A Nation Shackled by the Past

Honoring and remembering history requires reflection and candor, not an officially-sanctioned nod to a vanquished rebellion.

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The statue of Robert E. Lee at the center of last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville stands in the city’s Emancipation Park. A man who betrayed his oath to the Union and led rebels in the field in defense of slavery is commemorated in a public park named for the freedom of the Confederacy’s slaves.

That astonishing contradiction is a sad yet telling illustration of a town, state, region, and nation forever shackled by the past, unable to completely shake the discord that killed more than 600,000 Americans a century and a half ago.

Those who “rallied” in protest of the statue’s removal would have you believe that such action whitewashes the past and denies the South of its legacy. But what society tolerates the widespread memorialization of traitors on public land and property? What does it say to children growing up today when they see street signs and schools adorned with the names Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson?

Taking down a statue doesn’t erase the past. It’s a statement about what we still aspire to be as a country. Honoring and remembering history requires reflection and candor, not an officially-sanctioned nod, in the form of a stone memorial, to a vanquished rebellion.

Of course, the right of Americans to peacefully assemble and voice their views, no matter how hateful and repellent, is guaranteed. What’s not is intimidation and terror in hopes of preserving a spot in the public square for those who deserve no such deification.

Referencing the protests, former KKK leader David Duke said, “We are determined to take our country back.” Our country? From the looks of it, the gathering was littered with Confederate flags and Nazi swastikas. If the end goal is to restore America to some imagined place of glory, why tote around those particular symbols? Why shill for movements whose defeat represented America in its finest, albeit flawed, hours? For a bunch of people whining about history, they sure are showing a minimal grasp of it.

Regret for falsely spreading blame to the “many sides” involved won’t consume this president, as he will be too busy getting angry at the media for not praising his response to the situation. While his outbursts will inevitably drag us back into the cycle of nonsense, remember that words and actions matter.

Call them what you want — white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, or, more simply, thugs — but those who cling so desperately to vestiges of a horrid, disgraceful past cannot and will not define what America is nor what it will next become.

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