ASSOCIATE NPS DIRECTOR STEVENSON IGNITES FIRESTORM

November 1, 1999

Kate Stevenson, the National Park Service's Associate Director for Cultural Resource Stewardship and Partnerships, will go down in history as the woman who made one of the most inane comments in the history of the preservationist movement. In April of this year, Ms. Stevenson was quoted as saying, "I don't want to hear about battles when I go to a Civil War battlefield. I don't care about battles." When the firestorm of controversy brought on by her remark engulfed her, Ms. Stevenson scoffed at her critics by responding with an even more inane remark: "What can one person do to change interpretation at all the battlefields?"

Now we know.

An October 20, 1999, House Conference Report on "Making Appropriations for the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies for the Fiscal Year Ending September 10, 2000, and For Other Purposes" contains the following language:

The managers [the leadership of the House Conference Committee] recognize that Civil War battlefields throughout the country hold great significance and provide historical educational opportunities for millions of Americans. The managers are concerned, however, about the isolated existence of these Civil War battle sites in that they are often not placed in the proper historical context.

The [National Park] Service does an outstanding job of documenting and describing the particular battle at any given site, but in the public displays of multi-media presentations, it does not always do a similarly good job of documenting and describing the historical social, economic, legal, cultural and political forces and events that originally led to the larger war which eventually manifested themselves in specific battles.

In particular, the Civil War battlefields are often weak or missing vital information about the role that the institution of slavery played in causing the American Civil War.

The managers direct the Secretary of the Interior to encourage Civil War battle sites to recognize and include in all of their public displays and multi-media educational presentations the unique role that the institution of slavery played in causing the Civil War and its role, if any, at the individual battle sites.

The motivation for Ms. Stevenson's astounding statements is now clear. Not only are the forces behind this report seeking to downplay the importance of military history in the very places where it should be paramount, they are also attempting to inject a note of 20th century political correctness into areas where it is neither warranted nor appropriate. The interpretation of military history at our Nation's battlefields is now to take a back seat to interpreting "the unique role that the institution of slavery played in causing the Civil War, and its role, if any, at the individual battle sites."

Sixty percent of all the battles fought during the War Between the States were contested on the soil of the Old Dominion. As Virginia Daughters, we cannot sit idly by and allow the story of our ancestors' bravery in battle to be eclipsed by subjective modern-day judgements that reflect the socio-cultural trends of our time rather than theirs. The sole purpose of preserving battlefields is to commemorate the military actions that took place thereon and to honor the memory of the men whose courage and bravery made those actions worth remembering -- not to further current political and/or social agendas.

This adoption of this report would present a serious threat to the integrity of interpretive programs at all our Nation's battlefields. Please write to your Senators and Congressional representatives (see the Virginia Division contacts page for addresses and telephone numbers) and ask them to ensure that battlefield interpretation will remain focused on battles and not wander off in pursuit of the latest socio-political fad.

Also write Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH), chairman of the Conference Committee (http://www.house.gov/regula/), to express your objection to the language contained in the committee's report, with copies of that letter to the following:

Rep. James Hansen (R-UT) (http://www.house.gov/hansen/)
Rep. George Miller (D-CA) (George.Miller-Pub@mail.house.gov)
Sen. Craig Thomas (R-WY) (http://www.senate.gov/~thomas/contact.html)
Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) (senator_torricelli@torricelli.senate.gov)

This Government-sponsored attempt to rewrite history is similar to -- and every bit as heinous as -- the Smithsonian Institution's ill-conceived Enola Gay exhibit, which died a quick death after strenuous objections from both the historical community and the general public. Surely our commitment to preserving the memory of our ancestors and their heroic deeds on battlefields across this country will allow us to make no less of an effort.


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