Correct a wrong

22

To the Editor:

I was formerly a social studies teacher at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, for 27 years. I taught U.S. history, and obviously for my students, including Chief Blake, I tried to give them an appreciation of not only learning history but taking action when necessary.

Through the past few weeks, I have been reading the arguments related to the removal of the two plaques at the base of the monument in Oak Bluffs, and thought about what Islanders were saying. We need to be cautious when we think that removal of these plaques to a museum is taking away history. No, it’s just moving plaques to a museum where they belong in our study of history. We also need to be very careful that we don’t make light of the real pain that is caused by seeing plaques honoring a Confederacy that divided our nation. These plaques not only “honor” the Confederate soldiers but the cause that they were fighting for: keeping the institution of slavery! The monument itself recognizes a war that tore us apart, but these plaques raise the stakes by honoring the soldiers who were fighting to keep slavery! Since when do we honor the enemy who killed so many of our young men?

Enough said, let’s be clear — we do not honor anyone who commits treason against us or tries to keep people enslaved. By all means, let’s keep the history by moving the plaques to the M.V. Museum where they belong. However, we, the people of Martha’s Vineyard, need to take this opportunity to correct a wrong that perhaps we did not notice, but now has been brought to our attention.

 

Marge Harris
Oak Bluffs

22 COMMENTS

  1. Marge– you ask “Since when do we honor the enemy who killed so many of our young men? ”
    The short answer is, since they were Americans also, and “we” killed their young men, and burned “their” cities, raped ‘their” women, and pillaged “their” wealth and resources. Many Confederate soldiers were conscripted, virtually none owned slaves or ever would. They fought and died because the powerful and wealthy aristocrats ordered them to do it– Much like the innocent young men and women who have bravely served and died as cannon fodder for the aristocrats in Viet-Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
    You likely would honor their service and sacrifice for a lost and unjust cause.. Why not honor Americans for theirs ?

    • Homework assignment for you: Research how Confederate troops managed captured Union soldiers who where people of color.

      • New Englander– I am sure nobody was nice. War is a horrible thing.. It brings out the worst side of humanity. Even today, atrocities occur on both sides of nearly every conflict. Even the current president of the United States wants to torture people, and would likely get that authority if there were another 9/11 scale attack .
        The point I am trying to make here, is that, in my opinion, reconciliation is the best way to “close the chasm”. My father was tortured as a POW in a secret Japanese camp — secret, because no one expected any survivors when his submarine was sunk. But in 1960, when a Japanese family moved into our mostly military personal neighborhood, many wanted them out. My father called a meeting at our house and told everyone he had more reason to hate the Japanese than anyone in the room, but my mother was going to bake a cake and the next day they knocked on the door and welcomed them into the neighborhood. We can honor history.

        • Don, our fathers walked away from their captivity with 2 different outlooks on what war does to people’s conduct. During his imprisonment my dad witnessed hundreds of Jewish women and children and babies on a death march. Not soldiers. Innocent women and children. My extended family still in Europe were murdered. They had done nothing but be born Jewish. Discrimination and enslavement and annihilation of an entire (not soldiers) people, thought to be “lesser” is, again, something your privilege is not letting you consider as reason enough not to allow the plaques honoring those who fought to perpetuate evil.

        • … black captives were typically treated more harshly than white captives. In perhaps the most heinous known example of abuse, Confederate soldiers shot to death black Union soldiers captured at the Fort Pillow, TN, engagement of 1864. Confederate General Nathan B. Forrest witnessed the massacre and did nothing to stop it.
          https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/blacks-civil-war

          Black soldiers and their officers were also in grave danger if they were captured in battle. Confederate President Jefferson Davis called the Emancipation Proclamation “the most execrable measure in the history of guilty man” and promised that black prisoners of war would be enslaved or executed on the spot. (Their white commanders would likewise be punished—even executed—for what the Confederates called “inciting servile insurrection.”)
          https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/black-civil-war-soldiers

          The Fort Pillow Massacre in Tennessee on April 12, 1864, in which more than 300 African-American soldiers were killed, was one of the most controversial events of the American Civil War (1861-65). Though most of the Union garrison surrendered, and thus should have been taken as prisoners of war, the soldiers were killed. The Confederate refusal to treat these troops as traditional prisoners of war infuriated the North, and led to the Union’s refusal to participate in prisoner exchanges.
          https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/fort-pillow-massacre

        • McPherson reports that a prominent Confederate general, Pierre Beauregard of Louisiana, called for the strangling of any captured black troops. As early as August, 1862, the Confederate army’s high command ordered the execution of any white officer caught in charge of black soldiers. In November of that year, a Confederate raid against a Union-held island off the coast of South Carolina yielded four black prisoners, who were executed with the approval of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

          Small-scale atrocities persisted sporadically into 1863, but the gloves really came off in 1864, when outrages seemed to occur almost every month. At Olustee, Florida, in February of that year, about 50 black troops caught up in a Union defeat were slaughtered. Trudeau uncovered a record of the event by a southern officer, William Penniman, who recalled being puzzled by the persistence of gunfire long after the battle. Penniman asked another officer what was happening, and the latter replied: “I have tried to make the boys desist, but I can’t control them.”
          https://nationalpost.com/opinion/scott-van-wynsberghe-on-the-terrible-history-of-atrocities-against-captured-black-soldiers-during-the-american-civil-war

          The very accurate point made then by opponents of this legislation was, as one Georgia leader stated, “If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” Southern newspaper editors blasted the idea as “the very doctrine which the war was commenced to put down,” a “surrender of the essential and distinctive principle of Southern civilization.”
          https://www.bluffton.edu/homepages/facstaff/bergerd/essays/trclark.htm

          • New Englander– We had Sherman’s march to the sea, The burning of Richmond, bombing of Dresden,Hiroshima and My Lai, as well as the “shock and awe” policy of the Cheney administration. And let’s not even mention the genocide of the native Americans.
            For you to point out the atrocities of the confederate army is a false narrative.
            War is full of atrocities committed by both sides.

          • dondondon12 – A memorial might be to glorify events that were good or to remind not to repeat those that were bad. The plaques do neither, rather they say “no hard feelings” between white people of either side, completely ignoring former slaves and now their descendants. Atrocities will continue to be committed but the plaques are attempting to pretend this one didn’t exist. Or worse, want to remind people of color for all of time and that’s a lousy morality to stand behind. Your choice where to stand.

    • Don, I would like to convince you otherwise on this matter because, well, because you are wrong. Confederate soldiers fought against Union soldiers. That makes them traitors to America, not Americans. They did not want to be Americans. Why must all who see a war statue on public property feel sorry for or honor the traitors who fought against the Union and in favor of slavery? True, all war is hell and all who fight in wars are human beings with feelings, and most do not want to be on the battlefields but home with their families. You could also say that all battlefield soldiers must be brave, even those Nazi soldiers who were just following orders and did not care one way or another about Jews or any government policies at all. But I don’t know why it is so hard for privileged white people to understand NOT to dig their heels in on this one. Trust our friends of color who do not know where or how their family tree grew and branched. Trust those who suffer and know racial hatred and discrimination in their bones as well as you know the back of your hand. Trust those who descended from slaves. Trust those who empathize with what it is like to be descended from slaves. Put the offending plaques in the museum. Just because a plaque does not offend you personally as a white male who is so privileged that he feels more sympathy for the dead white Confederate soldiers than the alive people of our community whose entire past, present and future has been impacted directly by slavery, does not make you right. It makes you wrong on this one. Trust those who know because you do not. You do not know what it is like NOT to be a privileged white male, despite being a compassionate, brave veteran yourself. (My father, an American soldier who happened to be Jewish, was captured at Anzio in 1943 and lived as a POW as a slave laborer in Germany for almost two years. He spoke German and looked like a blue-eyed “Aryan” and his Nazi guards relied on him to be translator, so he did fairly well getting to know his captors as people. But I can assure you, when he was liberated my dad did not let the humanity of the German people overshadow what every single Nazi German soldier had been complicit in. It’s no different from the complicit Confederate soldiers. If you, or those who came before you, were harmed and directly impacted by those who helped to carry out evil, you would not feel as you do. You can visit the plaques in the museum.

      • Jackie– thank you for your thoughtful reply. I will dig deeper to think about this one.
        I respect your opinions—

  2. Jackie. My father a German major was captured at Normandy and Imprisoned by Americans was Aryan and had Jewish blood( I am 13 percent Jewish) I found him in 1969 and he hated the war effort and thought Germany would do it all again if given opportunity. I have no malice toward him other than he never came back to my mother after release. I do not think he was complicit. He was just a soldier.

    • Having no personal malice is not the same as publicly honoring a miitary enemy on public land. And an “Aryan with Jewish blood” would be an oxymoron to a Nazi who believed in a “pure race”, although it gets quite complicated for racists who believe in such nonsense. Look what happened to Elizabeth Warren when she tried to honor her family story of some Indian ancestry. Broke-ahontas Trump really went to town on that one, but that is what racists do. What percentage of blood makes you an Indian, a Jew, an African American in the eyes of a political or wartime enemy who’d just as soon see you dead? Claiming a certain amount of minority blood to excuse or make a point that even our enemy in war is “just a soldier” doing his job does not offer a reason for the plaques remaining in place in the public park. They belong in the museum. It is wrong to publicly honor, in a public park, those who fought and died for the evil that was slavery.

  3. Most of the people in the Confederacy were… just people. Ordinary people, going through their lives… but doing what we now consider to be horrible things–just as many ordinary people have done for time immemorial. We all probably imagine that if we had been born then, WE would have been different. We would have known!

    We would have been the leader of the resistance!…Or not. Maybe we would have been just like them.

    I don’t think the plaque “honors” the Confederates. I don’t think that Dachau “honors” the Nazis who built it. I think both of them serve as valuable reminders of the temptation of humans to do horrific things to other humans. To a large degree it should make us question: Given that neither the “good” Northerners or the “bad” Southerners were born that way, how would we have known to be different, if we were born in the South?

    With that said: We should not remove it, because it is valuable history. But we should add to it, to acknowledge our more modern view. Rather than removing it, we should add to it and encourage all of us to make sure this never happens again.

    I don’t want Dachau to come down either. I want people to see it everyt day. I want them to ask each other not just “how could this happen”, but how could this happen *in the middle of a town, while people went about their lives right next door?*

    We should acknowledge slavery as an evil, but we should not remove it from view. Rather, we should confront it face to face,

    • The wording on the plaque is like welcoming home a prodigal son. As for removing history, those who gave orders resulting in the Holocaust were not given gravesites or memorials. Yet history remembers them. Now try your comparisons to the Holocaust.

    • The plaque at Dachau reads, “IN HONOR OF THE 20TH ARMORED DIVISION (LIBERATORS) U.S. 7TH ARMY WHO PARTICIPATD IN THE LIBERATION OF DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP APRIL 29, 1945 AND IN EVERLASTING MEMORY OF THE VICTIMS OF NAZI BARBARISM, THIS TABLET IS DEDICATED APRIL 28, 1996.

      The plaque on the OB statue (and no one is saying the statue itself should be removed, just the plaque) reads, “The chasm is closed… This tablet is dedicated by union veterans of the civil was and patriotic citizens of Martha’s Vineyard IN HONOR OF THE CONFEDERATE SOLDIERS”.

      The OB plaque does indeed HONOR confederate soldiers who fought and died for the evil that was slavery. Nowhere at Dachau, or any other public place in Germany that I know of, is there a plaque by vets or anyone else, honoring the German soldiers who fought and died for the evil that was Nazism. You can’t just make stuff up. Your “if we had been born then” statement assumes you would have been born white! If that is not the definition of white privilege, I don’t know what is. The point of my comments is to ask people to imagine how they would feel if they were born black and had ancestors who were slaves. It’s perfectly reasonable to remove the plaque to the museum of our history.

      White privilege or ignorance (or both) allows people to use a lie and false comparison to dismiss and minimize and publicly excuse the barbarism that was slavery by honoring the soldiers who fought for it. It certainly was not a case of “chasm closed” that brought this plaque into being all those years after the end of the Civil War. It was a whitewash, which some seem to want to continue.

      • Jackie– I am getting near the point I could be ok with removing the plaques– but not yet. Your quote from the plague at Dachau sort of re enforces my point– the American liberators got to Dachau after the horrendous and indiscriminate killing of at least 25 thousand civilians in the city of Dresden. They also destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. And yet, the plaque at Dachau honors them.
        Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were cold blooded calculated murders of civilians. You are correct– no one honors the nazi’s, but there are many plaques and memorials that honor the forces and the individuals that committed unspeakable atrocities in the name of their cause. War is hell, and I need a better argument than the south was wrong to advocate removing the words of union soldiers from the public place they chose to place them

        • Dondondon you dont know your history. Hiroshima and Nagasaki was done to stop the Japanese and to stop the killing of US soldiers. the US repeatedly warned the Japanese about the use of the bomb and the Japanese knew about its power. Nevertheless they did not cease. No cold blooded murder at all. A terrible price to pay agreed but it started with Pearl Harbor and had to end and you lazily call it cold bloody murder. Your perspective is stunningly incorrect.

          • andrew– they were civilians, living their lives, when someone thousands of miles away decided to kill them.
            You would be first to say the 9/11 attacks were cold blooded murder, but from the perspective of the people who planned it and carried it out, it was as justifiable as Hiroshima or Dresden. The wholesale slaughter of civilians is never acceptable. The united states to this day has tremendous rates of “collateral damage” in the form of dead civilians. Although, of course, the trump regime claims not a single death of innocent civilians since he seized power. Even when it was clearly murder, only one person was convicted in the My lai massacre, and he was pardoned by Nixon after 3 years. I know my history.

          • dondondon12 – We remember Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, and Dachau; all without visiting. We remember the Civil War without visiting a single battlefield or cemetery.

            You want to preserve plaques in public view that remind people of color their ancestors were enslaved and that after the war, even to this day, many white people still consider them unworthy of equal respect as citizens.

            Humanity has done terrible things. Humanity can learn and become something better. Apparently not all.

  4. I agree with Marge 100%. Why should we honor men that tried to secede from our country. They are no better than Benedict Arnold. Traitors!

    • carl– do you support the trump regime’s policy to ignore the legal subpoenas from congress , violating many constitutional statutes ? Care to have a debate about what constitutes a “traitor” ?

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