History has taught us to be civilized people | Column | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | September 2, 2017 5:00 pm
Last Updated: August 30, 2017 at 10:29 am
History has always been something we wish in many ways we could change. When we look over our shoulder and back in time, we see there have been so many tragedies and even atrocities that we cringe at how depraved the character of mankind can be … especially to each other.
It is that same history that has taught us and brought us to where we are today as a culture and a civilized people. So many lessons learned, so many ways have been revised that we no longer are willing to say and do many things which one time were both normal and socially acceptable. Our past serves as a reminder of all that was good and we continue to hold, cherish and hopefully pass to the next generation … at the same time, our past serves as a monument to the declaration we make in our hearts to “never again” allow prejudice, chauvinism, child-labor, land-grabs, genocide or any other abandonment of the decency of law and order.
As Americans, we have stood against domineering and power-hungry regimes which would displace and even kill the people in their way of expansion. We learned that from some of our own historical mistakes. There is no way to go back and undo what history tells us we did, but we can do everything to make it as right as possible, and move forward as one nation under God with a commitment to never again allow gluttonous land grabbing that displaces people and destroys their way of living.
We as Americans are reminded of the ups and downs of our historical relationship to those who called this land “home” before those from the Eastern hemisphere arrived. We are reminded through monuments, historical markers, and many documents and national sights that this time in our history actually existed and we have come through some horrific lessons, many at the expense of each other along the way. The Native American, and the important role they have played in the shaping of this country and our culture, is not to be forgotten! We should have statues, and monuments, national sights and reminders to never let a generation forget the good and the bad that has been used to bring us to where we are today. We use both the positive and the negative to teach us how to improve and be the civil culture that we are striving to be in this modern day.
Our country and culture have faced numerous opportunities to advance from our roots of ignorance and into this age of equality, acceptance and tolerance. There was a time when women were not allowed to vote. This is a historical fact, but one we have learned to be a cultural mistake. It was normal for them to accept the fact, and even to debate and defend their erroneous positions, but as this nation progressed, we learned and determined to keep moving forward and out of the dark decisions of our past.
We should have history lessons and speeches given that remind us of the failure of such a mindset … one that kept women as second-rate citizens and withheld the basic right of voting from them because of their gender. We should make heroes out of those who championed for women’s rights.
However, if the past is erased, we will never know what they stood for, nor why they were acclaimed as American heroes. Sometimes a monument or a historical marker reminds us of a darker side of our history, but we cannot ignore the fact that we the people used to be “that” as a country and a culture. If we are guilty of forgetting and intentionally erasing our history, then we set future generations up for failure in many of these same issues. If future generations do not see both sides of the issue, then they may default to the wrong side! This would bring about a replaying of history that none of us want to revisit.
Dominance and bigotry are nothing new — mankind has dealt with his fears and cruelties to one another for thousands of years. It is painfully true that our country once allowed slavery of one people by another people. What has become repulsive and refused by this generation was actually normal and acceptable by our forefathers, just a few years ago. When our country was founded, many of those whom we hold in high regard for the good they procured, were actually on the other side of some of these issues than we are today. Over time, some of them changed their minds and were brought into the light of truth and even went against the normal thought line of their own generation.
It wasn’t easy and it took some time before the nation, as a whole, embraced the truth that God created every man in His own image and we are all equal in His sight, thus we should be equal in each other’s sight as well. It took a horrible civil war to bring to a closure a horrible and dark chapter of our actual history — one that cannot be erased, but can be forgotten if we do not do what it takes to remember and pass along to the next generation.
Statues, historical markers, preservation of birthplaces, etc. are items of all of our heritage (whether we like it or not). If we think that removing, desecrating, or destroying these things will make us better or erase our past, it is just not true — it’s just not going to make it go away. Although we, in this generation, would not support or even agree with many things our forefathers thought to be acceptable, it is a part of what made us who we are today … tolerant equals those who respect and believe in each other and the future of this great country.
We could not have learned this except from the years of both good and bad experiences and choices previous Americans made in our past … it’s our history. If we the people make the choice to remove, desecrate and destroy the memorials and markers that tell the story of our history, then what will we have to motivate us to continue positive advancement or to keep us from making the same horrible mistakes again and again?
Removing a statue of someone because you see a dark side of our history doesn’t take away the bad or the good that they did; it only removes the opportunity for us to point the next generation in the right direction. You may see an individual portrayed by a monument as a reminder of an evil in our history, but it is also a reminder to “never again” allow that particular evil to resurrect in our country’s future.
None of us would agree today with many of the choices that were socially acceptable by the majority in those days (treatment of the Native Americans, lack of women’s rights, child labor, slavery, etc.) but they were definitive of us as a country and they served as highlighted points in our past that we grew to understand as morally wrong and now they are understood to be socially wrong as well.
Have we “arrived”? Are there no more injustices within the fabric of our culture? Can we say that we are morally and socially at the pinnacle of humanity? Has evil been eradicated? Certainly, the answer to all of these is a resounding “No!” Will there be a reason for a statue or a marker or memorial to be erected in your name or in my name for the difference we stood and brought to this great country? Will there be a future when someone reacts to that marker because they see you or me as not morally or socially advanced as they are? Will we not all realize that without the conflicts of moral and cultural differences, humanity cannot and will not move past what is currently socially acceptable behavior?
Somebody had to raise the point that the games within the Roman Coliseum were barbaric and morally wrong. Somebody had to raise the point that people fighting to the death or being eaten by lions was wrong and should be socially unacceptable behavior. It worked! There are no government-sponsored events like this anywhere in the world today. However, there are artifacts and pieces of ancient history that have been preserved and serve as reminders of humanity’s grave and barbaric past. The atrocities of the concentration camps around the world remind us to never let anything like this ever happen again … ever! How foolish would we be to tear down the Roman antiquities or remove any and all traces of these camps? How foolish would it be for us to close the Holocaust museums and keep that part of history so deeply covered that nobody ever discovers the deepest horrors of human history.
The same thing applies to our American history. We should leave standing the markers, statues and memorials for future generations to see and decide that they want a brighter and more positive future for America than that which was handed to them. They can look at these intentional reminders of both the positive and negative choices made by our American forefathers in our group effort to attempt to bring the United States out of a dark past of racism, bigotry, and chauvinism into our modern day where we the people believe in social and cultural equality for all.
Those looking back on our decisions today will blame us for sure and hopefully learn from our mistakes. It would be great to see a day in America’s (hopefully near) future, when our education programs are successful, the stain of abortion is removed from our culture and not just our conscience. When racial equality is truly felt by all, not just for a select group of people. When there is no need for activism to lobby and march for the rights of American citizens. When there are no more clashes between citizens of this one nation because of the color of their skin. When every American trusts and respects the others and together we make a difference in a world who looks to us for moral and cultural leadership!
Who knows, maybe they will erect a statue of one of us from this generation who makes a culturally divisive stand against the evil that remains in our present day. I hope that by then, nobody will tear it down because they don’t like you or me for some other reason that we can’t change because we are dead and gone.
(Tony Jones is the pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Walterboro.)