THE ISSUE: 150th anniversary of Civil War; OUR OPINION: Observances are not to be about celebration
The question was this: "How does visiting here make you feel?"
It came from a native Northerner, a newspaper editor accompanying a group of journalists from around the country to the Civil War battleground of Gettsyburg, scene of one of the bloodiest battles of a war that ripped apart a nation from 1861-65.
The one Southerner with the group answered: "Sad."
The events of the Civil War are THE great American tragedy. A nation went to war with itself and nearly destroyed the Union. Indeed it is difficult today to consider what type of geopolitical landscape would exist in North America had the Confederacy emerged victorious. It's hard to imagine the loosely allied group of states would have remained united. From east to west, north to south, what is today's United States may well have become a collection of small nations.
Beyond speculation, there is the reality of the war, which was fought largely in the South. It is here where constant reminders of the conflict exist, from town square monuments to historical markers and cemetery monuments. Battlefields are treated as historic sites where re-enactments of events are common.
Some say the Civil War should be put to rest, as so often discussion of it turns from the historical to the political. One need look no farther than down Main Street in Columbia to the Statehouse to see the Confederate banner flying at the memorial statue that stands in front of the Capitol to realize the war is a day-to-day reality for Southerners.
Some say the Civil War should be such a fact of life, even 150 years later. Others say the war should be put in context and be moved into history books much as other conflicts.
As South Carolina observes the 150th anniversary of becoming the first state to secede from the Union on Dec. 20, 1860, it is important to look at events through the eyes of history. No one alive today can relate to the social, political and economic realities of the time that led to such a fateful action.
South Carolina is observing the 150th anniversary through a series of events planned over the next five years. Already, they are controversial. The NAACP plans to protest the secession ball in Charleston and there is certain to be more angst as other significant events are noted.
No one can blame African-Americans for being reluctant to observe the events of the Civil War. There is no way in which blacks and whites can view the conflict in the same light. BUT it is necessary that all people - and not just those from the South - understand what took place, why it happened, how it happened and how it ended.
This nation fought a war that resulted in great economic and social change that otherwise might have taken decades. Legalized slavery would have come to an end in the United States over time, but the war set in motion a dynamic that led to slavery's fast-paced end. That is significant.
Still, those who would ignore the war's century-and-a-half anniversary say there is no need to observe events in the same fashion that Americans mark world wars, the revolution, space travel, the Cold War, etc.
They are wrong. It is important that generations past, present and future know about the Civil War. Its milestones are not dates to be celebrated any more than are Pearl Harbor or 9-11. The events of the war are to be commemorated, ideally by all.