Panelists compared modern veterans to their counterparts from the Civil War at a discussion and film screening sponsored by the Georgetown University Student Veterans Association and the Masters of Science in Foreign Service program Tuesday.
The event, titled “Lessons and Legacies: The Civil War and Veterans Today,” began with a viewing of “Death and the Civil War,” a film directed by documentarian Ric Burns.
History professor Chandra Manning moderated the panel, which was composed of National Guardsman Russell Galeti, Director of the Institute for National Security Ethics and Leadership Albert Pierce and Department of Veterans Affairs’ Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs Tommy Sowers.
The panelists first discussed the impact of the Civil War on the United States.
“We will permanently be traumatized by it,” Burns said. “Some traumas we will never get over.”
Pierce also emphasized the lasting effects of the war.
“What survives is an appreciation for the ultimate price we pay, the last full measure of devotion,” Pierce said. “What also survives is a continuing desire to minimize the human costs.”
Galeti went on to discuss how national attitudes toward the military have shifted in the century and a half since the Civil War.
“Some things come into and out of fashion, like romantic notions of war glory, which were definitely stopped at the end of the Civil War. The glory of war or the ugly realities of war kind of wax and wane over time,” he said.
Despite these changes, Pierce acknowledged the universality of the veteran experience.
“Some things never change … such as fears of dying far away from home — dying a violent death,” he said.
The panel also compared the public response to returning veterans in the 19th century with the response to those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan today.
“The public reaction was uneven,” Manning said. “Civil War veterans were looked on in later years, with some suspicion, as leeches.”
All of the panelists emphasized the importance of expressing appreciation for modern veterans.
“We do not know enough about the nature of military experience, the nature of military culture,” Burns said. “The divide is an apparent division … but we need to do active work … to close it.”
“To me it is enormous moral progress of this country that we’ve changed the mindset from the Vietnam War to … even if you hate the war, you respect and even revere the troops,” he said.