"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Monday, March 28, 2011

An Antidote to Gloom

My 14 year-old son and I spent today at Gettysburg National Park, touring the museum, seeing the Cyclorama, and taking a 4.5 hour auto tour of the battlefield.   The museum was very high quality, but not over-wrought -- it was about an hour to get through it.   There was a very good 20 minute or so movie about the battle, and then we spent about 30 minutes viewing the cyclorama, which has been recently restored, and is remarkable -- a 377 foot in circumference, 44 foot tall panoramic, realistic and nearly three-dimensional painting of the third day of the battle.  But nothing can beat the battlefield.  It was a glorious day, not a cloud in the sky, and about 45 degrees.   The battlefield wasn't crowded; at most of the stops we were one of only a handful of people.   The highlights were our hikes to the top of Big Round Top and Little Round Top; climbing the boulders in the Devil's Den; and viewing the full scale of the distance of Pickett's Charge from the "high water mark" at the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge.   It's astonishing to think men walked across the mile or so of that field under cannon and rifle fire on a hot July afternoon carrying their rifles and muskets and packs, and wearing wool uniforms.   What made them do it?  What kind of men were they?   And what kind of men were the Union soldiers who stood strong at that wall, watching a mile long line of Confederate infantry emerge from the woods on Seminary Ridge and start their inexorable walk toward them?   Both sides knew what it must mean... kill or be killed.   The level of courage on both sides was almost inconceivable.   Yet they were all Americans.  

National parks and, in particular, Civil War battlefields, are among the things that our federal government does very very well, indeed.   Seeing Gettysburg for the first time, after years of being an amateur Civil War buff, and seeing it with my son, reminded me today of all my many blessings, with both my family and my country.   It's an antidote for gloom.   To borrow another Winston Churchill phrase:  this was their finest hour. 

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