Dissent with unity


To the Editor:

I believe the American Civil War monument in Oak Bluffs should be left intact. Here are three reasons why:

  • The Chasm. A 2011 Pew Research Center poll found a significant divide among Americans when asked the cause of the Civil War; 38 percent said “mainly slavery,” 48 percent said “mainly states’ rights,” and everyone else thought it was about even, or said they didn’t know. For me these findings highlight the role that secession played in the Civil War. When you set the antislavery movement within the context of states’ rights, Charles Strahan’s statement that “the Chasm is closed” begins to make sense. Surely slavery was the Civil War’s driving force, but the Acts of Secession by the Southern States would have literally torn our nation in two. And while the evils of slavery remain a moral issue, secession was a legislative matter. What Strahan, the soldiers, and people of Martha’s Vineyard lived to see was not the end to racial prejudice — that lives on — but the Confederate States Army’s surrender at Appomattox and preservation of “one undivided indivisible Union.”
  • Honor. My husband is an Army veteran who served in Korea and Vietnam, and when discharged, item 13a on his DD Form 214 reported “Character of Service.” Typed into that box is one word, “Honorable.” When I first saw it, I thought it was rather quaint, but then images came to mind of people lined up to spit on soldiers coming home from Vietnam.
  • By all appearances, our monument’s soldier didn’t command troops. His role was to obey orders, as a volunteer or drafted, like it or not. The same can be said for thousands of Confederate soldiers who count among the 600,000 people who died in the Civil War. Hate the war; hate the soldier? I find it deeply troubling that these sentiments are still with us.
  • Unknown Soldier. The monument in Oak Bluffs, what Strahan referred to as his “message of peace and fraternity,” is graced by the statue of an unnamed army private. I don’t see how this monument is like the statues on battlefields and in town squares across Dixie that depict Confederate statesmen and generals — astride noble steeds, sabers at their sides, their names chiseled in stone and into our history books.
    Surely, democracy’s greatest challenge is to balance dissent with national unity. Let us keep our monument just as it is, to remind us what happens when our democratic process fails, and be grateful that for all the turmoil in politics, and for all these years, we have managed to stop short of all-out war.

Jean Cargill
Oak Bluffs


  1. Yet descendants of those who were slaves are not allowed to live without reminders that they were treated as less than full humans. And so today people of color do not get the freedom guaranteed those who erected the stature or now defend it. People of color have to suck it up because good white folk have decided no one is hurt because of this statue or its plaques. Simply, people of color still don’t count as full humans.

    The NAACP asked the plaques be removed and put in a museum. Simple courtesy is what is asked for.

  2. Absolutely Fantastic letter Jean! The majority of us totally agree with you!
    Not that it will do one bit of good but I hope King, Underwood and the NAACP read this and knock this nonsense off.
    It is definitely not about race. ALL historic information clearly states that!
    The Statue must stay “AS IS”!

    • History? Oh, goody. Are you going to claim freed slaves were encouraged to vote 30 years before the 19th Amendment passed? Or claim they weren’t really slaves, they offered to come to America as indentured servants? Or that America never had slavery at all? Somehow you have to justify people once slaves felt the chasm had healed. Or don’t you care?

  3. PS… Please remember to attend the May 21st selectman’s meeting concerning this issue between 6 ~ 8:00 pm and bring as many people as possible with you especially island veterans!
    The place for the meeting will be announced at a later date!
    Thanks again Jean.

  4. It’s telling that the people who say “this isn’t about race” are inevitably members of the white race. Race permeates our history and our current political climate. It is omnipresent. Just as this statue was an effort to bring people together so is the act of removing the plaque. A way for some of us to say this plaque is divisive and inappropriate.
    As to the claims of people spitting on soldiers, as far as I can tell it’s apocryphal and definitely was not a regular occurrence.

  5. My memory of military returning from Vietnam is they were welcomed home with gratitude for those alive, mourning for those who died, frustration about those who disappeared. No spitting. Anti-war protestors were against the government and the draft, not those who fought.

  6. New Englander Your Memory of military returning from Nam is quite different than mine . When our group came back to being accused of being baby killers and were harassed by the pot smoking anti war scum. To this day when I see the anti war peace protests it makes my blood boil. Why don’t the just put up a statue of MLK right next to the other one problem solved.

  7. Jean– I was in the navy during the Viet Nam conflict– I experienced no animosity, except protestors in Hamburg Germany. I have searched for any publicized image of anyone spitting on a returning soldier in the United States. I have found none. Perhaps you could find that image of “people lined up to spit on soldiers coming home from Vietnam.” and share it with us. I do not think they exist. It never happened.

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