By Mark Antony Rossi
The act of recording history was predicated on a simple intention: instruct the future. History is replete with warnings against committing the same costly mistakes that maim trust and murder dreams.
As I witness mindless mobs toppling statues, I remember how this ignorant misuse of agitation was the opening salvo for both Nazis and Communists in Germany, Russia, China and Cambodia in their campaigns to erase and ultimately rewrite yesterday to serve their agenda. People, events, policies, laws suddenly disappear or reappear with a new slant, a new face or new voice meant to support whatever is being regurgitated by central authority in charge.
Historical documents clearly show whenever this campaign of whitewashing took place its sole aim was to augment the goal of consolidating power by controlling information. From information control comes propaganda and then various restrictions of freedom. Those who seek to control yesterday understand it’s makes easier planning to control tomorrow.
Toppling statues is a direct attack on democratic freedoms for it ignores legitimate rule of law and substitutes street violence as a means of disrespectful defiance. The argument that certain statues of past administrations or militaries are deeply offensive appears on the surface to have merit until you realize (with the aid of history, how nice) that nearly every statue erected represents imperfect people whom lived lives and made decisions that would upset most of us today.
Henry Ford was a rabid anti Semite who used his fortune to produce radio shows and pamphlets denouncing Jews.
Walt Disney was a horrible racist who began his career financing studios which produced cartoons full of ugly racial stereotypes.
JFK purposefully dragged his feet on civil rights too afraid it would hurt his popularity and showed little respect to his wife and the myriad number of women he had affairs with some who were active intelligence agents for hostile powers.
FDR was a hostile anti Semite who forced his college to place admission quotas on Jews. He also restricted the State Dept during WWII from allowing more Jewish refugees from Poland and Germany which resulted in more deaths by Nazis. It is historically unclear if his weak response to the Holocaust was due to his anti-Semitism but again it’s a troubling trend and worthy of statue removal per current definitions of unethical racially motivated conduct.
How can we pick and choose such historic figures? We cannot. What can be done, constructively, to satisfy the sincere and the sensitive is to bring some statues in a museum and teach the complete life story of that person—warts and all. Striking down what you do not like is a juvenile tantrum and quite frankly weakens your ethical position. Today these stone symbols are reminders of a racist past. I wholeheartedly agree but how is that face stealing your liberty? If society were to use this criteria across the landscape, Cotton could be considered an evil reminder of how millions of slaves were forced to pick it. Should we now rip off our underwear and burn them in a fire chanting something clever in the brisk air?
Racism is a serious matter demanding the utmost of attention from clear-minded adults willing to expose its roots and leave them to die in the antiseptic sunlight of truth. When society allows good intentions to run amok it dishonors the towering heroes of our past (Parks, King, Evers, Chaney, Goodman, Schwerner) who worked and sacrificed, some with their very lives, to help pave the way for a fairer society more closely aligned to the original framers of the Constitution. Tearing down statues sans public mandate is a destructive distraction from the true efforts necessary to build relationships by locating examples of common ground. Only then can we unravel the rhetorical rope around each of our lives and use it to pull ourselves out of the mud and onto dry land. There we can finally stand for something greater than ourselves and perhaps laugh and cry that we allowed ourselves to be pulled down in the first place.