There is Only One Gettysburg

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For nearly 150 years, generation after generation of Americans have honored this ground. Every generation before us has instinctively, by common consent and in shared decency, refrained from doing anything that would cheapen, belittle, coarsen or dishonor this ground.

Shall we be the first?

Shall it be said by our posterity, that when it was our turn to protect and to defend this place we chose an imagined personal reward over a certain civic duty, the quick buck over the enduring value, the noise of slots over the silence of silos, the din of the gambling parlor over the quiet contemplation of the battlefield?

There are thousands of casinos across America. There is only one Gettysburg.

Those who fought here, who gave their lives here — established the nation of laws and free enterprise that guarantees the foundation for businessmen and women to do business protected by the rule of law.

Without the sacrifice of our honored dead there is no law, there is no country, there is no business and there are no profits. When you forget where you came from, when you forget who paved the way, when you forget who paid the price, when you forget the sacrifices of previous generations you cut the ties that bind us together as Americans and forfeit your right to their inheritance.

There are thousands of casinos across America. There is only one Gettysburg.

Imagine someone arguing for a casino down the street from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are casinos in Paris. It is Paris after all.

But Parisians would never let that happen — anymore than they would allow a casino to be built next to the battlefields along the Somme, at the Ardennes or Verdun — anymore than Poles would build a casino in the Katyn Forest or a half-mile away from Auschwitz.

We are not just money machines greedily playing for the extra buck.

We are human beings of flesh and blood and memory and history and family. Part of our shared humanity is an acute awareness of what is sacred and hallowed and deserving of our respect.

Why stop at Gettysburg?

Maybe we should build casinos at the site of the World Trade Center, next to Yorktown or at Valley Forge.

What is Gettysburg after all — a few square miles of earth, grass, fence-rows, cannons and monuments? Is that it? Are we just imagining that it’s anything else?

I sometimes think the world is divided into two kinds of people; those who live in three dimensions and those who live in one.

Those who live in three dimensions live simultaneously in the past, in the present and in the future. When you live in three dimensions at the same time, you realize, as Edmund Burke once said, that those of us who live in the present, at any given time, are the trustees of the past, during our lifetime, to hand it over to the next generation, so that the dead and the unborn are as much a part of life as we are in the minuscule amount of years we have to inhabit this earth.

When we are aware of the past, it means we respect the past, respect our parents, our grandparents, our great grandparents and the generations all the way back to the beginning of recorded history.

It means we read with exhilaration, the historical works of Thucydides, or the artistic works of Aristophanes and Sophocles, reaching back over the millennia — which informs us, which makes us who and what we are, and which enlivens us and which broadens our small world into a world of infinite space, an infinite space of thinking, of contemplation and of realizing our kinship with the many generations that have gone before us.

It means as well that we cherish the place where we grew up and we regard, as you might recall from the opening credits of "Gods and Generals," astronomy; as belonging to that little lot of stars that we see hanging over our backyards every night; if we are fortunate enough to live in a place that is not dulled by light pollution all night long.

It means that we cherish that homeland, that home place, where we first realized there was such a thing as trees and grass and wilderness and wildlife, open sky. We all started off our lives in a place. We are connected to those places; we are rooted to those places.

They are what make us who we are. It is what we call home.

Then, of course, there are those who live only in the present.

We are all moving through the present, and along this road, if we are not aware of the other dimensions, if we do not know the past or know it but disregard it or disrespect it — then it’s easy to pave over a Civil War battlefield in Chancellorsville or tear down the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.

It’s easy if we’re the Taliban to blow up the world heritage Bahmian Buddhist statues in Afghanistan because none of that matters to us in our grand egoism.

In our instant of life in the long spectrum of life we are the masters of the universe at that moment. And we don’t care what happens to the next generation. We don’t care if all the forests are turned into pulp.

We don’t care if all the open spaces are paved over. We don’t care if there are no species left on the planet but human beings and cockroaches.

What does it matter?

As long as we achieve the only thing that is important for the present tense: our own bottom line.

And we don’t care what happens to Gettysburg next year or in the next decade or in the distant future as long as we can profit from it now, while we’re here, in our brief hour.

In this view, life is indeed nothing more than "a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing."

There are thousands of casinos. There is only one Gettysburg.

RON MAXWELL directed the films "Gettysburg" and "Gods and Generals." He gave these remarks last week at a "No Casino" rally in Adams County.