One cannot deny the casus belli of the Dakota people that led to the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War. Having said that, it is also necessary to take a look at the “historical truth” of some statements in the June 1 Star Tribune (“Keep ‘Scaffold,’ as art and truthful if painful education,” and Readers Write). One writer said that “historically Minnesotans were no different from Germans in the 1930s.”
Historically, in the 1930s, the Nazis burned books they objected to and banned certain works of art, calling it “entartete kunst,” which means degenerate art. As the gentleman from Plymouth said: “No group ... is entitled to censor art.” Who is doing so today?
I must correct another statement as well. Public murder is in fact something many living Americans have seen. Just ask the death-camp survivors still among us who witnessed acts of genocide that killed 6 million Jews. While this does not diminish the hanging of 38 Dakota warriors, it is a historical truth and makes it clear that a work such as “Scaffold” might indeed make those who view it stop to think about injustice and the death penalty as they relate to all humanity.
As the newspaper article cited in an editor’s note stated, an estimated 600 settlers and soldiers died in the war, more than the estimated toll of Dakota who died in combat, by hanging and in captivity. While this does not lessen their suffering and loss or the provocations of the many violations of treaty by the government, it should also be remembered that not a few of the settlers involved were recent immigrants. Some did not speak English. They only knew that they had been told the land was open to settlement.
Prior to the war, many settlers had lived peacefully with the Dakota people. Did they deserve to be killed any more than the Dakota? To better understand that tragic time, one should read “Over the Earth I Come: The Great Sioux Uprising of 1862.”
Is there a statute of limitations for acts of injustice? My ancestors were French Protestants (Huguenots) who were driven from France by Catholics after the Edict of Nantes was revoked by Louis XIV in the late 17th century. Many Huguenots were murdered in those years. While we are aware of this history, I have never heard anyone in my family remonstrate about the Huguenot diaspora.
You may argue that the wrongs of 300 years ago are less important, less terrible, than great injustices committed only 150 years ago. But again — at what point do past injustices need be recalled as history rather than a current wound?
Last, please do not refer to me as an “immigrant.” I was born here, as were my father and grandfather.
Boyd Beccue lives in Monticello, Minn.