It is said that if we ignore history, we will repeat it. How can we follow this quintessential maxim if we allow people to erase or rewrite history?
Recently, Charlottesville City in Virginia, voted to tear down a statue of Robert E. Lee at a cost of $300,000. Once councilman claimed it was “delusional” to believe anything different than the “Confederate states had as their primary aim the preservation of a way of life in which enslaved humans.”
No, Councilman, your statement is a rewrite of history.
There were those who wanted to preserve slavery, but Lee was not one of them, he wrote before the war (as quoted by H.W. Crocker III): “In this enlightened age…slavery as an institution, is a moral and political evil…” and “emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influence of Christianity than from the storms and contests of fiery controversy.” Lee would also free his inherited slaves before the Emancipation Proclamation and argue for the South to abolish slavery during the war. Lee was loyal to Virginia, and when it seceded he went “to her defence” but still hoped that “wisdom and patriotism of the nation will yet save it.”
He believed in the United States of America, but also the right that every state understood when they joined the Union: The right to leave. To consider Lee a symbol of racism or slavery is what is delusional. Ignoring history also makes it easy to avoid the question that few every want to ask:
Was there not a better way to end slavery and preserve the Union that didn’t result in the deaths of at least 620,000 Americans (and maybe as many as 850,000)?
If all of this were bad enough, a history teacher was recently forced to resign because he used a Confederate flag in his lessons on the Civil War. History instructor Steve Byas writes:
But the school district argued that it did not really matter how the flag was used during the Civil War; it should not be seen by students today. “We recognize that regardless of context, to many of our students, families, and staff, the Confederate flag is a racist symbol of hate. Although this matter is under investigation, it is important to reiterate: Any employee who is found to engage in behavior that creates an unsafe environment for students will face full consequences, including the possibility of initiating termination proceedings.”
Bettencourt, the superintendent, said that the district’s action did not mean that they were attempting to “limit the free speech of our teachers.” Then, in an Orwellian addition, she stated that she expects “teachers and staff will do this work using culturally appropriate strategies.”
The district statement added, “It is our schools’ responsibility to provide a safe learning environment for all children.”
It is not clear how the display of a flag, which was actually used in many battles during the American Civil War, creates an unsafe learning environment for children. And, exactly what is meant by “culturally appropriate strategies?”
I’ll let this Orwellian assault on free speech and history speak for itself. Whenever we allow anyone revise, suppress and distort history — whether or not we personally like the history or not — we do an immeasurable disservice to ourselves, our past and our future.