Next year marks the sesquicentennial of our American Civil War. Almost all of us know that one of the great battles of that war--indeed, according to one British historian, one of the 15 decisive battles of history--was fought in our state, at Gettysburg, in 1863. But we forget other parts of our state Civil War experience, including the burning of Chambersburg, the threat to Harrisburg, our state capital, the draft riots in the coal regions...Although we got off relatively easily, this great national blood bath should be commemorated; and it will be. Let us hope it will not be celebrated, though. There is a good reason not to celebrate, an element not many want to talk about. The element at the war's heart, I think. Slavery.
Here in Bethlehem there will be reenactors and lectures and no doubt much else. But so far no one has talked about acknowledging and commemorating the historic evil of slavery. I hope this omission is addressed sometime during the next year.
It could be argued that the war was caused chiefly by economic differences. But these always seemed to come out as a difference over who should do the work--namely, the slaves--and who should profit from it. The masters, of course.
Then, what about States' Rights? The most prominent States' Right insisted upon by the leaders of the secessionist movement was the "right" to own other people. Not a civilized way to live.
No state or territory was free of at least SOME guilt over this issue. We had to put it right, for the sake of all of us. And we know that the issues raised by slavery and racism are still not resolved--indeed, perhaps less so than they have been in years.
So when we commemorate the Civil War, let us do so soberly and thoughtfully.