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Remembering Gettysburg: The perennial lesson

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The Battle of Gettysburg's heroism and sacrifice are as awe-inspiring today as ever on this eve of its 150th anniversary. And so is its significance in reminding us of the ever-present need to ensure that America fulfills its destiny as freedom's exemplar.

The presence and interest of immense crowds expected for this week's Gettysburg National Military Park commemorative events pay richly deserved tribute to those who fought there from July 1 to 3, 1863. Gettysburg's 51,000 casualties made it both the Civil War's bloodiest battle and its turning point: Without that victory over the secessionist Confederacy, President Abraham Lincoln might well have failed to preserve the Union.

Yet the battle's scope and spectacle — and the commercial distractions that surround its site — can obscure its fundamental role in shaping Americans and their nation.

Gettysburg ensured that the conflict inherent in proclaiming equality yet countenancing slavery — a flaw of the Founders' and Framers' design that even they could not resolve — would be settled in liberty's favor. And staggering as the price to do so was, it had to be paid for the United States to truly become what they intended.

A century and a half later, remembrance of our ancestors' courage, determination and devotion at Gettysburg is fitting. But honor them, too, with renewed dedication to what was upheld there: American ideals as worthy of fighting for now — and tomorrow — as they were then.

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