My posting the day before yesterday entitled “Bulldozing the Past” ran into some opposition from two old friends of mine. I have a slightly different point of view toward figures of the past such as Robert E. Lee and Christopher Columbus. Both have become, as it were, figures of myth. I have two questions to ask:
- How dangerous are these myths today? —and—
- How dangerous is it to attempt to bury these myths as if they never existed?
Now I could see wanting to eradicate even the memory of Nazism, the Khmer Rouge of Pol Pot, the massacres between to Hutus and Tutsi, the racism of Slobodan Milosevich and Ratko Mladic, and any number of other episodes in the last several hundred years. One does not want to be associated with mass murderers.
Both Columbus and the generals of the Confederacy were associated with death on a large scale. Probably the quote that Lee is most famous for is the following: “It is well that war is so terrible. Otherwise, we would grow too fond of it.” As for Columbus, most of the death that came in his train was from diseases lurking in the Spanish caravels that laid low the native population of the New World by the millions.
The Italians of America, however, revere the memory of Columbus: The Genoan Admiral of the Ocean Sea was one of them. As for the Confederacy, the myths relating to the War Between the States relate to the Lost Cause beliefs that the South was right to secede from the Union. There were decades of resentment prior to the Rebellion as the South tried vainly to balance their slavery-based agrarian culture against the more industrial North. These resentments still abound today, so it is tempting to want to wipe the slate of history clean at several key points.
But didn’t Trump get elected because a number of flyover states felt resentment at being slighted by the Democrats, by the bi-coastal mafia, even by Hillary Clinton, who assumed she didn’t need their votes to win the presidency?
Erasing still active myths is a dangerous business.
Mankind is what he is. What happened “stays happened”. Emotions can run high but not always with the best outcomes. Pulling down a statue doesn’t make injustice stop. There are millions of wrongs and injustices still being enacted now and will be in the future too. Nothing is going to change. Amongst the ratbags, there were kind and honest people in every walk of life, whichever side or sides we might choose to be on… But we can hope for a better world and work towards it, each one of us, one day at a time. If only mankind could learn from the past…
Well, you know I love you Jim, so I will just offer this comment since you wonder why you stirred up such a hornet’s nest. These “active myths” are based on a re-writing of history, first a denial of the destructive aspects of colonialism in the case of Columbus (who did not “discover” America since people already lived here), and then a glorification of white supremacy and succession in the case of the Confederacy. The facts of history are constantly reinterpreted. I have no problem with taking a realistic look at history and appreciating the contributions of some of the explorers and colonists and the founders of the Republic. I don’t have any European ancestors after the early 1700s and so American history is my family history. However, I don’t have any patience at all for continuing the glorification of apartheid and white supremacist culture. And there are plenty of people in the so-called fly-over states and in the south who agree with me, even poor white people, perhaps not the majority, but more than you might think. I was raised by not-rich white people from the South and I loved them. They taught me to not be a racist based on their interpretation of the teachings of Jesus.
Things are going to change in this country because they have to in order to have a livable society. There were people who thought that slavery was the “natural order” and that women should not have the vote because of the deficiencies of their gender. There are plenty of white people who are racist or who are unconsciously racist. They can change and learn new attitudes. Tearing down these statues represents tearing down a culture of fascism represented by the likes of Mitch McConnell. Italian Americans don’t need statues of Columbus to bolster their identities and I don’t need statues of Confederate generals to represent my southern heritage. The biggest threat to our country is the Republican Party and their support of white supremacy, and I am their enemy. Fine, preserve the art by putting it in museums. Give the money to charity. That’s the only compromise I can offer.
It’s not so easy to kill an idea. However good your motivations might be, tearing down the statues would be like pouring gasoline on a smoldering fire. It certainly would increase the resentment.
Well, you can’t ever kill the idea of human equality and progress and if you mean the smoldering fire of white racism…then let them resent progress and if it comes to a fight, so be it. Feminists deal with the same “resentment” all the time. I don’t have “good motivations” at all. I have a political agenda that I intend to fight for against the reactionaries and hopefully, defeat them. To hell with them.