As a student of history, I want to know about the past because I find it challenging, frustrating, exciting, exhilarating, and depressing. I firmly believe that by expanding my experience to the lives of men and women in different times and places, history teaches me valuable things both about others and myself.
The factors that lead to the rise and fall of great powers fascinates me. In many, if not all cases, the fall of great empires stems from a a gradual decline of the morals and values as the empire grows. Crime rises, those governed are neglected, political corruption sets in and class division escalates. Enlightened leaders are blinded by power. Leaders believe they are immune to vulnerabilities. They become less cooperative, less generous and less open to reason.
Over the last decade, I have felt that our nation is heading for a fall of its own. The type of fall that will impact our collective history. There was the potential for real change. Momentum was high and we were driven. However, instead of coming together as one, we began to move further apart. Instead of gaining the power to change, anger and outrage paralyzed the entire nation.
Watching this happen to the country I love is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. The train has jumped the tracks, the engineers in the locomotive can’t stop it, and the train’s momentum makes the disastrous outcome unavoidable.
In 1948 Winston Churchill said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I happen to agree.
Our own nation is heading toward a revolution. An outright revolt against history. While not everything in our history is good, it is true. And only truth can guide us forward. If we lose our history; we lose our path, and perhaps the ability to survive to fulfill our destiny.
The Value of History
History nurtures personal and collective identity within the world. Through stories of freedom and equality, injustice and struggle, loss and achievement, and courage and triumph shape people’s personal values that guide them through life. Through research in history people develop an understanding of concepts like continuity, change, and causation, and the ability to interpret and communicate complex ideas clearly and coherently.
Personally, I consider history the foundation for strong communities. A place becomes a community when wrapped in human memory as told through family stories, tribal traditions, and civic commemorations as well as discussions about our roles and responsibilities to each other and the places we call home.
Through history, we inspire leaders and give role models. Furthermore, by looking back, we are enabled to envision a better future. Democracy thrives when people meet to express opinions, listen to others, and take action. Weaving history into discussions about contemporary issues clarifies differing perspectives and misperceptions, reveals complexities, grounds competing views in evidence, and introduces new ideas; all can lead to greater understanding and practical community solutions.
However, to me the greatest value of history is the legacy. History, saved and preserved, is the foundation for future generations. Historical knowledge is crucial to protecting democracy. By preserving authentic and meaningful documents, artifacts, images, stories, and places, future generations have a place to start. They are able to build and know what it means to be a member of the civic community.
Today’s political climate, opened the door to removing history that is no longer accepted. There is a belief that if we erase the things we don’t like, we are given a clean slate. Sure, it sounds great in theory. But, if we force amnesia, we lose the ability to extract wisdom from the past. We have no guide for the future.
The Context of History
Context is the events and climate of opinion, that surround the issue at hand. Without context, we cannot understand urgency and actions. furthermore, context provides the type of society in which events occur. For example, , urban or rural, rich or poor, educated, stable or unstable, etc…
Without context, an event, an issue, or a document lacks meaning. Context allows us to ask a lot of questions and accept the path the answers show. By not understanding the past, we are left with a distorted image.
Most importantly, understanding the context does not mean you need to condone words, actions and injustices of the past. Hell, I get pissed at a lot of things I read. However, it also allows me to reflect and be proud of how far we have come. Luckily, the past is there to prove it. I also believe that the past proves there is much more work ahead of us.
Where Did History Go?
I try to stay away from controversy; but, I have something to say. I understand why some people will strongly disagree. I’d simply like to respectfully offer a different perspective. My opinion that history should be left alone isn’t because I support the horrible things that have been done in our history, it’s exactly the opposite.
Every human and every country has dark spots. But, that we aren’t still mired in those dark places means that we have made strides toward becoming better. In my humble opinion, much like George Orwell in his novel 1984, “Erasing history, though, is a dangerous path because it means that the truth becomes something malleable that has been created instead of recorded.”
Think about that quote and the dangerous path it puts each of us on. It is a path that could destroy what so many have fought for. The truth is not flexible. Truths are not meant to be bent or stretched to suit the needs of people.
Truth in history, good or bad, defines who are we? If we don’t remember where we came from, how can we hope to continuously improve? If we can’t learn from the mistakes of the past, and if the truth is “created” by the vocal minority, then how does the truth even exist anymore?
Erasing the negative part of history doesn’t make it go away Sanitizing the facts doesn’t mean that they never happened. It just means no one can learn from them.
In a race to rectify the past, I am left wondering just how far we will go. In the case of the current abolition of Confederate icons — reenergized by the Black Lives Matter movement and the general repulsion over the vile murders by cowardly racist Dylan Roof — are all Confederate statues equally deserving of damnation?
Does the statue of Confederate General James Longstreet deserve defacing? He was a conflicted officer of the Confederacy, a critic of Robert E. Lee’s, later a Unionist friend of Ulysses S. Grant, an enemy of the Lost Causers, and a leader of African-American militias in enforcing reconstruction edicts against white nationalists. Is Longstreet the moral equivalent of General Nathan Bedford Forrest (“get there fastest with the mostest”), who was the psychopathic villain of Fort Pillow, a near illiterate ante-bellum slave-trading millionaire, and the first head of the original Ku Klux Klan?
Were the 60–70 percent of the Confederate population in most secessionist states who did not own slaves complicit in the economics of slavery? Did they have good options to leave their ancestral homes when the war started to escape the stain of perpetuating slavery? Do such questions even matter to the new arbiters of ethics, who recently defiled the so-called peace monument in an Atlanta park — a depiction of a fallen Confederate everyman, his trigger hand stilled by an angel?
Should Ken Burns in remove his Civil War documentary? Should the Civil War be removed completely from our history books?
Although don’t agree with any commemoration of Roger B. Taney, the author of the Dred Scott decision, but do remove it from the record?
Who decides whom of the past we must erase? Where does the cleansing of memory stop? Are Mt. Rushmore’s slave owners next? What happens to Washington and Lee University?
I believe that the more we allow to be taken away, the less we will remember. I strongly support leaving the past where it belongs. However, I fell that it should always be available for us to reference. History is a guide that continually unfolds. The more we learn, the more we gain. History is a reminder of who we were and who we can become. If in fact our collective history disappears, we become nothing. For if the bad is erased, then, so is the good that came as a result.