The latest in anti-preservation follies and fallacies

Donnie Johnston of Fredericksburg’s Free Lance-Star has decided to let us all know how sick he is of all this hallowed ground from the Civil War.

Mike Stevens of the Central Virginia Battlefield Trust penned an eloquent and measured response to Johnston’s rant, which you can read at the Emerging Civil War blog.

For my part, I note that Johnston indulges in the anti-preservationist’s favorite logical fallacy: the straw man argument.  Anti-preservationists are seemingly incapable of engaging with actual preservationist arguments.  Instead, they have to reduce things to the most asinine mischaracterizations imaginable:

Everywhere a Union or Confederate soldier set his chamber pot is now declared “hallowed ground.”
You can’t build a store because there may be a Minié ball somewhere in the ground. Housing developments get axed because some farmer once plowed up a rusty bayonet in that field. You can’t construct a road because some soldier once fired a cannon from that spot.
This is all getting absurd.

Yes, that does sound absurd, and the reason it sounds absurd is because it’s a gross caricature of the actual situation.

Why people are so adamant about glorifying war—any war—is beyond me. Ask anybody who ever fought in one and they will tell you that war is indeed hell.
People kill other people in wars. They blow their heads off—literally. They disembowel fathers and sons and brothers with cannons and mortars.
Soldiers lose their arms, their legs, their feet and their hands in wars. You want to glorify that?

No, actually, I don’t want to glorify that.  I do, however, want to make sure the places where it happened remain available for future generations to draw meaning and information from them.  And it’s worth noting that the men who actually experienced those battles led some of the earliest efforts to set aside the sites where they happened.  They didn’t see anything inappropriate about commemorating the war.

The Civil War began because big landowners in the South wanted to keep black people enslaved. You can sugarcoat it all you want, but slavery was what that conflict was all about. You want to glorify slavery?

Certainly not, but I think the war that brought about its end might merit some commemoration.  It was kind of a big deal.

Now we want to save every inch of ground trod upon by every Federal and Confederate. Why? Well, partly so that re-enactors can line up, fire blank shells and show us what the war was like.

Actually, the NPS doesn’t permit reenactments on its battlefields.  But don’t let the facts get in your way.

Enough is enough. We don’t glorify World War I or World War II or even the Revolutionary War, where we won our independence. It is only the Civil War that seems to excite us.

I hate to be the one to break this to you, dude, but they actually do commemorations at World War I, World War II, and Revolutionary War battlefields, too.

The Civil War is over. Let’s move on. The good earth was put here for us to use, not to glorify because one man killed another man at some particular spot.

Preserving historic battlegrounds doesn’t mean we’re “glorifying” war, any more than setting aside Auschwitz as a historic site means we’re glorifying genocide.  There’s a difference between commemoration and glorification, and I just don’t get some people’s inability to make that simple distinction.

But maybe I’m making too much out of a conflict that tore the nation apart, ended slavery, and cost hundreds of thousands of lives.  We could really do something about our national shortage of big-box stores and fast food franchises, if only we could develop some of that prime real estate all those Civil War soldiers were inconsiderate enough to die on.

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4 Comments

Filed under Civil War, Historic Preservation, History and Memory

4 responses to “The latest in anti-preservation follies and fallacies

  1. Johnston should be reminded that groups like the Civil War Trust generally buy the land they set aside to preserve. You know, a negotiated price between the seller and the buyer. One wonders what objection Comrade Johnston has to that sort of free market capitalism.

    I don’t know about Virginia’s laws protecting historic sites, but down here there’s virtually nothing that prevents a property owner from bulldozing whatever he or she wants to. There are laws that require archaeological/historic surveys of public lands, but even in those cases it’s relatively rare that that those concerns significantly delay, much less actually block, the projects in question.

    • Michael Lynch

      Indeed. He acts like the CWT is kicking in doors and dragging people out into their yards so they can bring in the wrecking balls. If only preservation advocates had one-tenth of the pull he seems to think they do.

      • He’s doesn’t look like he’s getting a lot of love in the comments section over there, either. I’m not really sure what the comment about swinging a dead goat in Walmart means — is that a Virginia thing? — but it’s certainly a vivid mental image.

  2. Jimmy Dick

    History must be an inconvenience to people like Johnston. It feels like if something hinders development it must be removed. Preservation means nothing to this type of person. They feel nothing when they walk a battlefield but shin splints. All they see is land to be developed and exploited. It is this type of person that opposes conservation of anything that is historic.

    However, the people of this country have voted with their feet. They go to these places in droves. They prefer that our government set aside historic places. They prefer that groups like CWT preserve places. They like the idea of national parks and monuments. As long as the people decide they want these things, people like Johnston will be a minority.

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