I wrote this column last spring when the casino proposal was officially defeated. I still feel this way and, oh, how I wish I were right.
— Marc Charisse
When it comes to lost causes, the Gettysburg casino is right up there with the Confederacy itself.
For some, it was a money-and-magnolia-scented mansion. A resort built on a “peculiar institution,” gambling, that might have bothered some, but brought jobs and the real promise of a better life. For others, though, casino gambling was a cruel, rapacious master who would profit from the sweat of others while offering only empty promises of prosperity.
Well, not exactly. But truth is the first casualty of war, as Aeschylus said, and that certainly applies to rhetorical conflicts like the casino controversy.
Now the truth is, of course, that the casino would have brought some jobs, though just how many and just how good they might have been may fairly be debated. There’s no doubt, though, that a majority in Adams County supported the deal, or at least didn’t oppose a casino . And Mason-Dixon made a pretty good argument that this was the best untapped gambling market in the state.
None of that mattered, though, when state gaming officials unanimously decided for a second time not to award a casino license near Gettysburg. Turned out the Gettysburg casino had about as much chance as the South winning the Civil War.
At the beginning of the war 150 years ago, the South looked like a sure winner to many people, too. Only with hindsight was the Union the certain victor. And like the great rebellion that put Gettysburg on the map, I think casino was a losing battle from the start. I just can’t imagine state officials standing in the line of fire against some national preservation campaign in this, the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, to put a casino anywhere near Gettysburg.
So it’s time to settle down, take a deep breath and relegate the casino controversy to the might-have-beens of history. The pro- casino people weren’t trying to bulldoze the battlefield and the no- casino folks didn’t wreck the national economy. There’s way too little evidence that local efforts helped or hurt the casino ‘s chances, and there’s way too much talk right now of retribution and political payback.
Please, please, please, let the casino controversy die. That battle, after all, has already raged longer than the real Civil War.
It took 50 years for the real veterans of Gettysburg to make peace, to shake hands across that low stone wall above the Emmitsburg Pike that saw so much carnage so long ago. But the stakes and sacrifices were ever so much higher back in 1863.
Now I suspect that most folks are tired of it all, and ready to move on. And I’d bet that includes Dave LeVan and the other erstwhile casino investors. Sure, there is a bit of lingering bitterness on both sides. The Duke of Wellington famously remarked that there was nothing so melancholy as a battle lost, except perhaps a battle won.
And the anger continued on our online comment boards last week as a few diehard combatants on either side were still manning their virtual ramparts, hurling electronic epithets at enemies real and imagined. So I took down the last of the casino comment boards over the last few days – the sad detritus of rhetorical battle now best left alone and allowed to heal. Those folks will have to find another battlefield.
On the eve of civil war, President Lincoln pleaded with a divided nation for reconciliation and understanding. He reminded Americans of both sections of their shared heritage.
“We must not be enemies,” Lincoln begged his fellow citizens 150 years ago. “Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
When the old graybeards of blue and butternut met and clasped hands like brothers at that low stone wall on Cemetery Ridge a century ago, they were motivated by shared spirit and shared experience. That’s not so unusual among soldiers – after all, they share in common with their enemy the honor of sacrifice and the horror of battle.
I don’t want to cheapen the experience of real battle with some glib casino analogy, but I honestly believe that the partisans on both sides of that Mason-Dixon line can share a certain pride in a battle well fought. The debate over the casino rarely crossed the line from passionate advocacy to ugly rancor.
And both sides can take real pride in that and move on. Don’t let a few nasty voices on the fringes drown out the chorus of the better angels of our nature.