GDG- If I ran the Cemetery

CWMHTours at CWMHTours at
Thu Jan 5 10:07:40 CST 2012

I think you are hired!
Your  Most Obedient Servant,

In a message dated 1/5/2012 1:12:51 A.M. Eastern Standard Time,  
joadx1 at writes:

Esteemed  GDG Member Contributes:
I think that Mr. MacNeill's passionate explanation  of his feelings about 
Arlington National Cemetery deserves a compassionate  response.  As someone 
who makes his living balancing the  historico-political claims of both the 
past and the present, I'd like to offer  a sketch of what I would say if I was 
a private tour guide at  Arlington.

First, of course, I would introduce the place (never take  that sort of 
thing for granted), explaining that this is Arlington National  Cemetery, 
American "sacred ground" since the Civil War, established as a final  resting 
place for the men and women who fight the nation's wars.

I  would also explain that there are other, non-military burials in the 
cemetery  and say a few words about the process by which those happen and 
identify some  of them.

I would then turn to the question of how the Cemetery came to  be, and 
would begin by pointing to the grand mansion.  I would explain  that it was once 
the home of Robert E. Lee, though owned by his wife, who was  the great 
granddaughter of Martha Washington, and thus a relation to George  Washington.  
I would then explain that this was a plantation, worked for  generations by 
slave labor, which was seized by the forces of the Union Army  when Robert 
E. Lee resigned his commission in the United States Army and cast  his lot 
with the Confederacy, but that it only became a cemetery in 1864 when  
Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs, a Georgian who remained loyal to  the 
United States, chose it as a final resting place for the Union soldiers  who 
had died in the war, soldiers who included his own son.  I would note  that 
he probably did so to prevent the Lee's from ever getting the plantation  
back, and would mention that they indeed tried to after the war, eventually,  
after R.E. Lee's
death, receiving a cash settlement from the  government, but not the house 
or grounds.

This would only take a few  moments.  I would sum up that this was a place 
that combined some of that  which is both best and worst in American 
history: once a slave plantation, it  has become a place where Americans honor 
those who die for her with a fitting  resting place--and when that is not 
possible, with the Tomb of the Unknown  Soldier as a symbolic monument to their 
sacrifice.  I would also explain  that this is the great contradiction in 
American history: that America is at  once the place that sufficiently values 
the common man (as no feudal European  nation ever did) such that it 
established such a place as Arlington National  Cemetery to honor the ordinary men 
and women who die for her.  And  acknowledging that it was also once a slave 
plantation, I would note that it  wasn't one anymore, precisely because of 
the sacrifice, best described in  Lincoln's Gettysburg address, made by many 
of the men who were buried  here.

I would then ask my clients what they would like to see, and what  details 
they would like to here further about, acknowledging that no single  brief 
tour could exhaust everything there was to learn and see  here.
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