In the past few weeks we have watched the widespread vandalization of statues and memorials dedicated to men who played a pivotal role in the story of our nation. Among the targets were such giants of American history as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. The purge was carried out on the charge of racism. Something, however, did not add up. A number of the men whose statues were desecrated were well ahead of their time in their views of race and they did much to further the cause of black people. But the vandals would hear none of it, which came as a surprise to many. There is, however, nothing surprising about their actions once we understand what they are truly after. What
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In the past few weeks we have watched the widespread vandalization of statues and memorials dedicated to men who played a pivotal role in the story of our nation. Among the targets were such giants of American history as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.
The purge was carried out on the charge of racism. Something, however, did not add up. A number of the men whose statues were desecrated were well ahead of their time in their views of race and they did much to further the cause of black people. But the vandals would hear none of it, which came as a surprise to many. There is, however, nothing surprising about their actions once we understand what they are truly after.
What the statue slayers really want has nothing to do with racism. Their goal is not to fight or remedy racial injustice, which in the US has been done decades ago. Their goal is to tear America apart. The way they attempt to achieve this is quite insidious: They seek to make us ashamed of our history which, they maintain, is one of continual racism that persists to this day.
Once we internalize this spurious narrative, we cannot but repudiate our past. The moment this happens we become doomed as a nation, since no people can survive as a national entity without the intuition of togetherness which a sense of shared history helps to foster. It is precisely for this reason that all sane and healthy countries preserve and honor the landmarks of their past, especially those dedicated to the men who shaped their history. It is this collective sense of history that binds a people together and gives them a feeling of belonging to a larger polity, which we call a nation. When the glue of a mutually shared history loses its binding power, a nation will, sooner or later, come apart.
This is exactly what the internal haters of America seek to bring about. By claiming that the key players in America’s history were racists, they try to portray our past as a tale of injustice. Needless to say, their charge of racism is as both misplaced and unjustified. Slavery, which they position at center of their narrative as America’s original sin, has existed throughout the world since the advent of society and probably even before that. It is only relatively recently, in historical terms, that this practice has been largely relinquished.
The United States has paid a greater price in blood and treasure than any other nation to stop this practice and eliminate racism from its institutions. It did it so well that in the second half of the 20th century America’s black population enjoyed more rights, opportunities and freedoms than black people in any other country at any point in history.
The claims of the statue topplers that America’s past is somehow uniquely egregious because of slavery betray a lack of historical perspective. If we should condemn American history because it has been marked by this practice, then we would have to condemn almost ALL of history. In nearly all great civilizations of the past – Egypt, Sumeria, Babylon, Phoenicia, Greece, Rome, etc. – slavery was commonly practiced. In fact, these civilizations were to a great extent built on slave labor.
Are we going to blanketly condemn them all? Are we going to say there was nothing good in them and discard their great contributions to the development of mankind? Are we going to tear down statues of Plato, Aristotle, Pericles, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius because all of them either owned slaves or directly benefited from their labor? Are we going to condemn Jesus who lived at a time when slavery was a widespread practice and yet chose not to launch a crusade against it? When asked how people should behave toward their Roman overlords, he stated, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” He said this even though slavery was endemic in Roman society.
Until relatively recently, nearly every society or historical figure was – by the logic of today’s crusaders –“tainted” by slavery in one way or another. In Europe, for instance, serfdom, which was essentially a soft form of slavery, lasted in many places well into the 18th century. In the rest of the world such practices lasted well beyond that time. In fact, slavery exists in a number of places in the world to this day. Most of those places are in Africa and most of the enslavers as well as the enslaved are black. One wonders why today’s racism crusaders do not focus their attention where the real problem is.
In any case, we cannot judge history through the lens of today’s political correctness which is a luxury that comes with our modern cushioned existence. Given slavery’s historical ubiquity, it is obvious that there existed very strong natural tendencies toward it as an institution. Neither was slavery seen as uniformly negative or injurious to those subjected to it. Sad though it may sound, for many in the past slavery was preferable to the alternatives they faced in life. Many people sold themselves or their children to slavery voluntarily, because they simply could not provide enough to survive. Furthermore, when in past wars armies were defeated and prisoners taken, there were often only two options for those on the losing side: death or servitude. Many a prisoner was glad of the availability of the latter.
As far as American history goes, it is nothing like the haters try to portray it as. No person or country is perfect, and every person and country has committed their share of errors. America is no exception. This being said, America’s is an inspiring and magnificent history. It is a history of a people who made a perilous voyage across the ocean in search of a new home. It is a history of those who faced very difficult conditions and managed to survive despite the odds. It is a history of a people who from humble beginnings managed to build the most prosperous and free nation the world has ever seen. Ours is a history of a young nation which after many struggles, errors and setbacks managed to build a society which translated into reality the noblest aspirations of the human soul: equality and freedom for all, white, black, yellow and everything in between. The efforts of our forefathers eventually made America a shining city on the global hill, a magnet for people from all over the world regardless of the color of their skin. That’s the essence of the American story.
The miracle of America has come about because of the dedication, strength and ingenuity of our ancestors who overcame immense challenges to make their country a better place for those would come after them. All of us – including the ungrateful complainers of today – are the fortunate beneficiaries of their sweat and blood and we should be deeply grateful for their efforts. We should be thankful regardless of our race, for America is a fair, equitable and opportunity-rife place for all who live here.
But nothing is apparently good enough for the self-righteous critics who spit not only on the memory of our ancestors but also on everything that is good and noble. Blinded by ill-will born of their own misguided ways, they condemn America’s past generations who laid the foundation for the most affluent and racially accommodating country in history. And even while living in the fairest and most institutionally unprejudiced society in the world, the critics still claim that it is “systemically” racist. The fact that they fail to submit any good evidence for their allegations is of no consequence to them.
For brats like this nothing will ever be good enough. Put to shame by the nobility of the great men who came before them, they stand as boors next to the grand souls whose memorials they seek to desecrate. Spoiled, self-indulgent and crass, these people could never build or create a great nation, or anything worthy for that matter. All they can do is to scream, criticize, loot and destroy. Instead of trying to better themselves and make their own contribution to the great story of America, they tear down what the generations before them built with so much effort and sacrifice.
By any historical standard or measure, we Americans are very fortunate to have had great forefathers. We must not allow the ransackers and assorted malcontents to cast false aspersions on their memory. We must not let them besmirch our history by their distorted interpretations of it, because if we give up our past we will surely lose our nation. We owe a deep debt of gratitude to generations past, and we must not let anyone sever the bond of love that many of us feel towards them. Above all, to be the worthy heirs of our forefathers we must not become intimidated by the screeching of the agitators. Instead we need to strengthen our resolve to keep defending and fighting for what we know is right. Let those who come after us say that our generation rose to the challenge and that we did it well.