Most people who pay attention to Civil War news are aware of the recent controversy at Gettysburg concerning Dr. Latschar. He was apparently resigning from a prominent job with the National Park Service to become head of a large local group supporting the park. There was some discussion of ethics and a possible conflict of interest, and Dr. Latschar withdrew from consideration. I’m being deliberately vague here, because my point doesn’t concern the details of the matter or my opinion.

To my mind, however, a “discussion” group by its very nature implies that everyone does not share the same opinion. On such a group or forum, I would expect that people with opposing views could respectfully disagree and state their opposing views, preferably with some evidence supporting their arguments. This does not necessarily imply agreement being reached, as sometimes those with strong differing views simply have to state their case and agree to disagree. It’s one of those great things about this country, you have the right to your opinion and the right to state it as long as it doesn’t endanger others or infringe on their right to do so.

This could be confusion on my part, but my perception to this point is that moderators in such areas exist to ensure the rules of the discussion group are followed, that people are decent to one another, and that things don’t get out of hand. When wearing their moderator hat, they’re neutral and objective. I fully admit that this view may be overly simplified or even naive, but other groups that I’ve participated in such as the Civil War Discussion Group seem to follow this model. I think Joe Avalon at Civil War Interactive’s forums does this particularly well. Maybe he’s just spoiled me — as I’ve stated numerous times I’m fairly new to this game.

I recently joined the Gettysburg Discussion Group. My thinking was that the group would probably have lots of great information and discussions about various aspects of the battle which I find interesting. If there’s one battle upon which people have an opinion in the Civil War, it’s usually Gettysburg (with no offense to those western theater afficionados out there). And I must say that it appears to be a group of very learned folks who know a great deal about the battle.

This issue with Dr. Latschar has stirred some pretty strong sentiment on both sides. Given the group’s focus, it was no surprise to me when it drew a good deal of discussion on GDG. Two opposing views were stated, somewhat strongly but not to my mind offensively. Opposing arguments were stated, levels of experience were compared, and the two individuals agreed to disagree. Respectfully, it seemed to me. At this point, a moderator stepped in with a long, somewhat emotional tirade about the view he didn’t support, questioned its relevance, and stated that anyone who didn’t agree with him wasn’t “for” Gettysburg preservation.

This gave me pause. So if anyone who doesn’t agree is against the entire park and its preservation? I’m not a big fan of all or nothing arguments. Maybe I’m just not rigid enough in my thinking. Discussion, as long as it doesn’t descend into personal attacks and such, is the point of such groups. So if we can’t have differing opinions, what’s the point? Is it a discussion group or a fan site?

It wasn’t, however, my site, and the owner/ moderator of each site can run it as he/ she/ they choose. So I quietly unsubscribed from the group. Their site, their rules. But it bothered me enough that I felt I needed to post about it. Not as an attack on the GDG. There have been other good discussions there where I learned a good bit. As I said, it seems to be a place where some very smart folks can discuss the battle. I’ve seen the same “problem” (my view, others may not have an issue with such an approach) in other places, this is simply the most recent example which prompted me to write about it.

I think discussion groups are a valuable resource, and excellent source of inquiry into historical events. Cases are often made, and not always agreed with. But the evidence behind the arguments and the discussion of sources from which they came is more than worth the price (generally free) of admission. And that’s not even mentioning the eloquence oftentimes expressed by “amateur” historians.

Just my two cents. And for the sake of the comments, please note that my topic is discussion groups, not the Latschar situation. That lies close enough to politics that I’ll keep my opinion to myself.

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