By Richard Ray:
I constantly hear the argument used that “You can’t erase history.” Ironically it is often used by people as some warped justification for either keeping Confederate symbols, statutes or monuments in tact. It is an absolute truism… You cannot erase history… but the irony of the statement that is used as a justification is that it actually definitively makes the argument as to why many historical figures should not be worshiped, idolized or moralized. This does not change history… in fact it stresses the point that history and time often illuminate many important people in our nation’s founding and continual shaping were simply not good people and as such they do not need to be memorialized with monuments and statutes.
Not having statues of General Lee and others within the Confederacy is not an erasing of history. Monuments, statutes and flags are about memorializing an ideology. The history is unchanged. His importance is unchanged… what should be changed is retelling history as people like current White House Chief of Staff (former General) John Kelly have so conveniently done… History is a retelling of events that occurred. The retelling is always peppered with a degree of subjectivity by its authors but even within that subjectivity there are some undeniable facts and John Kelly and others are doing exactly what they argue should not be done… trying to erase or change history by making some Confederates like General Lee more sympathetic by stating that the Civil War occurred because of lack of compromise… There was no compromise for the Confederacy and all the seceding Southern states made it very clear (in writing) that their primary reason for secession was the North’s discontinued compromise in allowing slavery to continue.
This is the definition of re-writing history… This is the definition of promoting ideology for a multitude of reasons. Beyond the glamorizing of Gangster culture in America, do we ever actually historically call Al Capone a great man? No we don’t. Yet, during the Great Depression it could be unreasonably argued that Capone not only provided people with an escape and happiness during our nation’s most difficult economic times with his gambling parlors and alcohol during Prohibition but he was probably also one of the state of Illinois’ if not the entire country’s largest employers during these difficult times including feeding the poor with numerous soup kitchens throughout Chicago. Just because someone does something good in their lives or has positive qualities does not negate the overall bad acts of that person and where they should be placed on the (wrong) side of history.
You cannot erase or write history. So stop doing so. No one is erasing the memory of the Confederacy or their impact and influence on American history. I think that it is positive that these conversations are actually occurring because it is all too clear that most people really do not know history and need a refresher course on the bumpy road the US has taken to truly being called a Democratic society and the “Land of the Free and The Home of the Brave.”
The expression “The Wrong Side of History” is a subjective concept but one that effectively understands that bad acts that were once acceptable leave people who supported or promoted such bad acts as seen in a less positive light. That subjectivity does not change some facts. Slavery was once an acceptable part of the US’s source of commerce. Some always knew it to be wrong, others came around later. The fact remains that while it was once widespread and acceptable, does not make it in any way objectively and historically acceptable. So re-telling and re-shaping a narrative of people (The Confederacy) that were not only late to understanding its wrong but actually engaged in warfare to keep it going does need to be told… that is part of history… but those people are on the wrong side of history and in no way should their actions be re-told to make them more sympathetic let alone idolized and memorialized in our society today.
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