Silencing the Victims of History
As the aftershocks from the terrible loss of life and disgusting white pride rally in Charlottesville VA over the past weekend are felt, many are reacting through the pain of emotion. People are tearing down monuments to confederate “heroes”, in schools students are learning a revised version of history. People are rebelling from the past. These actions appear justifiable to certain segments of the population. Others are using traumatic emotions and feelings to justify the change, sometimes peaceful and sometimes violent and destructive. For a multitude of reasons we seek to deny the past, to erase actions that have already been written. And there is incredible danger in this.
We have all heard the expression “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” As the movement of fringe and extremist groups are showing, there is a desire to erase proof of the holocaust. Claiming that it never happened desensitizes the masses to this horror. Attempts to paint dictators such as Fidel Castro as liberators ignores the imprisoned journalists, artists and opposition that spoke out against his totalitarian regime. People celebrating Che Guevara on t-shirts conveniently forget that he was a mass murderer. As we adapt history to what is conveniently emotional and feel-good, we begin to dilute the horrors of the Stalinists and Nazis. Even our own war crimes in Vietnam, The Middle East and around Latin America are being washed over. In return we remember and our children are educated through a sanitized idea of history better suited for bedtime stories than remembering our past.
Erasing is easy, tearing down minor figures throughout history has no long term nor major effect. But where do we stop? In America how much of our history are we willing to revise? Our founding fathers were slave owners, should we ignore their contributions to the founding of America? Lincoln opposed slavery on moral grounds but wanted the freed men and women shipped out of America. Should we remove his legacy? Southern courthouses built in the years after the Civil War face south in defiance of the North. Should we tear them down and rebuild? Some of our own greatest political and business leaders were anti-semitic, do we discuss the contributions they have made with disclaimers or gloss over their ugly parts? What about world history? We can change what is taught and believed in our country but do we force other countries to do the same thing? How do we agree on same revisions?
Most dangerously, in our rush to erase the pain of history and stop venerating specific figures of the past because they would be deemed evil, racist, sexist or horrific today we ultimately fail in this attempt. By resorting to vandalism and mob mentality we bring their names back to the mainstream. We revisit these moments we wish to erase. We draw new attention to these scoundrels, and more importantly, we silence the victims of these figures and events.
The victim, the nameless victim who suffered from the deeds of these historic figures. If we erase history, we are erasing their suffering and abuse. We are telling them that they died in vain, they were powerless when they lived, and history will not remember their story. We want to be spared the pain and suffering of the actions from the past, but what about them? They don’t have that luxury.
Our history is bloody, every race has committed horrific crimes against others for a multitude of reasons. Humankind has shown incredible compassion, bravery and sacrifice. It has also shown incredible capacity for evil and death. We cannot forget the horrors and destruction of the world wars. We cannot forget that actions were deliberately undertaken to eliminate all Jews from the world. Some of those efforts continue today. We cannot forget the evils of slavery nor the animalistic internment of Asians during WWII. We cannot forget the victims of mass genocide in Armenia nor the trail of tears and deliberate eradication of native Americans. Lets not forget the victims of totalitarian rightist and leftist regimes in Latin America and Africa.
These events are unpleasant to remember and sitting in a classroom full of fragile psyches conditioned to avoid anything unpleasant. Hell, they are unpleasant for anyone to remember. They are still vitally important to learn and remember. There is pain and blood in our history. This needs to be remembered. Every generation needs to understand the depth of our potential for evil is. Every generation needs to understand the scars that we have inflicted upon each other. This is how we grow and change, not through the suppression of our history, but by the honest education in it.
Those monuments need to remain. Our honest history needs to be taught without fear or hesitancy of offending or causing hurt feelings. We cannot erase our bloody, shameful past by tearing these monuments down and revising our history. We need to keep them where they are as a reminder of what we have done and as a way to ensure those tragic actions are never forgotten nor repeated.