Well, you’ve heard it said over and over again recently – we certainly are living in unprecedented times.
Our nation is not the only one experiencing social unrest as rioters and protesters destroy what they perceive as “evil” reminders of our history – history they’d just as soon forget.
But what happens when physical reminders of history are destroyed? Do we suddenly become better as a society, or are we doomed to repeat our mistakes because we leave no context of the pain for future generations?
Destruction for destruction’s sake…
There can be no claim that monuments of Confederate soldiers are the only ones being targeted during current riots and protests.
And the fact of the matter is, the recent destruction of monuments has little to do with who they commemorate, but rather of times we don’t want to think about.
One of the most ironic vandalisms this month was the monument in Boston Commons erected in 1897 to honor the 54th Massachusetts Regiment – the first all-black regiment in the Civil War – and who lost almost all of their men in a brave suicide mission at Fort Wagner.
One soldier in that regiment was the first black man in America to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Do these black lives not matter to the protestors who want us to remember how important black lives are?
Even the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. was vandalized with graffiti – yes, Lincoln, the writer of the Emancipation Proclamation. Or is Lincoln perhaps just as hated as Lee for not doing enough to stop slavery sooner?
The city’s World War II veterans’ memorial was also vandalized, a war fought for world freedom by men and women of all races. A war that ended with the realization that millions of Jews had been targeted and exterminated.
And, above all, this mostly leftist assault – in which we are put in check for daring to say that “all lives matter” – doesn’t stop to check its own hypocrisy to the tune of millions of innocent unborn children being legally murdered in the womb every year.
It’s not just a recent issue, nor an issue belonging to one race or religion.
Organizations like the World Monument Fund and Antiquities Coalition keep a running list of all the destruction being waged on historic sites in the Middle East.
At the hands of ISIS and other terrorist factions, history is being erased because of hatred. And as conflict continues, the list of lost history – lost context in our human journey – grows every day.
The Temple of Baal and Shayzar’s Castle, or Aleppo in Syria. The Tomb of Jonah in Mosul. The deadly 2017 bombings of Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria.
UNESCO, in an attempt to preserve our world heritage sites, labels their intentional destruction as war crimes, but it does little to stop the destruction.
ISIS continues to loot and destroy some of the most ancient sites in the cradle of civilization. Their hatred for the “idolatry” of statues and what these buildings and relics represent to them means they must be destroyed to erase culture and identity.
Each culture must understand and learn from the combined experiences of our personal histories. Is it all pretty? Absolutely not. Can it teach us to be better human beings? You can bet on it.
And as we’ve seen in U.S. cities during recent riots, there is far more damage being done than just the dismantling of a handful of “old statues.”
Cities are burning. Businesses, excited to reopen after a global health crisis, are shuttered again. Black-owned businesses are suffering because of rioting and looting meant to bring awareness to the importance of black lives.
And in America, Europe, and the Middle East, tourism is taking a hit. The reign of terror of ISIS has left some of the most famous tourism spots in the world – cities like Cairo – devoid of tourists for years.
It’s a vicious cycle, perpetuated by intolerance and ignorance.
A complex and murky issue…
So, do we tear down every effigy, marker, and historic piece of architecture simply because it is a reminder of a painful time in our human journey?
The current leftist worldview seems to demand it… but then what?
In Bristol, England, a bronze statue of Edward Colston was dismantled and dumped in the water in support of BLM because Colston was a slave trader in the 18th century.
But if you Google Edward Colston, he is first described as a philanthropist who gave most of his fortune to “schools, almshouses, hospitals, and churches” in London and the surrounding areas.
Was he an evil person because he made money in the slave trade at a time when people had not yet formed a concept of slavery as an inherent evil? Or was he just a human being who didn’t know any better at the time?
Are the Great Pyramids of Giza to be dismantled because they were built by years of slave labor? How about ancient Rome, built by slaves under dictatorial emperors?
If all statues and monuments of what we perceive to be evil people or places are dismantled so we can’t be offended by them, then the same argument can be made for photographs… for artifacts in museums… for all reminders of our struggles to be erased.
Until there is nothing preserved of history at all.
The answer is not to forget the past, but to learn from it. And if you’re offended by a statue, then you’ve got a long way to go toward figuring out your humanity.
BBC’s Kelly Grovier recently explored the reasons behind the destruction of monuments in light of the riots and destruction over George Floyd’s death.
Statues and monuments are less about the people they represent than how we see ourselves in them.
It’s impossible to rid ourselves of the fear that we are not as perfect as we think we are… that we are not “better” than the people in our past who did things that we don’t agree with – or who really were evil.
And this is why it may be so impossible for people to tolerate the presence of these statues. It’s not about them, it’s about us. They represent human weakness, bad decisions and, yes, evil behaviors.
And we don’t want to be reminded that all of us are flawed and make mistakes.
Grovier asks an important question: “Is amputation the best cure for this disease? The problem, of course, in submerging mementos of a painful past in the nearest body of water is things, especially painful things, have a tendency to re-emerge from the murky deep.”
Can’t we all get along?
There is no doubt that racism still exists. There is no doubt that slavery was an evil institution – whether here in the U.S. or throughout ancient times.
But the overall problem is that the current episodes of social unrest stem from the fact that people cannot seem to stop judging other people who are not exactly like them.
My husband’s lifetime best friend is a black man. He is the godfather of my youngest child. Their friendship stemmed from racism in Virginia in the 1960s – but not the way you might think.
My husband was the only white child on the school bus in his rural neighborhood. None of the other kids would let him sit next to them.
A young, black child who didn’t think this was right went home that day and talked to his mother about it. She told him he had darn well better let that boy sit next to him the next morning. That black child gave my white husband a seat, and they’ve been inseparable ever since.
We judge one another every day in a hundred different ways – race, ethnicity, income level, weight or manner of dress.
There are ignorant people out there, and there always will be. That doesn’t mean everyone is ignorant. There are many great people out there who see us all as the equals God intended.
George Floyd was murdered. His killer is likely going to jail for a very long time. He was a bad cop. There are far more great cops than bad ones.
Racism is about judgment, and if we don’t stop making assumptions about other people, it’s never going to go away. This applies to us all.
Destroying reminders of history – especially painful history – will leave us with no path but to repeat it. How are we supposed to grow and change if we aren’t reminded of our mistakes?
Whether targeted against Confederate soldiers or police officers, these acts of destruction are judging certain groups of people as “bad” because of a few bad actors among them — and therefore they are all “evil.”
Is that not the basis of racism?
Perhaps the words we should most remember come from Rodney King, who was brutally beaten by police using excessive force during a DUI stop in 1991 – well before BLM came on the scene.
Following the officers’ acquittal for any wrongdoing, Los Angeles erupted in riots, looting, and mass destruction.
But King, a black man at the center of it all, had this to say:
“I just want to say – you know – can we all get along? Can we, can we get along?… It’s not right and it’s not going to change anything …I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s, you know, let’s try to work it out.”
Destruction begets destruction. Racism and judgment beget racism and judgment. King knew destruction was not the road to change.
By destroying the physical reminders of what we should be leaving to posterity, future generations will be doomed to repeat what they don’t understand.
To understand, you must be reminded. Good or bad, you must be reminded, lest – in the words of Covier – our past mistakes “re-emerge from the murky deep.”