It’s a cliché I hesitate to repeat, but clichés are, after all, based on truth. So here’s George Santayana’s aphorism “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
When I was going to college, a professor advised, “Those who fail History are doomed to repeat it!”
The character Merlin in the film “Excalibur” warned, “For it is the doom of men that they forget.”
There is such a target rich environment of stupidity this week across America that it’s hard to pick which low hanging (but rotten) fruit to pick first! But at the end of the branch must be those unhinged souls who want to destroy all traces of a history that they wish had never existed, but who don’t know what to replace it with.
There are the Philistines who have removed “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee because they include the N-word and accurate representations of how black people were treated in in America’s past. And like Philistines of the past, these breakers and destroyers should be brought down by cast stones. Rhetorical, or if that’s not effective, something harder.
Twain’s book is one of the most moral works of fiction ever penned. Twain himself knew this world intimately. He writes movingly of a teenage boy torn between doing what he has been taught all his life or saving his friend Jim from bondage. He chooses to “go to hell” and help Jim escape in spite of, in his mind, being damned for it.
No one can read it without being profoundly moved. Except, it seems, the so-called educators who have removed it from a school’s curriculum.
The same is true—although in a different way—of Harper Lee’s modern classic about a southern lawyer defending a black man against a crime he didn’t commit. It’s a tale weighty with moral truths that help us today to understand the past.
In 1977, one of the experiences that wove Americans of all skin colors together for a riveting week was the airing of the groundbreaking TV miniseries “Roots.” It opened the eyes of some viewers about their past. But it raises a question in today’s very different world: If you present the history of a man like Kunta Kinte, stolen from Africa and made a slave, without showing the lashes and the scars and the chains, how can you say that you know that history?
And then there are the criminals wandering the streets of our great cities indiscriminately destroying statues they don’t like.
One might understand their animus towards old Confederate generals whose images may have outlasted their politics. Except for Civil War reenactors and crypto-KKK sympathizers it’s hard to find admirers of Southern generals of the “Lost Cause.” But tearing down their statues is an ignorant reaction.
Our history is long, and to understand it you need to try to understand those who lived it. Of course, I don’t expect young ignoramuses who get their politics from Facebook, their knowledge of world affairs from Rap artists and whose historical knowledge is limited to what they heard on social media the day before yesterday to make that distinction.
Instead of tearing down a statue of Stonewall Jackson, why not put a plaque next to it put it in the context of its time and comparing that to how today’s world thinks? Instead of toppling the statue of the first Italian-American, Christopher Columbus, why not balance it with an explanation of some of the effects, good, bad and tragic, of the Columbian Exchange—and how it created the modern world?
If you judge the past by today’s standards, no one, and I mean no one, will survive scrutiny. All of us are human and none of us are perfect. All of our heroes—except for the divine— have feet of clay, and that includes all the “heroes” that the radicals crawling through the streets trying to foment revolution would put in the place of those they would tear down.
So we have seen them not only ripping down statues of Civil War generals from the South, but also trying to destroy the statue of Ulysses S. Grant, the general who ended slavery! Some have attempted to deface the statue honoring the first regiment of Black soldiers who fought in the Civil War to end slavery! Others have tried to take down statues of abolitionists who put their lives on the line fighting to end slavery before it became fashionable.
This is ignorance masquerading as wokeness. Is the opposite of being “woke” to be mired in a stupor woven by blockheads who wouldn’t know what year it is if they couldn’t check their Smartphones? The question answers itself.
Our history belongs to all of us. You can’t have it. You can’t take it away. You can only contribute to it. And, if you can, and if you are really fortunate, make it better.