The year 2017 may go down in history –- if the concept of “history” even remains valid –- as the time when “history hysteria” reigned supreme. Someday, we grownups may think back to the time when monuments that reminded the faint-of-heart of the Confederacy were quickly taken down; streets named for people with even tangential connection to the Civil War, slavery or the antebellum South were hastily renamed; and any other vestiges that sparked bothersome feelings were erased from our sight and dropped down the memory hole as if they’d never existed.
We see it happening around us, right now. Ever since Charlottesville, the process has accelerated. Paradoxically, the support by racist groups for preserving Confederate monuments has worked in reverse, to hasten their disappearance, just as their coopting of the Confederate flag caused it to now be seen exclusively as a symbol of racism rather than regional pride. If racists really don’t want symbols of the South to be taken down, it would help matters if they just stayed home and left the protesting to others who have very different reasons for supporting preservation.
In cities all over America, the monuments are coming down. In Dallas, Mayor Mike Rawlings successfully pushed for the quick removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee on horseback, to the tune of approximately half a million dollars. (Want to make money? There appears to be a highly lucrative new growth industry: monument removal.) The statue was in Lee Park, which, of course, must be renamed. It may take the city a dozen years to fix a pothole, but, by golly, when it comes to erasing history deemed politically incorrect, they can’t act fast enough or spend enough money to do it.
Those who tried even to slow down the process in the name of historic preservation were ignored. And in Dallas, this is just the beginning: a task force has been set up to look critically at all the other places, including historic Fair Park with its c.1936 Art Deco murals, that feature references to the Confederacy. The erasing of “sensitive” history seems to be a done deal.
We can learn about our past in an abstract way, from books, but take it from someone who has walked through a Nazi concentration camp and seen the showers and the ovens firsthand, book-learning doesn’t compare to experiencing history in a personal way. Auschwitz wasn’t left standing to honor racism, but to make us think long and hard about what happened. If we don’t confront that, something just as horrific is going to happen again. American history is the same; try walking around Gettysburg without being affected for life.
Elizabeth Ames of FOX News has written a good essay about what’s happening to our history. She presents an optimistic view of how this rush to destroy “uncomfortable” remnants of our past is likely to backfire.
I hope she’s right. And if it’s going to backfire, that better happen soon.
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