Preserving the past for the future

Columns

Importance of recognizing history through monument preservation

By Alexandra Lachine Editor-In-Chief

As the American political arena is deeply divided due to recent extremist events across the nation, many people have demanded the removal or defamation of historical monuments and sites, particularly those related to the Confederate Army that seceded The Union to initiate what would go on to be the bloodiest war fought on American soil, the Civil War.

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A statue of Robert E. Lee located in Charlottesville, VA, now in the midst of controversy. (Image from CNN.)

Most statues of Confederate soldiers were actually erected in the half-century period that followed war’s end in an effort to reconcile the union between north and south as well as to cement the narrative of the south’s lost cause. The common objection to these statues today is that they serve to publicly honor their subjects.

With any middle school education in history, we must know to view these monuments as haunting and cautionary tales. While the original intent of their erection was not to warn or educate future Americans on the heinous practice of slavery and secession in its name, it is our duty in the present to be mature and enlightened enough to recognize them as such. The very fact that these statues were built in prominent public places is a rather powerful lesson in American history.

In these cases, the purpose of public monuments is to oblige us to deal with and move past our nation’s turbulent history and the changes of human nature with time.

But the iconoclasm on display now in American politics is more so a critique of American constitutionalism. President Trump was mocked for suggesting that progressive activists would demand the removal of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson after being unsatisfied with the removal statutes of rebel soldiers. But sure enough, the Lincoln Memorial in the nation’s capital was spray painted by vandals soon after and another statue of the Great Emancipator was torched in Chicago.

People have called for the abandonment of the Jefferson Memorial and the removal of Washington and Jackson’s names from public places for their ownership of slaves. Journalists have even gone so far as to call for Mount Rushmore’s destruction. For many on the left wing of politics, Confederate statues are merely small obstacles in forgetting a much larger “problem,” the past.

This criticism is common among so-called activists because they feel compelled to liberate society from any trace of tradition and history as contributions to a glorious new future. It was this very mindset that sparked Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China, the rise of communism in Soviet Russia and the sanitation of art and religion in France during the French Revolution.

These depraved ideologies claimed thousands of innocent lives. While progressives shouldn’t be equated with that at this point, they’re trapped by a similar, dangerous conceptual thought. These activists believe the existence of these statues constantly remind us of a painful past that must be forgotten and should be demolished at all costs.

But the past is always with us and must be kept in mind to avoid ever slipping back into those dark chapters of history. Toppling statues or prohibiting free speech will never evict hatred from a person’s heart, for only education and recognition of a troubled past while working toward a better tomorrow for everyone can do that.