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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

National Cemetery Administration Commemoration of the Civil War
Washington, DC
April 18, 2012

Good morning, and a warm welcome to our distinguished guest speaker, Harvard University President, Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust—we're honored to have you with us.

Dr. Faust is the Lincoln Professor of History on Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. An eminent historian and educator, she served as the Annenberg Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was a member of the faculty for 25 years before assuming her duties as president of Harvard University.

Let me just say that wars are terrible things—the worst of man's creations. Those who have experienced war bear its burdens for the rest of their lives, victor and vanquished alike. Civil wars are the worst kind of war. They set community against community, village against village. They split townships, families, and friends. They exhaust an entire Nation. There are no real victors, and for the vanquished, the memories run deep, and the scars never really heal. You just try to stop thinking about it.

By any measure, the American Civil War was a dramatic catalyst for change in our country. It ended slavery. It altered the way Americans viewed our country—a concept of a strong federal government as "One Nation, under God," in tension with an equally strong recognition of the importance of the rights of individual states to govern themselves. It revolutionized military medical care.

Notwithstanding these advances, the American Civil War delivered domestic carnage on a massive scale. More than 600,000 Americans died in uniform—two percent of America's population at the time—the equivalent of roughly six million people today. A recently released study by Dave Hacker, a demographic historian, raises the possibility that the estimate may be as high as 750,000. Whatever the estimate, the carnage was horrendous.

America has never again endured the scope and scale of loss that it suffered during the Civil War. An enduring legacy of this troubled time is VA's stewardship of our country's national cemetery system today—a heritage we commemorate on this 150th anniversary of that devastating conflict. And the war gave rise to our 19th century mandate "to care for [those] who have borne the battle," a sacred mission that continues into the 21st century unabated, unwavering, and undiminished. As we have noted on previous occasions, we still care for two children of Civil War Veterans today.

As a member of the Educational Advisory Board of the Guggenheim Foundation, Dr. Faust has previously served as President of the Southern Historical Association; Vice President of the American Historical Association; and Executive Board Member of the Organization of American Historians and the Society of American Historians.

Dr. Faust is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. She has lent her expertise to numerous editorial boards and selection committees, including the Pulitzer Prize History Jury for the years 1986, 1990, and 2004. Dr. Faust is the acclaimed author of This Republic of Suffering: Death in the American Civil War. It is a best-selling study of the war's unprecedented number of casualties; a thought-provoking examination of how 19th century America came to terms with a pervasive environment of death and destruction during the years 1861 through 1865, and thereafter; and, it is a moving tribute to the enormous heroism and sacrifice displayed by the soldiers on both sides.

This Republic of Suffering was a finalist for both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize, and was named as one of the "10 Best Books of 2008" by the New York Times.

We are honored that Dr. Faust has so graciously accepted our invitation to speak and to share with us perhaps a deeper understanding of the human aspects of the Civil War and the American cultural landscape of the time.

This hallmark event provides all of us an opportunity, and an obligation, to broaden our knowledge about a defining moment in our Nation's history.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the eminent historian and author, President of Harvard University, Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust.