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Chandra Manning: How should the country mark the sesquicentennial?

By Chandra Manning

Associate professor of history at Georgetown University


It should be marked with humility and discernment.

We need to think about not only why the war happened, but what it did and did not change, about what possibilities it created, and did or did not fulfill. I think we need to remember that the past does not have a responsibility to us: it is not the job of the past to make us feel good or to nurse grievances or to allow us to escape life’s complexity by playing make believe. On the contrary, we have an obligation to the past, and that obligation is to try to understand what happened in the past and what people thought and did in the past on its and their own terms, which is to say not by pretending that they were just like us but dressed differently and therefore all we have to do is imagine what we would have done or said or felt, but instead try to leave ourselves behind and enter their world in full knowledge that it was different than ours, and see things from perspectives wholly different from our own. Then, perhaps, real insight becomes possible.

By Chandra Manning  | November 15, 2010; 2:10 PM ET
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