A post at an online outlet called "phillymag" is headlined "What if the Civil War Had a Birthday and Nobody Came?"
It starts with this provocative statement: "The sesquicentennial of the War Between the States has been a shocking failure."
I beg to differ. I think it has been a success, and its shortcoming has only been because of certain policymakers have not stepped up to do their part.
Let's begin with the author's argument. First, certain merchants who "planned to make a killing selling Civil War artifacts" have been disappointed. If this is leading with the strongest argument, it proves the case is as weak as old dishwater. Selling relics and reproductions does not make a commemoration. Second, "plummeting attendance at the living-history extravaganza that is Colonial Williamsburg" shows "how young people today don’t care about what came before them." Not sure how the colonial era site is a test for the Civil War, but perhaps the author knows and isn't saying. Third, ... well, there is no third. There's only a statement that "So maybe it’s not a bad thing that the public has been leery — that the geegaws aren’t selling, and the reenactors play out their pantomimes to empty fields. We have our first black president in the White House — something a lot of us didn’t believe we’d ever live to see. A hundred and fifty years is a long time, but we may need still more to process what the Civil War meant to the nation, how it changed us, and the 'great task remaining before us': turning into the land of the free we have yet to become.
Ah, so actually, our fearless author does see the entire purpose of the CWS: to teach us the past and challenge us for the future. Rather than a failure, the article shows it might be a success, merely by getting this individual to ponder the meaning of the Civil War, write about it, and then offer a lesson.
Before getting to how I think it's been a success, let's also dispense with the notion that "a lot of us didn't believe we'd ever live to see" an African-American elected president. Had Colin Powell run in the pre-Obama era, my humble opinion is that he'd have won. A familiarity with the South today reveals a much more open and tolerant electorate. Those who believe America continues to work out its unfolding destiny with greater opportunity and freedom would have said "I have little doubt America will elect a black or a female (or both) president in my lifetime."
Now, as to the Sesqui. The Civil War Trust just announced early completion of its CWS goal of saving tens of thousands of acres, and adding another 10,000 by next year. That's a success. The National Battlefield Parks have been actively pursuing educational and conservation strategies that are dazzling. That's a success. More books on new themes and insights have been published in the past three years than the preceding 30. That's a success.
Here in Michigan, the Civil War Partners have documented hundreds of events, demonstrating a keen and ongoing public interest. Yours truly has several talks this year still on the Civil War and the book authored in 2011. The Michigan Historical Commission continues to implement the Sesquicentennial, and some exciting things are in the offing. Just take a look at the report recently published on the Commission website for a long list of achievements.
All in all, with a year still to go, I would stack this commemoration up against the Centennial any day. The Sesquicentennial has been more inclusive, more authentic, more educational, and more true to the American spirit.
The article ought to have been styled thus: "What if the Civil War Had a Birthday and Multitudes Came? The sesquicentennial of the War Between the States has been an amazing experience."