File this under “Acquiescing to Mindless NIMBYs in Woodland Hills.”
The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg will be observed in many places in the United States, most notably at the National Battlefield Park at the site of the actual battle.
Not at Pierce College, however, where President Kathleen Burke-Kelly canceled the annual Heritage Days event that has served as the venue for Civil War reenactments in recent years. Controversy over noise seems to be the issue, although Burke-Kelly did not disclose the split of the community’s opinions other than to say it was vocal.
I observed the event two years ago. The noise level was no worse than a July 4th fireworks display; maybe less. By comparison, it was less than the steady racket from the freeways, helicopters, sirens and other common urban noises we are exposed to every day. The musket and cannon fire was limited to two, approximately 30 minute demonstrations each day of the weekend.
The participants did an admirable job of portraying camp life and tactics. Visitors could ask the reenactors anything about life in those tumultuous times and receive an answer framed in the context of the period.
Of course, no depiction could replicate the actual misery both sides had to endure. And I must say, both armies looked much better nourished than the ones who lived through the four-year ordeal of the war.
You will not hear the residents of present-day Gettysburg complaining about the sound from the annual commemoration of the battle staged in its backyard, which will be larger than normal this year – and many times larger in any year than what takes place at Pierce.
Apparently, some of the nearby neighbors are ultra-sensitive NIMBYs who cannot deal with limited durations of noise even when it is part of a commemoration of the hemisphere’s, and arguably the world’s, most pivotal moment.
To put the battle in perspective, the combined forces totaled around 165,000 and 46,000 casualties were incurred. Besides representing the costliest battle in the hemisphere, the losses exceeded those in several key World War 2 battles, including D-Day.
It was a pivotal battle that changed the strategy for both sides. It was not as decisive a victory as it could have been since Lee was able to extricate his army and move it back across the Potomac. Although no single subsequent battle would result in higher casualties, the fighting would eventually become more protracted with a continuous stream of losses, especially in the conflict’s final year. Lincoln’s re-election prospects were threatened by the steady losses in the summer and fall of 1864 until a couple of major Union breakthroughs were achieved.
It is disappointing that an institution of higher learning turned its back on an opportunity to help observe a key event in our nation’s history, folding under the pressure applied by a small slice of the community.
Pierce College is a crown jewel in the Valley. Its farm is unique for an urban setting. It provides the most publicly accessible site for an event such as Heritage Days.
President Kelly-Burke did a great disservice to the greater community by canceling it. Colleges should advance the dissemination of knowledge, not restrain it.