[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/04/14/t1.confederate.flag.jpg caption="Understanding the Confederacy key to knowing how the U.S. has evolved, according to S. Waite Rawls." width=300 height=169]
S. Waite Rawls III
Special to CNN
"I'm a big history buff," President Obama said in an interview with ABC News" George Stephanopoulos. "And I think that understanding the history of the Confederacy and understanding the history of the Civil War is something that every American and every young American should be part of."
I am sometimes asked the same question that Mr. Stephanopoulos put to President Obama: Why study Confederate history? And I agree with the president's response.
As we approach the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we look back to its centennial in the 1960s. A lot has happened in this country since then, and our appreciation of the lessons of history has changed with the times.
One constant has been the importance of the Civil War. It remains as the most important era of American history, a time when America withstood its biggest challenges to a constitutional democracy which then was still viewed as an experiment in a new form of government. The crucible of war defined the nation as we know it today, as we became "indivisible" and "with liberty and justice for all" for the first time.
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