To the Editors:
I am not an historian nor can I quote prior discussions between the Institute and the State on the Institute’s Planning Application. However, it may be more valuable now to separate the logical arguments from the increasingly inflammatory rhetoric.
Most contributors agree that:
1. The battle of Princeton was a very important part of the Revolutionary War.
2. We want to be sure future generations remember and commemorate the soldiers that found the courage to charge the British lines.
3. The Institute is a valued part of the Princeton community, enriching our lives and raising the town’s profile by attracting world-class scholars.
4. The Institute has been a major contributor to the creation of the existing battlefield park and memorial.
The disagreement focuses on the best use of the undeveloped strip of Institute property bordering the existing park:
• Some believe it would add to the commemorative impact of the existing park, preserving what may be the precise spot of Washington’s critical counter-attack.
• Others believe it is important to restoring the residential nature of the Institute, a part of its successful formula for recruitment and collaboration that has been eroding for some time.
Sadly, this is the point at which the rhetoric has become inflamed. Those who find the latter use more compelling have been branded un-patriotic, complicit in the desecration of sacred ground.
By one definition of sacred, “entitled to veneration or religious respect,” I believe that every spot where a soldier gave his life to preserve my freedom is sacred. When I run through the Institute woods I think about what a teenage soldier must have felt treading the same ground, wondering whether the next rise would reveal a phalanx of the most powerful army in the world. However, by another definition of sacred,”devoted or dedicated to a deity or to some religious purpose; consecrated” the designation is not appropriate. Were we to consecrate every spot in Princeton where a soldier fell, we would not have a town, we would have a museum.
Some have claimed this specific plot is so historically important that it should have higher preservation priority than any other. Were its historic status that compelling, it should be possible to raise funds to buy it from the Institute for an amount that would purchase private homes in similar proximity to current faculty housing (e.g., Battle Rd, Haslet Ave). That no such alternative has emerged suggests that views on the historical significance remain equivocal — even the most informed experts disagree on the interpretation of the famous spy map and other historical references.
If the only cost of giving the benefit of the doubt to preservation were to steer a commercial developer across town, the decision would be easy. However, to deny a valued member of our community the right to continue their mission of maintaining a community of scholars, after all they have done to create a commemorative park and to revise extensively their plans to minimize any collateral impact, based on a belief that any chance that one particular war tactic occurred on one specific spot should overrule all other considerations would be a travesty.