In the current and raging war against history, it's been but a short step from tearing down Confederate monuments to tearing down hosts of others, from Columbus and Lincoln to Grant and Theodore Roosevelt. Similarly, it's been a short step from destroying monuments to "purifying" other carriers of history as well - films, radio and television, the internet, books, public education, literature, music, the fine arts and, even, religion. To quote Hawk Newsome, a founder of Black Lives Matter: "If this country doesn't give us what we want, then we will burn down this system and replace it. All right?" As Hollywood director and actor Spike Lee recently put it: "America was founded on genocide, slavery and theft." I would guess that both Newsome and Lee are beginning with the monuments.
Such assaults on history come at horrific intellectual and social costs if one believes, as did the Ancients, that history serves to explain distant lands, events, peoples and truths. Further, Greeks and Romans also held that the study of history promotes effective speech (rhetoric) and decorous behavior. Without these qualities, they would argue, how does one become a worthy citizen who understands his own times, a worthy parent who brings up educated and virtuous children? In other words, the broader the historical perspectives the better for everyone.
Without broad perspectives one is empty, unable to debate effectively. How can one interpret, much less judge a past when one knows so little about it? For example, how many of those who cry against military facilities named after Confederate generals have even the foggiest notion of who were, say, John Bell Hood, Henry Benning, John B. Gordon, Braxton Bragg, Leonidas Polk or Edmund Rucker? And what could possibly be the broad perspectives of anyone who would tear down a monument - whether Union or Confederate? If the matter at hand is not attached to some narrow partisan or political issue, are such people seriously interested in broader themes - history, art, war, languages and other cultural markers? I think not.
Tearing down monuments because they are thought to represent slavery, white supremacy, and social and economic differences is as ridiculous and injurious to historical understanding as would be the tearing down of Monticello or the buildings of Colonial Williamsburg, for the same reasons. To do so would only create (and pass on) stunted historical perspectives. Without such architectural "monuments," how can Black history and culture be researched and understood? And the same holds true vice versa: can one begin to comprehend white history and culture in such southern parts without a knowledge of the African-American presence and its history? Happily, those who administer these institutions are fully alive to the cultural, social and economic impacts resulting from white and Black interactions, and are working hard to create authentic historical settings to Illuminate them. I don't see these administrators, whether Black or white, faking history by tearing down monuments of any kind, by playing serious history games with only half a deck of cards (Note: see both the African American Studies Program at Colonial Williamsburg and the partnership between the Thomas Jefferson Foundation of Monticello and the National Museum of African American History and Culture).
So, to those who are taking to the streets in judgment, whether in Seattle, Minneapolis, New York , Atlanta or Washington, D.C: conclude what you will, but do so holding on to broad historical perspectives. Pursue distant lands, events, peoples and truths, but realize that you will never find them if you are of a mind to destroy monuments.
And realize also that the consequences of holding narrow perspectives, of tearing down monuments and attempting to "purify" other aspects of our culture (per examples set by the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China) will be disastrous. You are already playing not only into the hands of the aforementioned Newsome and Lee, but into those of white supremacists. None of them have ever accepted that, for better or worse, we are a democracy whose healthy future depends upon maintaining broad historical perspectives and cooperation, not upon tearing down each other's monuments.