When you disembark from the ferry into the Martha's Vineyard Island town of Oak Bluffs, this watchful life-size Civil War soldier on a pedestal stands directly ahead on the grass. He doesn't seem out of place; after all town is famous for its quaint Victorian-era gingerbread cottages. It's not at all odd that it would have a Civil War monument. Massachusetts sent almost 150000 men to fight the secessionist states of the Confederacy; nearly ten percent of those never came home.
But the meaning of the statue becomes a lot more murky if you actually read the plaque on the monument:
In memory of the restored Union this tablet is dedicated by
Union veterans of the Civil War and patriotic citizens of Martha's Vineyard
in honor of the Confederate soldiers
Whaa? What's a monument to Confederate dead doing on the green in Oak Bluffs?
Apparently it is a relic of a conservative political movement in the late 19th century that sought to "look forward, not backward" -- to re-remember the Civil War as some kind of huge national mistake that killed heroic brothers, to erase the reality that the war was fought to end slavery. That is, when we see this monument and its inscription, it is as if we're meeting a kind of "Fox News" from the 1890s, distorting reality for the benefit of the powerful, all preserved in heroic cast iron.
But I was stunned to read this sentence as the lead in one article:
The Civil War started in 1861, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law ...Yikes -- where was this child's history teacher? Emancipation didn't come until two years into the Civil War, until 1863, by which time the murderous conflict had become a clear cut fight over whether the system of slave labor would survive or die. The story of our defining intramural war is emblematic of the country's lurching path toward broader human freedom. A child doesn't have to know or understand about all that, but it is up to her teachers to help her get the basic chronology right.
The student writer also enthused about the monument. Okay, I can imagine she needed a topic and a quick essay to finish a homework assignment. But some teacher ought to have offered some perspective on this very contentious subject. We do students no favor by glossing over our history, its shame as well as its accomplishments.