In this Feb. 25, 2011 picture, the sun sets over cannons arrayed on the Civil War battlefield at Manassas, Va. The first Battle of Manassas occurred in July 1861. Over the next four years, Americans will mark the 150th anniversary of major events in the Civil War, which ran from 1861 to 1865. (AP Photo/Chris Sullivan)
Residents here have more reason than most to pay special attention to today’s 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. After all, the names of Chattanooga, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain are inextricably tied to the conflict that ripped this nation asunder — and, in part, to the healing process that helped knit the country together again.
Events today at Fort Sumter in South Carolina commemorate the beginning of the war. Hundreds of similar events during the course of the next four years will recall places and people connected with the conflict. Care must be taken, though, that the ceremonies related to the long anniversary remain commemorations of specific events and not celebrations of a way of life that sanctioned slavery and that led to the Civil War and its attendant despair, destruction and death.
There are those, unfortunately, who might use the anniversary events to promote their own agenda. Foremost among them are those who embrace and display the Confederate flag or, more properly, the Confederate battle flag, at every opportunity. They assume it honors their ancestors or what they call “The Lost Cause.” It does not.
In truth, the emblem is no longer a sign of those who fought honorably for a cause they found worthy. It has become a symbol of a negative message that has found resonance in far too many places across the nation. Indeed, the widespread and casual use of the emblem has made it a symbol of divisiveness and disrespect rather than honor. The anniversary of the Civil War and the heightened interest it will bring to the period should be a reminder that Americans ought to be able to go about their daily routines without exposure to a flag that recalls the subjugation of human beings.
Those who choose to do so can honor those on both sides who fought and fell at Lookout Mountain, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge and hundreds of other places without paying homage to a symbol that divides rather than unites. The veterans of the Civil war understood the need to reconcile. The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Battlefield here is proof of that. Veterans of both sides worked together to establish a place that both honored the past and promoted the political and social harmony they instinctively understood was vital to the nation’s growth and prosperity.
The 150th anniversary of the Civil War is, of course, a time for remembrance. It also is an occasion that should inspire frank discussion of the pressing issues of the present and the prospects for the future in a historical context shaped in no small part by the events the nation will commemorate during the next four years.