Too many Park Rangers have a reductive, negative view of America
I recently saw, I don't know where, a report that National Park Service (NPS) employees are extremely progressive. After my visit to Fort Sumter today, I know that's true for at least one such employee. While the older museum at Fort Sumter still presents a balanced view of events at the Fort from 1861 to 1865, for this employee, the only takeaway lesson was that America enslaved people and abused them. She managed to reduce the grand panoply of American history, and the drama of the Civil War, to a one-note issue.
That the NPS, like every other branch of the federal government, is a hard-left institution is predictable because it hires college graduates. American colleges have as their primary mission leftist indoctrination, including anti-Americanism. Back in 2017, for example, after Donald Trump's inauguration, NPS employees used official social media accounts to attack him because they disagreed with his positions on climate change and unlimited Muslim immigration. It was offensive partisanship from ostensible "public servants."
Over the years, as I've visited national parks, I've seen that leftist tilt grow. At park after park (and I've been to many), the Rangers are obsessed with climate change and endangered species.
Rather than celebrating America's natural beauty and rich history, the rangers present a "snuff film" view of America that revolves around White Americans killing Native Americans and pushing animals to extinction. This simple-minded view ignores the fact that the European experience with and relationship to Native Americans was complex. Native Americans weren't helpless children, but were sophisticated people who had warred endlessly with each other. They saw the Europeans as their pawns to gain advantages against other tribes.
The fact that European diseases would prove so deadly was something over which people in an age before germ theory had no control — although it suggested to both Native Americans and Europeans that God (or the gods) favored the Europeans. Additionally, it was obvious that the Native Americans, who lived technologically at a Stone Age level, could not triumph over the Europeans. As Raymond Ibrahim wrote, in an age of conquest, the Native Americans would have done the same if they could.
But I digress. Back to Fort Sumter. The ferry ride to the fort was gorgeous: Charleston harbor, once the biggest and richest in the colonies, is lovely. Dolphins frolicked and pelicans flocked overhead, with one or another suddenly dropping into the water to catch a fish.
The Fort itself is a shadow of what existed at the start of the Civil War. By the time the Union Army prevailed, the tall walls had been reduced to rubble. It's been reassembled somewhat, but there's actually little to see. The point is to be there.
South Carolina was a slave state, and it's unquestionable that this was a moral wrong. However, the British brought in slaves before the Enlightenment brought people to understand that the Eighth Commandment ("Thou shalt not steal") applies to a person's liberty as much as it does to inanimate objects. This marked a break with the entirety of human history.
Because Southerners' wealth was entangled with slave labor, they turned a blind eye to a moral principle sweeping the Western world. Slavery continued — and continues — to exist outside the West. They paid a price for this in blood and gold, for they lost hundreds of thousands of men, and all the wealth in the South was gone by war's end.
But slavery wasn't the only basis for the Civil War. States' rights really were a "thing" in those days, for America was much less homogeneous. While most Southerners did not own slaves, they all felt strongly that Northerners had no right to have a say in how they governed themselves. States' rights is an American principle separate from slavery, and it was what fired up many Confederate fighters.
All of this is nuanced and fascinating. But to the Park Ranger today, it was all irrelevant. Her lecture was an impassioned effort to make us understand that enslaved people built Fort Sumter and that the entire point of the Civil War was to preserve slavery. She went on in this vein for some time, running everything through the filter of slavery, whether that filter applied or not.
As a descendant of slaves (my distant ancestors worked for Pharaoh while my mother performed slave labor for the Japanese), I'm very aware of the practical and moral horrors of slavery. But to reduce American history to "America had slavery; America evil" is a travesty. It's reductive, boring, and inaccurate, and it teaches people to hate their own country — something no country can survive.
By all means, let us acknowledge the unholy contradiction between our founding principles and slavery's existence in America, as well as the deep moral sin that was slavery. But let's not pretend slavery defined every American action and every American person to the exclusion of all other motivations and issues. That's just as wrong and boring as all the other one-dimensional history leftists invariably serve up to manipulate people to achieve leftist goals.
Image: The bombardment of Fort Sumter 1861. Engraved in 1863. Public domain.
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