Civil War reenactments are more popular today than at any time in the 135 years since “the late unpleasantness” came to an end. Recent news stories, however, have been less than favorable to reenactors. In these remarks, delivered to 14,000 spectators of the 1999 Gettysburg reenactment, Ronald F. Maxwell, writer and director of the motion picture Gettysburg, explains why.
I’ve been going to reenactments for more than 20 years, so I’ve had a chance to observe this phenomenon up close.
In a time of all-encompassing and oppressive political correctness, when the ruling elites and their media acolytes control most of the information we get and tell us what to think, what opinions to hold, what to buy and what to wear, even when and where to go to war . . . there are some, the audacious and irascible few, who persist in thinking for themselves.
Just who are reenactors? The mainstream media has described them as weekend warriors, Civil War fanatics, even misfits who should, as they say, “get a life.” What they really mean to say is “get their life,” fit into their worldview—the New World Order.
In their worldview, which now dominates the academy as well as the media, all the old heroes are to be deconstructed, then discarded. Thomas Jefferson, we are told with sanctimonious relish, was a seriously flawed person who may have fathered offspring by one of his domestic slaves. Lee and his generals were part of the same corrupt bondage system. For these crimes, the generation of 1776 and their grandsons of the 1860’s must be hollowed of their humanity and gutted of their greatness, brought down and reduced to the paltry, squalid place inhabited by more than a few present-day politicians and so-called leaders. Then, discredited, they are to be diminished and eventually deleted from our history books, except perhaps as footnotes to the revisionist history of America.
Why this attack on these two generations in particular? Could it be because these same elites want to stop us from looking up to men who questioned authority and fought for liberty? Who did so brilliantly and courageously? If they are to succeed in their goal of transforming citizens into consumers, to reduce us from those who would defend liberty to those whose only concern is for celebrity and fashion, they must teach us to avert our gaze from the likes of Washington and Jefferson, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and Robert E. Lee.
What I admire most about reenactors is that they refuse to forget. They are not weekend warriors, for that implies frivolity and a lack of conviction. They are a living embodiment of an American spirit that is still alive and well despite pervasive and well-financed efforts to belittle, ridicule, marginalize, and neutralize it. They are warriors, as in Lee’s first great series of victories, seven days a week.
There are still those among us who cherish the sacred memory of our ancestors, who value the traditions tested by the generations, whose lives vibrate yet in the distant chords of memory. These reenactments, entertaining as they are, fun as they are, are pathways between the generations, connecting old antagonists with new witnesses in an atmosphere of conciliation, compassion, and understanding.
Take from us our media, our universities; take from us our libraries and our books; take our newspapers and our textbooks—take it all. With malice towards none and charity for all, we here today will never forget. We here today will long remember.