Due to concerns about protesters following the events in Charlottesville, the politically-correct powers-that-be have decided to cancel the county's 13th annual Heritage Day located in Fauquier County, Va., (southwest of Washington, D.C.) where several Civil War battles were fought. The Heritage Day would have been in September and typically features history enthusiasts or re-enactors dressed as Confederate and Union soldiers, or officers such as General Robert E. Lee.
Paula Johnson, co-founder of the event, was worried protesters might attend and affect attendees' safety. She met with various town officials who all agreed cancelling the event was the right decision. "It's because of Charlottesville and Boston and the cancellation of the Manassas Civil War Weekend. It's about the safety of the town and the participants and anyone who would have come to Warrenton," Johnson said.
This is a shame for history's sake and for the sake of the children (and grown-ups) who attend these events hoping for a taste of the historical context of a prevalent war in America's history, as well as the people and place who played a significant role.
While there are other family-friendly events at Heritage Day, the main feature is the re-enactments. Re-enactments, and those who perform them, are not for the faint at heart.
Here in Virginia they often take place, as many Civil War battles did, smack dab in the middle of the dog days of summer, complete with blazing 95-degree heat and 75 percent humidity. Dressed typically in wool and donning a Southern drawl, re-enactors often repeat historical tidbits of the person he's representing or battle he's "fighting." The re-enactors I've met aren't often just acting but truly embodying their character for that day (or week!).
This ends up feeling more like observing a bad high school play rather than what the re-enactor believes it to be, which is more like method-acting, as it were, a la Daniel Day Lewis, sans that handsome dark face, mischievous eyes and sheer, raw talent. (A shame of course, but kudos for the attempt, to be sure.)
There's something eerie to me about the amateur way total strangers take on a persona of a soldier they've never met and a war they've never fought (though often their ancestors did) that I find personally odd, even jarring. The women, ("wives") who walk around in hoop skirts, cooking gruel over a hot fire and sleeping in a tent near their Confederate man make my skin crawl even more. Personally, I'd rather gouge my eyeballs out with the hot poker Robert E. Lee's blacksmith used to craft the shoes his famous white horse wore than go to another of these re-enactments.
Personal distaste aside, there is clear value in an artistic interpretation of historical events. Because they are often hands-on, children especially learn a lot from these types of activities. My son, a history buff, often learns new facts about the Civil War and repeats them for days following. My daughter loves to see the horses. While not everyone will learn something or appreciate it (like me) many people do, especially kids.
Cancelling an event that features re-enactments is a shame for history, art, and education's sake. If we cancel this re-enactment where does it end? Shall we now destroy all "Glory" DVD's? "Gettysburg"? "Seven Years a Slave"? While we're at it, why not "Amistad," or even "Schindler's List"? Shall we now tear down the Stonewall Jackson statue at the Manassas Battlefield -- the site of the First Battle of Bull Run, the first battle of the Civil War -- that my children love to observe? (So far it stands.)
It's one thing to worry about far-right, far-left, and even more far-left protesters disturbing events or causing harm to others. It's another to bend to this concern and cancel events pre-emptively due to fear rather than putting precautions or safety mechanisms in place and staying true to history, art, and education these activities provide.
Once this begins, it will be very difficult to find a stopping point. Eradicating the artistic interpretation of historical events, particularly for education's sake, will hurt the next generation the most.
Nicole Russell is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is a journalist in Washington, D.C., who previously worked in Republican politics in Minnesota. She was the 2010 recipient of the American Spectator's Young Journalist Award.
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