Editorial: If we must re-enact war battles, let's be sure we're learning something valuable

  • Just what should next summer's Civil War Days look like in Lake County? That should be something a wide group of interests should weigh in on.

    Just what should next summer's Civil War Days look like in Lake County? That should be something a wide group of interests should weigh in on. Daily Herald File PHOTO

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted8/8/2019 6:58 PM

We are a country that loves to rehash its most painful periods.

Locally, there are a Revolutionary War re-enactment at Cantigny in Wheaton, Civil War re-enactments in a variety of places, one for World War I in Rockford, a World War II re-enactment in South Elgin and even one for the Vietnam War in Elgin a few years ago.


The loudest cheers during a Tchaikovsky concert come during the cannon blasts in the "1812 Overture."

Sometimes, we can't seem to get enough of the spectacle of war. But what about the real thing?

We're not throwing a wet blanket on the practice of war re-enactments, mind you. There is something about pulling history from the pages of a book to help you understand the times and the struggles better. One can better appreciate how far medicine, housing and the tools of war change over time. And, we would hope, you walk away from a re-enactment better appreciating the senselessness of war and our need for humanity to push beyond it.

Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana famously said, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

We hope the Lake County Forest Preserve District board fully appreciates that statement.

In recent weeks, the leadership of the forest preserve district hamhandedly canceled its annual Civil War Days remembrance, re-enacted it and canceled it again.

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What a boondoggle.

And this week the board pledged to stage the event again next summer.

Many of us are uncomfortable with expressions of war, whether real or dramatized. With Civil War re-enactments, there is an understandable discomfort with the Confederate flag and its reminder that the war was about preserving slavery.

Many of us feel we have enough conflict in our lives as it is.

Others, we know, view war re-enactments as a healthy hobby, a teaching moment for those who didn't live through an important period of the nation's past and a way to tell the story of our community's connection to it.

We understand both positions. When re-enactments are held, for whatever period, we hope they take into account the concerns about what they depict.

At a time in our country when political divisions run as deeply as we can remember, we should focus on coming together. And the Lake County Forest Preserve District has a real opportunity in the coming months to bring those who hold a variety of opinions on the issue of a Civil War re-enactment to come together and settle on a remembrance of the war that is instructive, yet sensitive to those who have taken issue with how it's been presented in the past.

If we can't come together to address the remembrance of that which so bitterly divided us a century and a half ago, perhaps we are doomed to repeat it.

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