Monday, May 09, 2005

Four Slots and Seven Cards Ago

People hate change, even good change. They even can be surprisingly stupid when it comes to their own values.

Take last week developers unveiled plans to build a casino a mile and a half from the Gettysburg battlefield. The uproar was immediate as historians condemned the idea as insulting the memory of fallen soldiers. According to prize-winning author and Civil War authority James McPherson, “It would be a desecration of their memory and sacrifice to establish such a tawdry, tasteless enterprise next to their fields of honor.”

Let us set aside the fact that a mile and a half doesn’t constitute as “next” and the casino wouldn’t even be visible from anywhere on the site. Let us also table the reality that the casino would not it have a Civil War theme (hardly desecration). Let us even ignore that “tawdry” and “tasteless” are mere matters of opinion because in light of all of those things, McPherson is still wrong.

I suppose it is the unfortunate tendency of historians to put their area of expertise on such a high pedestal, they loose touch with the real world in some kind of reactionary attempt to return to the period in question. Because casinos were never in Gettysburg during the Civil War, McPherson reasons they should never be, even if people want them. Even if it could help raise money to save other historical places, as one preservationist pointed out.

In his obsession for authenticity McPherson has lost sight of the ideas behind the Civil War. There were lots of reasons for the War, but there was a central theme of liberation (either from government or from slave masters backed by government). If I were a fallen soldier, I’d be more insulted by attempts to curb others’ liberty than people freely contributing a service to society.

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