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.