Civil War Days – An Email Exchange With a Resident

Civil War Days – An Email Exchange With a Resident

Last week I received, as did all Board Members, a lengthy email from a Lake County resident with a strong declaration that Angelo Kyle, President of the Forest Preserve, was correct in his cancellation of the “Civil War Days” event at Lakewood Forest Preserve. I believe the gentlemen, for the most part, posed ideas worthy of debate.  I am including all of our emails chronologically, below, welcoming you to read both sides of our short email exchange. Please feel free to weigh-in with your opinions after reading through the exchange.

“Email From Resident: Subject: Angelo Kyle is correct in canceling Civil War Days

I read with great interest the debate about whether or not Lake County Civil War Days should be held in Lake County Forest Preserves. Every year a group of generally old, corpulent, white guys act like children pretending to be soldiers ‘re enactting’ a civil war  battle. Pictures in the paper show these so called ‘soldiers’ aiming guns and firing them at other ‘soldiers’. Other pictures reveal ‘troops’ marching close rank with bayonets on the rifles, stopping and taking aim, and firing. Occassionaly, the intended targets go down allegedly shot. Close contact bayonetting of each other is frowned on, however. Afterward when the ‘battle’ is over the shot dead miraculously get up with no wounds and all is well. All while our children are watching. And just what are we teaching them about war? That war has no consequences, that’s it’s fun to shoot guns, and no one really gets hurt and dies.
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What we are also teaching them is that war comes wrapped in patriotic slogans, call for sacrifice, honor, heroism, and promise of glory. It comes wrapped in the claims of divine providence. It is what a grateful nation asks of its children. It is what is right and just. It is waged to make the nation and the world a better place by cleansing it of evil. War is touted as the ultimate test of manhood, where the young can find out what they are made of. War seems noble, especially from a distance. It gives us comrades and power and a chance to play a small role with great drama of history. It promises to give us an identity as a warrior, a patriot, as long as we go along with the myth, the one the war makers need to wage wars and the defense contractors need to increase their profits.
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But up close war is a soulless void. War is about barbarity, perversion, and pain. An unchecked orgy of death. Human decency and tenderness are crushed. Those who make war work overtime to reduce love to smut, and all human beings become objects, pawns to use or kill. The noise, the stench, the fear, the scenes of eviscerated bodies and bloated corpses, the cries of the wounded and dying, all combine to spin those in combat into another universe. In this moral void, naively blessed by secular and religious institutions at home, the hypocrisy of our social conventions, our strict adherence to moral concepts come unglued. War, for all its horror, has the power to strip away the trivial, the empty chatter and foolish obsessions that fill our day. It lets us see but at a horrible cost.
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When I was a medical student during the Vietnam War I went to see a patient at a VA hospital. He had just been brought back after sustaining horrible injuries: both legs and an arm ripped off from a grenade. As I walked in he was finishing his confession with a priest. I heard him ask the priest: ‘how come it’s a sin to hop into a bed with Vietnamese hooker but it was OK to blow away gooks in the bush?’ Yes I thought, how is it that a so called Christian, with clear conscience, spend a year in a war zone killing people and yet place his soul in jeopardy by spending a few minutes with a prostitute? If the New Testament prohibitions of sexual misconduct are to be stringently interpreted why then are Jesus Christ’s commands against violence not binding the same way? Just what does the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ really mean. The utter failure of nearly all our religious institutions to address the essence of war has rendered them useless. These institutions have little or nothing to say in wartime because the god they worship is a false god, one that promises victory to those who obey the law and believe in the manifest destiny of the nation.
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We all have the capacity to commit evil. It takes little to unleash it. For those that have gone to war this is the awful knowledge that is the hardest to digest. The knowledge that the line between the victims and the victimized is razor thin. That human beings find a perverse delight in destruction and death and that few can resist the pull. Wars may have to be fought to ensure survival but they are always tragic. They always bring to the surface the worst elements of any society, those who have a penchant for violence and a lust for absolute power. They turn the moral order upside down. And those politicians who speak of war as an instrument of power, those who wage war but do not know it’s reality, like the powerful so called statesmen, ie. Kissinger,  McNamera, Rumsfeld, Cheny, Pompero, etc, those who treat war as a part of the great game of nations, are as amoral as the religious stooges who assist them. And when the wars are over what they have to say to us in their thick memoirs about war is also hollow, vacant and useless.
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When I was in the Seminary I was taught that in theological terms that war is a sin.  This has nothing to do with whether a particular war is justified or whether isolated incidents in a soldier’s war  were right or wrong. The point is that war as a human enterprise is a matter of sin. It is a form of hatred for one’s fellow human beings. It produces alienation from others and nihilism and it ultimately represents a turning away from God.
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War is always about betrayal. It is about betrayal of the young by the old, of cynics by idealists and of soldiers by politicians. Society’s institutions which mold us into compliant citizens are unmasked. This betrayal is so deep that many never find their way back to faith in the nation or in any god. They nurse a self destructive anger and resentment, understandable and justified, but also crippling. Ask any combat veteran struggling to piece his or her life together about God and watch the raw vitriol and pain pour out. Soldiers in combat see the myth used to send them to war implode. They see that war is not clean or noble, but venal and frightening. They see into wars essence which is death.  They have seen into the corrupt heart of America, into the emptiness of its most sacred institutions, into our staggering hypocrisy and those of us who refuse to heed their words become complicit in the evil they denounce.
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The words these veterans speak are painful. We as a nation prefer to listen to those who speak from the patriotic script. We prefer to hear ourselves exalted. If veterans speak of terrible wounds visible and invisible, of the lies told to make them kill, of evil committed in our name, we cover our ears so as to not hear. Not our boys, we say, not them, bred in our homes, endowed with goodness and decency. For if  it is easy for them to murder,  what about us? And so it is easier and more comfortable not to hear. We do not listen to the angry words that cascade from their lips, wishing only that they would calm down, be reasonable, get some help, and go away. We brand our veterans as madmen but it us who are the deformed. We cast them aside.  This is why so many veterans are estranged and enraged. And why so many succumb to suicide and addiction!
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So let us not continue the idiocy of allowing Civil War Days on county property. Let us stop pretending war is glorious. Let us instead teach peace, understanding and love for one another. It’s the only way we will survive.”
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Here is my response:

I appreciate you taking the time to write regarding Civil War Days. 
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I have to first address something about your letter that I find offensive, so that I can continue on to the more germane aspects of your email. 
Your broad-brushed caricature, denigrating the Civil War Days’ participants (“old, corpulant, white guys”, as you put it) is unwelcomed by me. Its use smacks of racism, ageism and sizeism, and has the effect of weakening an otherwise eloquent argument worthy of discussion. 
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Assuming that was not your intent, I will happily move past that to address the remainder of your email. 
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War, I am sure, is everything you painted and more. It’s horrors unable even to be encapsulated into words. 
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I stand in great admiration and appreciation of your service. Thank you for that.
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While we agree on your depiction, we disagree with the lessons to be learned. 
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Imagine an America where the Civil War was not fought. How many decades or centuries would have passed before the CSA finally abandoned slavery?
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I believe freedom is worth fighting for. You must or must have believed that as well at some point in your life, as is evidenced by your service to our country.
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What would the USA look like today, had not the founders fought for its freedom from the Crown?
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While we agree that war should not be glorified, romanticized nor fabled, its rememberance, in my opinion, should stand solemnly as a reminder to all subsequent generations how horrible war is and how important it is to take a stand against the attrocities that incite war.
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It must be remembered, the hundreds of thousands of lives and millions of drops of blood shed pursuing freedom for all, lest all those men and women will have died in vain. 
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Events like CWD help to largely note and long remember not just Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg, but the huge sacrifices of all who fought, for whatever their personal reasons. 
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I believe you have a good argument against hosting CWD at the FPD, at the minimum it is one worthy of intellectual discussion. 
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Our Board, however is intended to allow for discussion and public input, not unilateral decision making by one person. The process is intended to not allow any one person making a decision; you don’t get to decide, I don’t get to decide, nor should President Kyle get to decide, until such opportunity to hear from the Representatives and the public itself. Doing so erodes trust in our Government institutions, and further divides our community, who feel they had no say. 
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Therefore, while I believe it is debatable whether we should or should not reenact the Civil War, I disagree that President Kyle was right in cancelling it. 
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I appreciate you reaching out, and welcome your input any time.
Respectfully, Dick Barr “

Resident’s Response and Follow up with additional information. 

Mr. Barr:
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Enclosed is a chapter about what it was really like in a Civil War battle. 
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Pay careful attention to the paragraphs on how Confederate soldiers treated Black Union soldiers and then tell me it’s ok to fly the treasonous flag at these reenactments.
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BTW my wife refers to me as being over weight and and old. I don’t mind. And I am obviously Caucasian.

https://www.essentialcivilwarcurriculum.com/experience-of-battle-officers.html 

My final response to resident. 

Thank you for the article.
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Quite atrocious indeed. 
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Sadly, there is nothing we can do to change history, an unfortunate side effect of linear time. 
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We can, however, learn from it, and shape our future by it. 
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Would you ask Oliver Stone to write out the part of Lee Harvey Oswald in his docudrama JFK?
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Would you remove reference to the Imperial Flag from the movie, “Pearl Harbor”?
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Should Schindler’s List edit out every Swastika?
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Your answers may differ from mine on the above. I think the answer to all is “no”. 
“No”, because they are all reality. And history, in my opinion, needs to stay real. It needs to be immortalized for future generations to learn from and
understand and even build upon. 
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And as we learn from it, delve deeper into its lessons, and constantly search for more truths. 
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While speaking with several historians recently, I am so enlightened as to the process they go through to always being in further pursuit of more, and more accurate truth. We still do not know everything the civil War has to teach us. We don’t know what we don’t know about the civil War.
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This is precisely why Kyle’s actions should have come to the Board as a conversation and not an edict. These are valuable conversations to have, for each and every one of us. 
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I’ve learned so much that I did not know before, and that includes information from you.
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Let’s not stifle the conversation, whitewash history, then pretend it didn’t happen. 
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Let’s come together and realize we can all learn so much more in today’s information age by working together, instead of trying to shut each other up.
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I hope you have a pleasant weekend. Again I appreciate the conversation.
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Regards,
Dick Barr”

 

Commissioner Barr Asks for Kyle’s Resignation as Forest Preserve President

Commissioner Barr Asks for Kyle’s Resignation as Forest Preserve President

It is my understanding that the Downstate Forest Preserve District Act bestows executive power on the President of the Forest Preserve, which entitles him to act unilaterally without Board Consent, which could include unwarranted termination of certain staff. This means that the staff of the Forest Preserve does not work for the Board, rather the President himself.

It was clear to me from comments and body language of staff during the June 11th Forest Preserve Board meeting where Civil War Days cancellation was discussed, that staff felt immeasurable pressure from their boss to go along with a short sighted and irresponsible decision to cancel an event without consent, or even notification of the Board, embroiling the Forest Preserve District in a major controversy, putting its reputation in direct harm’s way.

I believe the professionalism, knowledge and work ethic of our Forest Preserve Staff is incomparable, and needs to be defended and protected.

Based on new information released by the Sheriff’s Department this morning that no credible threats to safety existed, and it appearing more likely that safety concerns were exaggerated in an attempt to mislead the public to subsequently cancel Civil War Days, I make the following requests:

1. Governor JB Pritzker sign the bill on his desk that would allow for the removal of a Forest Preserve President with 4/5ths vote of the rest of the Board.

2. Legislators in Springfield to draft legislation that would amend the Downstate Forest Preserve District Act to remove executive authority from the Board President, and bestow power to the full Board, and not one person who is not elected to that position by the public.

3. I ask my fellow Board Commissioners to join me in requesting the immediate resignation of Board President Angelo Kyle before any more damage can be done to the Forest Preserve District and that we can begin the process of healing and repairing the Forest Preserve’s image to the public.

4. An immediate reinstatement of Civil War Days at Lakewood Forest Preserve, if it is not already too late.