A Student of History

December 29, 2006

What do we do with Civil War Monuments?

Filed under: Historic Preservation,The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 6:26 pm

Check out the Civil War Memory blog to read a very interesting piece on what to do with Confederate monuments now that we are in thge 21st century—or should we do anything with them at all?

The removal of the statues from the grounds to a museum sends the message that their preferred interpretation of the past is no longer valid or relevant.  The defensiveness that accompanies this typically brings out the rants about liberals and political correctness rather than a more serious consideration of how public objects are now being interpreted by parties that traditionally have had little or no say in how the past is remembered. 

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1 Comment »

  1. Perhaps I misread or misinterpreted this particular point, that is that ‘public objects are now being interpreted by parties that traditionally have had little or no say in how the past is remembered’.

    Frankly, I believe that very benign sounding phrase to mean that certain groups are now making decisions about these matters in relationship not to ‘history’, per se, but their point of view regarding history however correct or incorrect that may be. I would assume, in the matter under discussion, the ‘parties’ referenced are minorities and specifically, African-Americans. If this is the case and if the culture as a whole is to ‘defer’ to these previously impotent ‘parties’, we are setting ourselves up for an exercise in revisionist history that will make Orwell’s forecast seem tame by comparison.

    To begin with, ‘how the past is remembered’ is entirely subjective. I’m sure that many Germans have a very different view of the last two World Wars than the British or the Americans or the Russians. And, of course, the same can be said for any period of history, especially those involving conflicts. Medieval history written by the French is not that written by the British or Italians. Yet, each ‘perspective’ is, to a point, valid. In history, there is usually praise – and blame – enough to go ’round and unless we can get God Himself to present the facts (providing, of course, that one believes in His existence!), there will always be considerable dispute in any historical overview.

    We have already seen what happens when certain ‘parties’ have forced their particular ‘interpretation’ upon historical objects. The destruction of priceless ancient Buddhist statues by the Taliban in Afghanistan differs only in degree from those who would remove Confederate monuments from cemeteries and other places of honor in order to inter them in museums in which they become nothing more than ‘mementos’ of the past of no more value or interest than a bas relief facade taken from some ancient Greek temple. Indeed, the time will doubtless come when all such tokens of our civilization find themselves in the museums and collections of our distant progeny, BUT NOT YET! At this point in time there are still those to whom these objects have a value far beyond mere historical curiosity. Just as the statues of Buddha in Afghanistan had a deep significance for those who hold to that faith, so too, these monuments have a deep and abiding significance to many people who can trace their own not-too-distant family members to the events from which these objects arise. To attempt to placate formerly ‘impotent’ groups whose interpretation of history condemns these objects to irrelevance is to abandon all hope of an objective study of history itself. Who knows what symbols might next be considered ‘offensive’ to some group which has the favor of the Establishment?

    This is, in fact, a matter of political correctness and of ideology whether ‘liberal’ or otherwise. In the past, symbols sacred to any culture were not relegated to irrelevance until that culture had passed away. Are there people who are ‘offended’ by these symbols? Apparently, yes. But remember, if the criteria for the display of historical national symbols and objects is that they offend NO ONE, then our public square will soon become a barren, sterile space more a reflection of our paucity of principle than our empathy towards the formerly weak and powerless.

    Comment by Valerie Protopapas — January 10, 2007 @ 2:24 pm | Reply


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