Signage has always been confusing on Martha’s Vineyard. I live in Vineyard Haven, and pick up my mail at the Vineyard Haven Post Office. The neighboring elementary school is the Tisbury School, and my house is in the jurisdiction of the Tisbury Police. Twenty-three years ago, the westernmost tip of the Island changed its politically inappropriate name of Gay Head to the Indian name of Aquinnah, well ahead of today’s renaming fashion. But occasional Gay Head signs still pop up here and there.
On a national level, there is much talk of changing the appellations of politically offensive athletic teams such as the Washington Redskins, the Cleveland Indians, and Atlanta Braves to something less racially charged. A new, much-needed movement called Black Lives Matter has arisen out of national outrage over the televised murder of George Floyd. It has forced us to look at the U.S.’ record on race relations, and that record is horrific.
Confederate statues have been pulled down all over the country. The Confederates committed treason and fought to keep slavery. During the Civil War, the South attacked the United States of America, but nonetheless statue removals are being condemned by the current president. It is worth noting that Germany does not display any symbols of Nazism. There are no statues commemorating Hitler’s legacy. By law, all Nazi symbols, including the display of the Nazi flag, are forbidden Germany. Here in the U.S., NASCAR banned the Confederate flag on Tuesday, June 9, 2020.
Right now, as a nation in the middle of the pandemic crisis, we are receiving many mixed messages. They may inspire us to think, but at the same time are often politically divisive. One side watches and listens to Fox News, while the other camp is glued to CNN or MSNBC. One side believes that the nation is doing the best it can during the pandemic, and that the dangers are being overstated. The other side feels that the high rate of virus infections and deaths reflect poor national leadership. But the saddest is that neither side listens or speaks to the other.
Our two political parties used to be like high school athletic teams. While they fought on the athletic field, the players were still friends away from the sports arena. Similarly, our politicians would extend hands across the aisle, drafting legislation to promote the common good, and then often voting for it.
These mixed messages are hurting the reputation of the U.S. on the international stage. We are no longer viewed as the leader of the free world, unless you’re talking about the number of COVID-19 cases. We’ve managed to insult our near neighbors Mexico and Canada, and have taken potshots at our allies and global business partners. The idea behind Trump’s wall was to keep out immigrants arriving from Mexico and Central and South America. Today, Mexico’s land border is closed to U.S. citizens. Recently, I received a letter from an Irish political figure and friend in which he writes, “I hope you are doing well in these difficult times. It is so sad to see what is happening to the great U.S. We in Ireland are so upset with your situation. I see daily developments on CNN, and it is sad that so many of your citizens are suffering.”
To read about our wonderful country as an object of pity is a hard pill to swallow.
A striking feature of the current pandemic is how much it affects the African American community and people of color. Even after a vaccine is obtained, this problem of racial divide will still be with us. I think now is the time to consider adopting a year’s mandatory military service for both men and women in the year after high school. Pacifists could do a year’s community service. A year’s universal conscription would help ameliorate many current problems. It would bring young people together who now live largely separated by race and class. It would provide jobs, training, and a steady income to those unemployed or mostly now working in low-pay service jobs with high health risks. It would provide free healthcare to many who are currently without. Best of all, this would help to bring us more together as a country and as the great nation admired by all.
While it’s not a new idea, the virulent divisions of our society demand a fresh look at possible solutions.
Grace Kennan Warnecke is the former chairman of the board of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, and author of the memoir “Daughter of the Cold War.” She is a seasonal resident of Vineyard Haven.