In Defense Of History

He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”—George Orwell, “1984”

Introduction

The Middle East, Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization. This often contested land, since the dawn of recorded human history, has been home to a multitude of ancient civilizations. Civilizations and empires such as Phoenicia, Sumer, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Judea, Persia, Macedonia, Seleucid, and Rome, all existed, thrived, and fought for control of this land in the time long before Muhammad and the rise of Islam. Ancient empires rose and fell here, as massive armies crossed swords again and again, staining the sands red with the blood of the faceless fallen. Those men, and the kings and empires they served, may have been forever lost to time if it were not for the priceless scattered testaments to their existence left behind.

Each civilization left behind traces, great and small, of their existence in the eternal sands. From the greatest monuments and ruins to the smallest relics and artifacts, the signs of this history are there for those willing to search, study, and appreciate them. Many of these ancient civilizations left behind incredible works and wonders of the world, such as the Great Pyramids, Palmyra, and Petra. And that is but a small portion of the overall rich tapestry of history which has been woven into this ancient land. Needless to say, the lands of the Middle East are home to an immeasurably priceless treasure of ancient human history. This treasure belongs to all of humanity, it is our birthright.

And yet today, a large portion of this priceless treasure is in grave danger. As the Islamic State (ISIS) rampages across Iraq and Syria, leaving a trail of human death, destruction, and atrocities in their wake, they are also waging a war against history as well. It is well documented that as ISIS seizes new territory, they are also destroying the ancient monuments, ruins, and relics which may be found there. Along with this, it is also well documented that ISIS has raided several museums found within their conquered territory, and has been destroying—or black market selling—any ancient artifacts which may be found inside them. Along with the Islamic State’s destruction of ancient history, the Sunni Islamic State is also destroying more “common era” Shia Islamic holy sites and artifacts as well.

Now I don’t proclaim to be an expert on Islam and the Middle East, but the motives behind the Islamic State’s destruction of history appears to be rather simple. For one, ISIS intends to destroy all testaments to history in their lands which predates Muhammad and Islam, due to their extreme interpretation and implementation of Sunni Islam, deeming said history to be heresy and idolatry. The second major reason appears to be nothing more than simply to exert control. So, whether by smashing ancient statues with sledge hammers or blowing up ancient monuments with bombs and dynamite, ISIS is waging a purposeful war against the treasures of human history simply because they deem such symbols of past history to be heretical, blasphemous, offensive, and a threat to their ideology. Sound familiar?

The Left’s War Against History

Today, in overly-sensitive, social-justice, politically-correct, America-utopia-land, we find some very similar attitudes arising, predominantly among those on the left. In the wake of the tragic Charleston, South Carolina church shootings—a heinous and brutal crime of which I am in no way trying to detract from—there is a growing call for the removal and destruction of all things Confederate.

Let me first clearly state that the Confederate flag should probably not be flying over the South Carolina state house building. I will gladly cede that point. I can understand and appreciate the negative symbolism that some may infer from such a display over a public building. My intention here is not to explore the meaning and symbolism of the Confederate flag as a whole, or to examine the politics and history of the Confederate cause or the Civil War. Those are very intricate topics for another day and another article. That being said, I can fully understand why some may be offended by the Confederate flag being flown over a government building, and I will agree that flying the Confederate flag over the South Carolina statehouse would be similar to flying a Nazi flag over the Reichstag.

But I digress back to my main point. ISIS is currently destroying monuments, ruins, relics, art, and other priceless treasures of the ancient past in the lands in which they conquer. They are, in effect, destroying history itself. They are doing so largely because they disagree with it, or because they deem it to be offensive, contrary, and a threat to their ideology, belief system, and control.

Sadly, this exact same attitude and mentality is currently surfacing in America today in the wake of the Charleston church murders. It is plainly illustrated by those indignant and self-righteous individuals calling for the removal of all historic references to the Confederacy. In the past few weeks, this “historic cleansing” has included calls—predominantly by those on the left—for the removal of various Confederate monuments, statues, cemetery memorials, grave markers, cemetery flags, named tributes, and exhuming the dead, among other things.

This destructive mentality is even more evident in those who have been actively vandalizing, defacing, and destroying Confederate monuments, statues, or grave markers of the fallen. Yet it goes ever farther than that, depending on how extreme the outraged liberal is that you are speaking with. In the past few weeks, I have heard and read instances of some even calling for the destruction of historic US monuments that depict, honor, or are named after the founding fathers—such as Washington and Jefferson—due to the fact that they were “evil white slave-owning men”.

What we are essentially witnessing here is the call for the complete sanitization of American history in accordance with the left’s sensibilities. And a large segment of ignorant people seem to be perfectly ok with it.

Now perhaps the totality of these actions have not yet reached ISIS levels of destruction—yet—but the attitude and mentality behind them is exactly the same. It is the destruction of history justified by a morally superior ideology. ISIS justifies this moral superiority with god, the progressive left with cries of self-righteous moral outrage and offensiveness.

Playing Devil’s Advocate

I am going to play Devil’s advocate here for a moment, and adopt the left’s own rationale. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Confederate monuments and memorials are blatantly offensive, racist, white supremacist reminders of a terrible time in our history, and that they are glorifying despicable people. Does that then automatically give someone the right to destroy them? Does that give modern society the right to destroy them? Should the historical preservation of testaments to terrible events and times not exist simply because they may be offensive or painful to some? Is it worth protecting all historic monuments, even those tributes to controversial figures, so as to remind us how far we have come and to warn us not to fall back? Should all historic monuments and art be preserved, even if they are controversial, so as to educate younger generations and put history in the proper context? Is history ultimately worth defending and preserving, no matter what, so that we may learn from it?

Last time I checked, there are still Apartheid monuments, works of art, and an Apartheid museum. There are still monuments, statues, and public works of art commemorating slavery. There are still dozens of civil rights monuments, memorials, and protected historic sites. There are still monuments and museums located at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There are September 11th memorials and a museum. And finally, there are several Holocaust memorials and museums, with exhibits, photographs, and artifacts on display that are horrifying beyond words. In fact, possibly the greatest testaments of all time to mankind’s potential for evil and atrocity still stand. Preserved concentration camps, like Dachau, Buchenwald, and Auschwitz, still stand as preserved historic sites and museums. They stand to serve as haunting reminders never to forget the evil that man is capable of.

So by these examples alone, the ridiculous rationale and justification for a historic monument, relic, statue, or site to be destroyed simply because it is deemed too “offensive” or painful should be immediately discounted by anyone with a shred of academic honesty. Countless Holocaust survivors have devoted the remaining years of their lives trying to educate others, vowing to ensure that this history is never forgotten. In fact, destroying the evidence of “offensive” history only serves to strengthen the agendas of those who wish to deny, discount, downplay, or purposely erase past atrocities.

If someone truly cared about the past, and the suffering and sacrifice of their ancestors, wouldn’t they want to protect the history of those times at all costs, the good and the bad? Protecting history helps to paint an accurate picture of the past, serve as a reminder and warning to the present, and act as a means of honoring the suffering of our ancestors by educating those today about what really happened.

In Defense Of History

I will say this once again, lest someone misunderstand my point. My purpose here is not to examine or argue the merits of the Confederate cause. I am not here to defend the Confederacy, I am here to defend history. I am here to say that all history, in the proper context, is worth defending.

However those who do not see it this way—most of whom are not surprisingly aligned with the left—may argue that painful tributes such as slavery monuments, Apartheid monuments, and preserved concentration camps are respectful, dignified, and solemnly reflective and commemorative of such events, whereas Confederate monuments are lionizing, glamorizing, and glorifying of slavery, racism, white supremacy, and of “evil” men.

This is an absurd argument for a variety of different reasons. The first of which is that the overwhelming majority of Confederate monuments or statues that exist are merely generic memorials to the thousands of anonymous dead Confederate soldiers, the majority of whom were merely poor southern farmers voluntarily fighting for their homes and families, and not wealthy plantation or slave owners. Many of these such memorials are located in old cemeteries or on historical preserved battlefields and protected historic sites—of which I include state capitol grounds as a protected historic site—and should therefore be protected and preserved. These memorials are nothing more than paying respect to the dead.

There is also an inherent difference between a flag being flown over a historic state capitol grounds and a monument sitting on historic capitol grounds. Flying a flag is a symbol of the present, a monument is a tribute and remembrance of the past. The two are not the same.

And if memorials to the Confederate dead are deemed “too offensive”, than what about World War II German cemeteries, like La Cambe in Normandy, France. Does this memorial, where over 21,000 German soldiers are buried, also deserve to be destroyed because it is too offensive? I will firmly state absolutely not. It too deserves to be protected, just as much as any concentration camp. I’d like to quote a passage from a powerfully written essay by Mary Kay Bosshart on this subject:

Maybe it’s because my heart was sad when I looked down at the grave of Gren. Otto Löffler, who was only 18 years old when he died on July 4, 1944, but my head will never forget the images of the Jewish people who died in the concentration camps. Was Otto responsible for the atrocious acts of Nazi Germany? I think not. He was probably just another scared boy who was told that he had to do his duty as a man and fight in a war that he wished would end…The war graves of all nations must be preserved—as a reminder to keep peace, as a call to communication and reconciliation for all people

Very well said. History is worth protecting. We as people can learn from it—though we often choose not to.

But even if non-generic Confederate monuments, memorials, or statues exist, depicting specific individual prominent Confederate figures or military leaders, is that still a justification for their destruction? Absolutely not. Malcom X, a controversial figure and avowed racist to say the least, still has a memorial statue. Lenin, a monstrous mass murder, still lays in state in Russia. Stalin, an even more atrocious mass murderer, still has a respectful statue and memorial, and other statues of him still stand or have been placed in museums. Mao, another mass murder, still has a dignified memorial. Plenty of Hitler artifacts still exist, and can be found on display in various museums or collections. Various memorials to Che, a monster in his own right, still exist in Cuba and Central America.

Yet I am hardly comparing Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson with the likes of Hitler, Lenin, or Stalin, I am merely pointing out that far worse men are still memorialized. And all of these historic monuments deserve to stand. How one chooses to view them is subjective, but that is not a justification to destroy history. I fully acknowledge that history can be subjective, as well as influenced by the zeitgeist of the current time. What was once honored may one day become despised. Yet that does not change the fact that history should still be preserved and protected.

I have news for some people, controversial monuments, statues, art, and memorials exist all over the world, and if they have historic significance, then they should all be protected. Why? Because history, even terrible history, deserves to be protected.

If there is a debate over context, or as how to best display certain “offensive” relics of history, fine. So be it. So long as we are in agreement that these items deserve to be protected and preserved, that history itself deserves to be protected and preserved. Whether certain relics should be moved to a museum is a legitimate discussion to have, so long as the intention is to protect them.

But sadly, this is not the leftist mindset we currently see on display here. Many are calling for and justifying the utter destruction of “offensive history” simply because it offends the sensibilities of the left, or because it is an issue that can be politicized and weaponized and used to the left’s advantage. This mentality of historic vandalism and destruction is very troubling. It is the same mentality which would seek to justify the destruction of history based on an ideological and moral superiority, and would then use said destruction to advance their agenda. It is absolutely no different than the attitudes currently being displayed by ISIS.

The Left, Gatekeepers Of The Offensive

Now I am not the first one to draw this comparison over the last several weeks. In fact, so many other commentators have pointed this out that the leftists have felt compelled to try and downplay or discredit this rather apt comparison. I suppose the comparison is hitting a little too close to home for them. Take this passage from a recent Huffington Post article:

But the artifacts being destroyed by ISIS are historically and archeologically important treasures, not offensive symbols of white supremacy lacking any historical significance

The leftist moral superiority is just oozing from this quote. The author, Marina Fang, is not only trying to label all Confederate monuments as racist, thereby delegitimizing them and in a roundabout way justifying their destruction due to “offensiveness”, but she is also trying to proclaim that they are completely devoid of any historical significance. As if the Civil War somehow lacked any “historical significance”.

This passage perfectly illustrates the attitudes and tactics of the SJWs and those on the left. The modern left tries—and usually succeeds—at positioning themselves as the champions and arbiters of “offensiveness”. The modern left is the master of collective moral outrage. The left desires a totalitarian monopoly on all cultural and social thought and opinion. If by chance they are in the minority opinion on an issue, then they will automatically adopt the classic leftist tactic of labeling and branding their opposition in a negative light. This kind of labeling plays right into the various narratives of the left, and often allows them to culturally “punch above their weight”. Emotion and agenda will always trump truth and reality with the left.

A disturbed lone gunman commits a heinous act, and the left pounces to get out in front of the narrative. Regardless of facts, the left is able use and manipulate this tragedy to further divide-and-conquer, play identity-politics, and advance their overall narratives which in turn advances their agenda. In the current case of the Confederate monuments debate, by branding the monuments themselves as “racist”, as well as anyone who dares to support them, the left is able to wrap themselves in the cloak of moral superiority that I spoke of earlier, while at the same time advancing their overall narratives that conservatives, traditionalists, and America as a whole is racist and unjust. The irony of course is that by adopting this moral superiority, the left is able to hide and distance itself from its own racist past.

The best part about the left achieving the sacred position of judge, jury, and executioner of what is deemed acceptable and what is deemed “offensive” is that it never ends. By maintaining this monopoly, the left can target for destruction anyone and anything they deem to be “offensive”. First they attach the label, then they simply wait for the public outcry to follow. Once they have the momentum and the cultural and political will, the destruction can commence. First it is Confederate symbols, then monuments, then memorials and graves. Next it will be historic buildings. Soon there will be calls for the destruction of preserved Civil War battlefields—such as Manassas or Chancellorsville—where the Confederates won decisive victories. Then it will be books, documents, records, and historical references. Eventually, it will not just be the history of the Confederacy that is targeted for destruction, but all US history because it is deemed to be “offensive”. It is completely open ended and it is already happening.

Occasionally the left will over-reach, go too far, or just simply run out of steam. When that happens, they just sit back and wait patiently for the next event to occur that they can manipulate to fit their narratives and agenda. As radical Obama leftist Rahm Emanuel stated, “Never let a crisis go to waste”.

Down The Memory Hole

Yet ultimately, destroying monuments and sanitizing history is not about protecting people from being offended by “mean” things. It may be marketed and sold that way to the ignorant masses under the guise of moral superiority, but there is nothing moral about it. As the aptly stated above quote from George Orwell’s “1984” references, erasing the past is solely about controlling the present and future. Those who intentionally seek to destroy the past, always have an agenda to do so. It is an age old totalitarian tactic of control, pure and simple. Erasing or altering the past is always censorship, suppression, and social control.

The destruction of the past can take on many forms. Whether by burning books, destroying monuments and relics, removing symbols, re-writing and revising historical accounts, falsely educating and indoctrinating, or by ultimately destroying people, the intended goal is to sever the link to the past. By severing this link, those in power can remove the symbols, memories, and policies of past regimes, while at the same time destroying past connections to traditions and values. This then better enables an entity to indoctrinate the people with the totalitarian ideology of their choosing.

When there is no reference point or objective reality, the people will believe in anything. ISIS knows this, as does the Marxist left. The end result is a completely ignorant and brainwashed population that will believe their leaders descended from the heavens on a magical unicorn sliding down a rainbow.

It has been done before, it can be done again. “Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia”. History should never be tossed down the “memory hole”.

In Conclusion

History should, no must, be protected. Those who stand up for the protection of history, even the most atrocious of history, stand for the truth. Or at the very least, a preserved record that can be examined, studied, debated, and criticized. Those who stand up for the protection of history desire a connection to the past, which serves to educate, warn, and hopefully reconcile humanity. Those who actively seek to destroy history due so out of their own nefarious agendas.

History, whether in the form of monuments, artifacts, ruins, relics, books, documents, or people, should be protected. Even monuments to despicable people or dictators, even when torn down during the heat of passion as a regime collapses, should be preserved in some way or another if possible. The Berlin Wall, many parts of which were torn down in a flood of human passion, still exists on display today in many places.

History belongs to no one and everyone. It should not be destroyed.

© 2015 By AB Frank, All Rights Reserved

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