Wednesday, August 15, 2012

At any rate, plenty of blood was shed

Posted By on 08.15.12 at 03:29 PM

Fort Dearborn
  • Fort Dearborn
The current week's best show of intellectual fireworks has boomed and sparkled over a question I'd never heard argued before: Was the Fort Dearborn Massacre a massacre?

I'm sure I haven't read everything. But here's my scorecard to date:

Official history now says no. The voice of official history seems to be professor Ann Durkin Keating, whose book Rising Up From Indian Country calls it an act of war. Yes, women and children were butchered, but war is hell.

Hell yes it was a massacre, says Dennis Byrne, Tribune.

Not when understood in context, responds Patrick Reardon, Tribune.

At any rate, it was damned violent: Bill Kurtis, Sun-Times.

Don't be so precious, Ms. Keating: Lee Sandlin, Wall Street Journal.

My favorite passage in this gripping debate comes from Byrne:

"This is more than a fight over a word. No reconciliation or understanding can flow from this intentional distortion; increased bitterness and division is the only possible result."

I'm a big fan of reconciliation through straight talk, but this was one open wound I hadn't been aware of until Byrne pointed it out to me. All the more reason to study the past. Only because the War of 1812 began 200 years ago and the Battle of Fort Dearborn Massacre went down 200 years ago Wednesday did Byrne have cause to alert us that sugar-coated words will only prolong our torment. I suppose it's hard enough, even without the euphemisms, for a great city to move on from a calamity that no one in it remembers and most have never heard of.

To me, the astonishing thing about the Battle of Fort Dearborn Massacre is that in 1812 Chicago was an army outpost built of logs along a river and 81 years later—a single lifetime—it was a global city holding a world's fair. It's a city that doesn't look back, which means special ceremonial occasions are necessary to get its attention long enough for lectures about the ancient horrors that haunt it.

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