes that are coming down the pike. By his own admission, Jackson did not begin touring civil war battlefields until 1997. The changes that some of you are seeing in such places as Gettysburg, Corinth, Shiloh, Petersburg and elsewhere, have been in the works for 2 decades and perhaps longer. What you’re seeing in the National Park’s Civil War Battlefields didn’t start yesterday and it has been in the works since before Jesse Jackson Jr. ever knew what the "civil war" was!
In 2004, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Paul Hoffman said the following to the House Subcommittee on the National Parks. Note the dates 1989 and 1990 as proof that Park Service changes in its Civil War battlefield presentations have been in the works for a long time:
"As the country approaches the 150th anniversary of the war, we are mindful that it is a different country than it was fifty years ago. The sesquicentennial of the war will be commemorated within a different political and social environment from that of the centennial. The meaning of the Civil War can be explored more fully. Its causes and consequences, subjects Congress directed the National Park Service to address beginning in 1989 and 1990, can and must be a major part of the sesquicentennial."
1993 – The movie "Gettysburg" sparks national interest and the number of visitors annually to that town skyrockets from 400,000/year to 1.8 million! In terms of numbers of visitors, Gettysburg, because of both the movie and its central location to both north and south, becomes the premier battlefield park in the NPS.
1994- John Latschar becomes Park Superintendent at Gettysburg Battlefield Park. Shortly thereafter, in a 1995 speech commemorating the 100th anniversary of the park, Latschar said the following; "We have bent over backwards to avoid any notion of fixing blame for the war." "We are extremely reluctant to tackle that issue, partially due to our sense of fairness—which only extends to our white constituency—and partially, I would suggest, due to the still lingering affects of the ‘myth of the Lost Cause." By neglecting the causes of the war, he said, the park had “failed to make itself relevant to all Americans." (If you’re wondering why he sounded so steamed, his boss had just received 1100 postcards from southern heritage defenders demanding he be fired!)
1997 – Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. begins his tours of Civil War battlefields. In 1999, he attaches “language” to the parks appropriations bill mandating that the issue of slavery be included in the presentations at all Civil War Battlefield Parks.
1998 – Nina Silber (feminist), Eric Foner (Reconstruction was wonderful), and Mr. "Battle Cry of Freedom” himself, James McPherson, visit Gettysburg at the request of John Latschar to assess the park’s presentations and to offer suggestions. The resulting 28 page report states that there is too much about battles, not enough about causes, not enough about slavery, not enough about African Americans and not enough about the role of women.
May 2000 – "Rally on the High Ground Symposium" is held. Later that year, it becomes an “online book” which can still be found on the National Park Service website for your reading displeasure. We in the southern heritage movement are sometimes loath to spend time reading books that are uncomplimentary to our point of view. The "Rally on the High Ground Book" is something that will surely make your blood boil, but it is something that should have been read by everyone in any southern organization, as it contains the blueprint for our not-so-bright future. (See list of suggested readings at the end of this article).
August 2000 – In reflecting on the 1998 visit by McPherson, Foner and Silber, Supt. John Latschar commented on the importance of "historical credibility" in an Organization of American Historians article. Think hard about what he is saying when you read his words! Referring to that 1998 visit, he said,
“The follow-up report that they prepared was worth its weight in gold. The support these scholars put behind our efforts sincerely impressed both the media and the Congress. Suddenly, we had credibility, and could hold our ground against the jeers of critics”. (In case you haven’t guessed, WE are the “critics” Latschar is referring to!)
The importance of this “historical credibility” is something that southern heritage movement people tend to overlook. To a gullible public, the sanctioning of the park service’s battlefield presentations by accredited historians, gives respectability to those presentations. Think about it. You know little or nothing about the civil war. You go to a battlefield park where you get the “north/good, south/bad” story. You hear complaints from southern heritage folks and you wonder who’s right? But then, author/historians with the title “Ph.D” after their names, whose names you recognize from the bookshelves at Borders and Barnes and Noble are right there telling you that the park service is right and that the southern heritage people are guilty of sour grapes or worse. Who are you going to believe? You’ll probably go with the “experts”. We have yet to realize that this is not going to be a battle over hilltops, ridges and towns, but a battle for PUBLIC OPINION!
As you can see, there’s a lot more to this than Jesse Jackson Jr. It has been going on for a long time and amazingly, few on our side have been paying much attention. “Rally on the High Ground” has been sitting on the National Park Service website for 5 years. It is the blueprint for our destruction, yet, I wonder how many of us have read it?
WHAT CHANGES DOES THE PARK SERVICE PLAN TO MAKE IN ITS PRESENTATIONS?
1. There is no “Lost Cause”! In fact, it’s a “myth”! The south didn’t lose because it was overwhelmed by superior numbers but because its people did not have their heart in the fight. (yes, you heard right)
2. Slavery was the cause of the war, pure and simple. No arguments to the contrary will be tolerated.
2. Presentations of slavery itself in parks or museums owned by parks will at best, be reflective of the Ken Burns school of thought, and at worst, the institution will be likened to the Holocaust. All slave holders were brutal, as was the society which practiced this institution.
3. The “New Birth of Freedom” concept which promoted the federal government as the guardian of liberty, will be promoted ad nauseum. I wonder how the Founding Fathers would respond to that this concept? Taking it a step further, Reconstruction will now be portrayed as wonderful little story of social progress and a great experiment in “interracial democracy”, eventually snuffed out by the bad guys.
4. The “compromise” engineered in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by the veterans of the blue and the gray, whereby each recognized each other as Americans and rejoiced in a united America, was “too costly”. According to many modern day historians whose political bent swings hard to the left, the compromise needs to be ditched. Old wounds need to be reopened, it seems, because, in the words of one historian, by engaging in this compromise, “America defaulted on its obligations to black people”.
In this article, I plan to let the words of the people who are planning these changes speak for themselves. I want you to read first hand, the words of some of the professionals who are going to help the Park Service re-write history and make your ancestors the proverbial bad guys. Southern heritage defenders have simply not been paying attention to what the park service is doing, and this lack of attention is going to be our undoing! All of Civil War Battlefields combined draw a total of 11 million Americans per year. Most visit knowing little or nothing about the war and its issues. The Park Service’s “education centers” will be the lobotomy mills which will imprint their version of the war on these unknowing minds. If 11 million Americans per year are “lobotomized”, how long will it be before the South’s story is forgotten?
WHAT THE PARK SERVICE AND THEIR HISTORIANS ARE SAYING
The “Lost Cause” is a “Myth” – back in 1991, historian Gary Gallagher and south-hating Wisconsin attorney Alan Nolan, collaborated on a book called “The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History”, which sought to prove that the south was not overwhelmed by superior numbers but instead lost due to the shaky ground on which its cause was based and because its people did not have their heart in the fight. In succeeding years, more and more historians have picked up on this trend.
Dwight Pitcaithley, Chief Historian for the National Park Service, had this to say in 2002: “The theory rested on three propositions: that the war was fought over "states’ rights" and not over slavery; that there was no dishonor in defeat since the Confederacy lost only because it was overwhelmed by the richer north; and that slavery was a benign institution and most slaves were content with their lot and faithful to their masters.”
In 2000, Robert K. Sutton, speaking at the Rally on the High Ground seminar said, “Like a poorly fortified infantry line, the "lost cause" viewpoint had several weak points. Throughout history, a number of weaker opponents won stunning victories. In our own Revolutionary War, the struggling colonies faced enormous odds, lost more battles than they won, and had to contend with the fact that nearly one-third of their own population supported and even fought for the enemy. Yet, the colonies eventually gained their independence.”
I guess Mr. Sutton forgot the little matter of French intervention in the Revolution? There’s also the relative size of the armies that both sides, north and south, fielded, i.e., fewer than a million for the south, as opposed to over 2 million for the north. Like most “Lost Cause” deniers, he ignores the north’s industrial capacity, said to be 10 times that of the south. And did anyone question Sutton about his “forgetfulness” regarding the French? NO!
Nevertheless, Sutton, Pitcaithley and their cronies will tell the visiting public that there was no “Lost Cause” and that it was a myth constructed after the war, by southerners, to make themselves look good. And they’ll be doing it with OUR TAX DOLLARS? Are you angry yet? Are you at least scared?
Slavery Was the Cause of the War – I received a B.A in History (1972) back in a time when having different interpretations of the same historical event was considered a healthy thing. Indeed, the arguments over differing interpretations of the same event defined the “study of history”. But when someone tells me that they have discovered the cause of the most shattering event in America’s history, and that the truth of this discovery is not to be challenged, then I begin to wonder where we are headed as a country and as a society! Government-promoted, immutable truths are more indicative of societies found in China and the Old Soviet Union than in a country like America.
James Oliver Horton, speaking at the 2000 “Rally on the High Ground” conference, when asked if he and the others weren’t creating “revisionist history” replied, "In some ways, the move away from the notion of slavery as the central cause of the Civil War was itself a kind of irresponsible revisionist history".
Translation – if you argue with Horton and his cronies, you are irresponsible and should be ashamed!
Want more from Mr. Horton? In a question and answer period following his speech in “Rally on the High Ground”, someone asked him the following question;
“Question: “While southern secession was unquestionably about preserving slavery, was the war? Since the burden of prosecuting the war was to restore the Union as the United States Government’s and Lincoln’s stated aim, rather than to abolish slavery, it seems clear that while the political crises that led to the war was slavery, the actual shooting and killing was about something very different, federal supremacy. In truly understanding the war isn’t it necessary to separate the two?”
A very good question! Now let’s look at Horton’s answer;
Answer: “Let me tell you a story. There were some drug dealers and they had the drugs in a house. Before the police came, they were focused on the drugs. When the police came, they lost focus on the drugs and started shooting at the police. Am I telling a story about anti-police action or am I telling you a story about the protection of drugs? The fact is that the political situation that led to the war would not have occurred in that way if there had been no institution of slavery.”
No, you’re not misreading the answer or his analogy and I sure as hell am not making this up! He’s likening the Confederacy to a crack-house! Now, to those of you who are older and who perhaps majored in history on some academic level in the distant past, how would your professors have responded if you drew such an analogy? Mine would have given me an “F” and suggested I find another major! Today, individuals who do this kind of thing ARE the professors!
Slavery was very very bad – it was just like the Holocaust: Hmmm, do I detect the stench of “Reparations” in all this? Don’t laugh, because in his speech at the “Rally on the High Ground” symposium, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. mentions “reparations” twice!
In “Rally on the High Ground”, historian Ira Berlin describes slavery in America in the following terms -“The history of slavery in the United States is a hideous history of obscene violence, of mutilations, beatings, rapes, and murders, of the forcible separation of husbands and wives, and parents and children, of husbands forced to see wives abused, and of wives forced to do unspeakable things. It is the story of power over liberty; it is the story of a people victimized and a people brutalized.”
Mr. Berlin, it seems, has constructed an entire world, (the Old South), that is composed entirely of people who delight in abusing others. In my 55 years of life, I have noted that in this world there are some very good people, there are some very bad people, and there are a whole lot of people at different points on the spectrum in between. In reading the unabridged edition of the “Slave Narratives”, I have noted that this observation was as true 140 years ago as it is today. Reading Berlin’s description of slavery, I have to wonder if Mr. Berlin and I live in the same world?! Is he talking about the same human race that I’ve dealt with for the past 55 years? Or, (pardon my cynicism), is he simply trying to construct a melodramatic historical presentation that will appeal to race-hucksters and victimologists? I guess you’ll have to think it over and decide for yourself. But PLEASE, do THINK IT OVER!
James Linenthal, at the same 2000 symposium said, "How dare we ever criticize other countries–Japan, Austria, Germany–for their evasions of memory if we do not engage that which sits at the heart of American memory? If not at the sites of memory of the Civil War, where? If not the National Park Service, who? If not now, when? "
And then there’s Mr “Battle Cry of Freedom” himself, James McPherson, who in a 2002 US News and World Today article, stated, “Some southerners will tell you that to put it in that context will reflect poorly on their ancestors. I would respond that like the Germans and the Japanese after World War II, they need to face up to the historical reality, if only to come to terms with the problems of their own society."
This is the comparison that you’re seeing more of these days. The confederates were just like the Germans and the Japanese. You wonder where it comes from? It comes from people like Linenthal and McPherson, and from the silence which often greets such statements.
It gets worse though. The Park Service and its cadre of historians just don’t talk about the past. In fact, most of the historians who lend their credentials and support to the Park Service maintain that many of today’s racial problems stem from the “Civil War”, focusing of course, on the south’s alleged predilection toward racism. And they are just dying to prove their theories to the visiting public at the Civil War Battlefields!
Speaking in reference to the Confederate Battle Flag and its meaning, Historian David Blight remarked, “I wish in this country we could fold it, and put it in museums”.
Historian Ira Berlin had this to say about the concept of Confederate Heritage Month, “ Recently, Governor James Gilmore III of Virginia, a self-described history buff, tried to escape the implications of naming May as Confederate History Month by declaring that "the slavery issue began in Jamestown in 1619 and ended in Appomattox in 1865." Needless to say, Governor Gilmore was wrong on both accounts.”
No more confederate battle flag except in museums of course, and no more Confederate History Month, courtesy of leftist historians who lend support and credentials to official interpretations of history in our battlefield parks. And it’s all done with your tax dollars and mine!
Need more evidence that these people aren’t just talking about the past? Let’s listen to David Blight, who said, "In the wake of the Civil War, there were no "Truth and Reconciliation" commissions through which to process memories of either slavery for blacks or the experience of total war for southern whites."
For those of you who haven’t read much foreign news in the last 10 years, “Truth and Reconciliation Commissions” were an oddity found in post-apartheid South Africa, a nation which, by the way, stopped publishing its crime statistics back in 2002, probably due to the fact that the numbers were so embarrassing. The purpose of the Commissions officially, was to “promote racial healing”. In reality, anyone with more than a 2 digit IQ can see that their purpose was to promote white guilt and arouse black anger, hardly, I think, a recipe for what some people refer to “racial reconciliation”. >From the tone of his statements, it would appear that Mr. Blight views these commissions in a positive light. Well, I for one don’t! And the day the U.S. government promotes drivel like “Truth and Reconciliation” commissions, I’ll be pushing for another firing on Fort Sumter.
Can the debate over the Park Service’s revised interpretations be described using modern day terms such as “liberal” or “conservative”? I’ll let Supt. John Latschar’s words speak for themselves. In introducing Eric Foner at the “Rally on the High Ground” Symposium, Latschar says; "What is freedom? How do Americans view this ideal? And, how did the Civil War shape the concept of and American’s view of freedom? The word freedom has been used so frequently and in so many contexts it has become a cliche. Today, anti-government militia groups passionately claim ownership of the concept of freedom. Conversely, American liberals view empowerment of all people through civil rights and economic opportunity as the proper definition of freedom.” I guess you have to be a liberal in order to have a mortal lock on the true meaning of freedom?
And don’t forget Reconstruction!
I grew up in the Northeast, and to be frank, our history books glorified Lincoln and praised him for preserving the Union. However, those books did not denigrate the South. Simply put, the war was a crucible of blood in which, for better or worse, modern day America was forged. In dealing with Reconstruction, however, all the books agreed on one thing, namely, that it was rife with CORRUPTION!
To read the history books today, you’d never know it. The word “Corruption” seems to have mysteriously vanished! Neither would you know it by listening to the Historians who are using their credentials to give credibility to the Park Service. According to Eric Foner, "And of course, black men did eventually get the right to vote during Reconstruction and participated in a remarkable experiment in interracial democracy after the Civil War. Then, after a generation, in the 1890s, one after another, the southern states took the right to vote away from African Americans. And long after they had been stripped of the franchise, blacks would recall the act of voting as an essential element of emancipation, and regard the loss of suffrage as being a step backward toward slavery. "
And according to Bruce Babbit, the Secretary of the Interior when the “Rally on the High Ground” symposium was held, “….They (African Americans after the War) went to the polls in extraordinary numbers, elected black officials to county governments, to state legislatures, to state offices, to the House of Representatives, and to the United States Senate. Many of these figures are mostly forgotten, but, in their time, they were eloquent, productive leaders who in many states laid foundations for the first time for public education in their states. They were the leaders in anti-discrimination legislation, public housing accommodations, and social services. And, I thought to myself, this brief moment in history, unfortunately, came to a halt within one generation, when African Americans again were turned away from the polls and denied the right to vote.”
Of course, no one seems willing to ask the following questions:
Early in 1865, most of the Freedmen, (who constituted the majority of African Americans in the South), were still slaves. They were, for the most part, illiterate, and inexperienced in anything but farm work. So how is it that in two years, so many of them are sitting in county government seats, in state legislatures, state offices, the House of Representatives, etc? My, oh my, what a leap of progress!? Were they incredibly gifted, or, perhaps, were they placed in those positions because the Republican Congress disenfranchised white southerners and there was no one left to vote except carpetbaggers, scalawags, and ex-slaves who were guided by the Union League?
Moreover, once free, it became the Freedman’s responsibility to, as ex-Confederate General Wade Hampton put it, “support yourselves and your family”. That would be a herculean and time-consuming task for anyone who had never done it before. So another question would have to be, where the hell did the Freedman find all this free time to get so involved in politics?
I think these are fair questions when one talks of Reconstruction, but I don’t think you’re going to find anyone bringing it up in a National Park Service Presentation.
As I have shown, these changes have been in the works for many years. They didn’t start last year and they didn’t even start with Jesse Jackson Jr. What’s surprising to me is not that the park service and their supporting corps of left wing historians are attempting this takeover of American history, (using public tax dollars of course). That’s the type of thing liberals usually do. What is surprising to me is the long-standing near-inactivity of southern heritage groups in opposing this takeover!
Speaking in Richmond in 2003, Chief Park Historian Dwight Pitcaithley noted the lack of resistance from among southern heritage groups, not just at Richmond, or Gettysburg, or Petersburg, but at ALL Civil War Battlefield Parks – “No outrage, no protests, no controversy." Pitcaithley, it seems, was expecting a fight. He didn’t get it and now it sounds to me like he’s declaring victory!
In view of what I have outlined, should the Museum of the Confederacy be giving 2 genuine battle flags to the Park Service in Gettysburg? To the soldiers of the Southern States, their flag symbolized all that they were and all that they fought for. I am sure that we all know that. Yet, the Museum of the Confederacy, with the apparent blessing of some in the SCV, sees fit to lend these flags to an organization which, in the words of Pat Cleburne, will make the memory of our veterans and the cause for which they fought, “objects fit for derision”.
And assorted camps within the SCV still continue to welcome Park Service people as “guest speakers”, greeting them cordially, instead of calling them in and holding their feet to the fire?!
Am I missing something here? Did no one take the time to read “Rally on the High Ground”? Didn’t anyone at least read the newspapers? Does no one see the disaster that is coming down the pike? Isn’t anyone paying attention? Doesn’t anyone in the southern heritage movement realize that the 150th anniversary of the Civil War is merely 6 years away, and that our cause and our history are going to be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness? Somebody pinch me! Wake me up already because I feel like I’m in the middle of a bad dream! This isn’t happening!? Or is it?
Unfortunately, Southern Heritage defenders seem to be afflicted with a number of handicaps:
*We often don’t take the time to read in depth what our opponents are saying, especially if it means devoting time to reading a lengthy article or book. Yes, “Rally on the High Ground” is noxious. Why devote time to reading a piece of drivel written by a bunch of arrogant know-it-alls? Because it’s funded with federal money, it’s backed by law, and it’s a blueprint for our destruction! That blueprint has been sitting on the Park Service Website for 5 years and I doubt that more than a handful of us have read it.
*We spend more time fighting among ourselves than with our enemies. Such arguments within and between southern heritage groups are all too common. Maybe it’s time we remember where the enemy is and who he is?
*We don’t understand that this is a 21st century conflict, not a 19th century conflict. This war is not one being fought for territory, but for public opinion. We need accredited historians of our own to counterbalance what the Park Service historians are saying and to at least give the general visiting public something to think about. Even though university history departments these days are infested with Gramsci Marxists, I know that there still are historians out there who have not sold themselves and their discipline down the river! So where are they? And who will marshal them?
*This is not a matter for a friendly Civil War Round Table discussion. The Park Service and its supporting cast of historians are not looking to discuss history with us and then go out for dinner and a drink afterward. This is a war, and they are looking to run us right out of the history books!
As a Southern sympathizer in these matters, I suppose I should want to see my own views about the conflict and its causes advanced in the Civil War Battlefield Parks. Speaking as an American however, I would have to say that to expect such a thing would be both grandiose and selfish. Writing over 40 years ago, author Robert Penn Warren declared that the “Civil War is America’s felt history. That is not to say that all Americans feel it in exactly the same way.” It is important that the battlefields be left to spark the interest which will lead visitors to learn more and to develop their own views, or as Warren put it, their own “feelings” in this matter, regardless of what those “feelings” might be.
I submit that by making its interpretation the “official one”, that the Park Service is denying all Americans that right. I also submit that we have done little if anything to oppose them. The questions remain then, what are we going to do about it? And when are we going to start?
“Rally on the High Ground”, May 2000 Symposium, National Park Service Website
Deputy Secretary of the Interior Paul Hoffman to the House Subcommittee on the National Parks, 2004
OAH and the National Park Service, John Latschar
U.S. News and World Today: “the Better Angels”, September 2002
The U.S. National Park Service is making Civil War monuments safe for political correctness.
“Political Correctness at Little Round Top”, Pat Buchanan, January 6, 2003
“Political History” by Gail Jarvis, January 8, 2003
“Re-thinking the National Parks”, The Brave New World of the National Park Service, Civil War News, Feb/Mar 2002 Edition, Jerry Russell
"Bill Vallante is an associate member of the Jeb Stuart Camp 1506, a reenactor in the 9th Va. Inf., Co. C, and is living "behind enemy lines" in Commack NY. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.