Debate, discuss national holidays like Veterans,
Readers of this newspaper are probably not surprised that I was utterly
disappointed in Robert Johnson's speech on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
His overt, unveiled, and partisan disdain for the Bush administration
was inappropriately divisive for a holiday that is meant to unite. Certainly
Prof. Johnson is as entitled to his opinions as I am, but the speech made
me wonder why it is that the College does not do more to encourage debate
and discussion surrounding this and all other national holidays.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a holiday that we should recognize with
a gathering or celebration, but so are numerous other holidays that we
choose to ignore. Labor Day, Veterans Day, and Presidents Day present
themselves with people, movements, or monumental achievements that should
be fairly celebrated and critically analyzed.
I asked a member of Bowdoin's special events staff why we only recognize
the King holiday. He answered that he didn't know the precise reason,
except that over 20 years ago, students and other members of the community
decided that it was a worthwhile holiday to celebrate.
As a college, we should treat national holidays with both a celebratory
and critical eye. Despite the universal agreement that civil rights for
African Americans are good, debate on Dr. King's legacy should contribute
to all celebrations. As a school, we should engage in healthy discourse
over what Dr. King would think about slave reparations or affirmative
action. This celebrating of achievements and confronting of contemporary
questions brings meaning to all holidays.
As we commence a new academic year, we should engage ourselves in a serious
discussion as to the meaning of Labor Day. Critically examining issues
that focus on the workplace should be of paramount importance to us because
that is our post-"Bowdoin bubble" destination. We should pursue
questions about the role of unions in the "New Economy," or
think about the type of environment in which we wish to be employed.
As autumn leaves drift off the trees and daylight dwindles, Veterans
Day comes upon us. Considering the number of Bowdoin men who have served
in wars, including one of our most storied alumni, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain,
it is almost unconscionable that we do nothing to honor these brave individuals.
Much of the video during the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration focused
on the bravery of King and other civil rights leaders who knew they were
putting their lives and families in peril by supporting justice. The same
sacrifice is made daily by all of our military men and women. We are remiss
and ungracious as citizens if we do not recognize those who have faced
In the midst of winter lies the month of February, which is the birth
month of three of our great Presidents: Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln.
Fifty years ago there would have been no debate regarding the need to
celebrate the birthdays of these magnanimous figures. Today, possession
of slaves obscures Washington and Jefferson's greatness. The fact that
Washington freed his slaves upon his death does little to preserve his
image among some liberal politicians and commentators. Such myopic scribes
refuse to acknowledge the courageous dispositions of these great men.
Washington displayed his prowess on the battlefield leading an undermanned
and poorly equipped army to victory over imperial forces. Jefferson helped
mold the Declaration of Independence and immortalized the American ideal
that "we are all created equal." Although some view the phrase
as a lie because he held slaves, the fact is that Jefferson and many other
founders knew slavery was wrong but believed that it would be better to
erect a union based on the principles of freedom than destroy the dream
of the United States over one issue.
Their prescience manifested itself during the Civil War when Abraham
Lincoln preserved the Union against the South's insurgence. Lincoln loathed
the practice of slavery. He said so outright in his 1854 "Peoria"
speech against the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, where he calls slavery
a "monstrous injustice." Our failure as a school to recognize
his birthday and accomplishments, especially considering our school's
connection to Abolition vis-à-vis Harriet Beecher Stowe, is troubling.
Clearly, some of my statements regarding these historical figures and even the premise that we should recognize holidays in an intellectually balanced manner are controversial. However the grappling and debating of different topics is the epitome of a liberal arts education, and what better time is there to pursue this scholarly ideal than in the context of world-renowned figures and causes immortalized in national holidays.