Streetwise Professor

April 9, 2011

On the Cusp of the Sesquicentennial

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 10:55 am

Today is the 146th anniversary of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.  Which reminds me that the Civil War Sesquicentennial is about to commence in earnest.  This coming week, April 12-13, marks the 150th anniversary of the bombardment of Fort Sumter, which was the start of the shooting war.

I don’t remember the Centennial, but have read some about it.  That was truly a national event, with many official commemorations.  The Sesquicentennial appears certain to be much more low key.  Moreover, the Centennial was more politically fraught, because it occurred at the height of the Civil Rights movement, during a period in which the real political consequences of the Civil War were still unresolved.  As a result, there was a rather unreal atmosphere surrounding the Centennial.   There’s a very funny Fawlty Towers bit where Basil constantly reminds his hotel employees not to talk about WWII in front of some German guests.  In contrast, during the Centennial, there was a concerted effort to do nothing but talk about the war qua war, and to remain silent about its politics and social dimension because those were still live, painful, and controversial issues.

IMO things have swung too far the other way in museums, especially National Park Service museums, related to the Civil War, where a tedious and pedantic political correctness aimed at influencing current attitudes hangs over virtually every exhibit.   I hope–probably in vain–that the Sesquicentennial will be marked by a more objective, and less politicized, discussion of this seminal period in American history.

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