History is such an integral part of our present and future. Beyond learning about our ancestors, cultures, and life as it was, studying the past also helps us to prevent repeating the same mistakes. But, what happens when history is being threatened, erased from our schools, museums, and art? Civil War reenactors, for example, are finding it exceedingly difficult – even dangerous – to continue the tradition of acting out the life and times of one of the most important eras in America’s past.
Destroying the Past
Racism is running rampant in our country, causing protests and fights, and people are looking for any excuse, no matter how insignificant, to accuse each other of being racist. Everyone seems to be offended by everything. There isn’t a person, place, or thing that isn’t being attacked. Dwayne Johnson was criticized for portraying an amputee in the movie Skyscraper – not because he didn’t do a good job acting, but because protestors said a person with an actual prosthetic limb should have been given the role.
The racially charged society we now live in permeates every aspect of life. And now, for the past couple of years, growing threats of violence have caused the number of Civil War reenactors willing to participate to dwindle. Historians and history buffs are concerned after threats and attacks have been made at events such as in Manassas, Virginia, where one reenactment was canceled and another was stopped due to the threat of a pipe bomb in 2017.
A statement from the city’s officials conveyed concern and sadness over the growing hostility towards historical reenactments, specifically regarding the Civil War:
“Recent events have ignited passions in this country surrounding the Civil War and the symbols representing it. The City of Manassas is saddened by these events and abhors the violence happening around the country.”
The statement went on to say Manassas doesn’t want to “further exacerbate the situation.”
Animosity towards anything to do with the Civil War era and slavery was only incensed by the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA, that turned deadly. The gathering was planned to protest the removal of Confederate hero Robert E. Lee’s statue. Tearing down, destroying, and removing statues and monuments from that time in history has raged across the U.S. The Confederate flag has been banned in some states and the popular series from the 1970s and 1980s, The Dukes of Hazzard, was canceled on certain television networks. And now, Democrats plan to make reparations to black Americans for deeds done by no one alive today. Why wouldn’t the fanatics also attack living history?
The Decline of Living History
With the threat of “bodily harm” to participants and spectators and the rising unpopularity of the racist Civil War, it’s becoming much more difficult to find people interested in preserving living history. The newer generations are so caught up in political correctness that they see the reenactments as a slight to black people everywhere. As HistoryNet.com wrote:
“Young people aren’t as interested. Reenactors themselves are jumping ship, either retiring, scaling back, or moving on to portray battles in World Wars I and II. And now they are drawing unwanted attention from a segment of the public that assumes anything having to do with the Civil War is closeted racism.”
The volunteers and participants should be regarded as actors in a movie or play. They are playing a part; they are not the part. It is their job to tell a story and portray their characters as written. In this case, that means recapturing a very volatile and sad time in our past. You can not have heroes without villains, and someone has to play the villainous part.
Chris Anders has participated in events since 1986. He told the Federalist:
“We illustrate the horror of war. We show what can happen when Americans turn on other Americans. We try to properly portray their sacrifices. These weren’t just names in a book; they were someone’s father, someone’s husband, someone’s brother.”
“There is no political agenda whatsoever in the hobby. We never discuss modern politics. We’re trying to show the human impact of war.”
The Civil War is an important part of our history that we need to study and remember. It was a time when brother battled brother and hundreds of thousands of lives were lost for a cause not all who fought necessarily even believed in. “Perhaps this generation, more than any generation since, needs to be reminded exactly what that looks like.”
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