“Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.”
Whether you attribute the origin of the thought to Irish statesman Edmund Burke, English politician Winston Churchill or Spanish philosopher George Santayana, the sentiment is one that has enveloped me as I have watched the movement in the media to purge our country of symbols, elements or even television shows that are part of our history.
Perhaps this movement in our country is spurred on by the actions in recent months seen in media when some of the world’s earliest pieces of art and architectural ruins of the ancient world were destroyed by man.
The concept is not that much different: those earlier people didn’t think like we do, so we should eliminate what they held dear and what they paid homage to because it does not align with what we think.
This movement is not new, historically we have seen it before in country after country as a dictator or political movement took over. They wish to erase the elements of the past, so no one will hold onto those earlier ideas and no future intellectuals could argue a different view of history than fits their design. In most cases the intellectuals who knew differently were killed and the supporting pieces of historical documentation destroyed.
The Nazi leadership in Germany wanted everything purged that did not reflect their prospective of the German people and its version of history; the communists did the same in several of the countries where that movement took hold through revolution.
The American experiment created by our founders is only 239 years old. We do not have ancient cities like those found in the old world, our cities have not seen thousands of years of history flowing through the same streets, or happening in the same buildings but that makes each moment of our history have even greater importance.
With every passing generation there are men and women who stand out and make a difference in their world. The contribution to those he or she lived amongst is sometimes so revered, their fellow citizens have chosen to honor he or she and their life lived. That life was unique in its time and special to those who knew them. In the case of America, these tributes were not forced upon the masses to create but came from their esteem and hard work to raise the funds for the honor.
Sometimes this came in the shape of statues in a town square, a monument on the capitol mall, or perhaps they were so unique in their time their contemporaries buried their remains in a place of honor now part of a government complex or park.
No matter what authority we have been awarded by our special place in time, our job, our elected position, our personal convictions, it is not our place to re-write American history. It is our place to protect our history so that every generation to come can learn about those who came before and the lives they led.
History is not something simply to be hidden away, moved, and destroyed with popular opinion or whoever seems to hold the power at the moment.
Every country has elements of its history that are not pleasant to learn about or remember. But if we do not keep all the players on the board that were part of the story in the framework in which their contemporaries placed them, then we are drastically changing the game, making it more difficult to learn the lessons we all should know in order to keep the American experiment continuing for another 240 years.
Unlike many preceding civilizations, our forefathers worked to correct what it saw as the mistakes of those that came before them. These strides were taken decade after decade as the steps forward became possible. Even the winners honored the losers, because they were now part of the winning team, they were Americans.
We do not bow before a monarch, cower before a dictator, or simply exist as a serf for another more powerful individual. This was what it was like before there was a United States. If we wish to erase our history from which we draw the strength we hold as Americans, we are giving those who wish to erase the United States from world history an even easier path.