Sep 16, 2017
When the city officials of Charlottesville, Virginia, the hometown of Thomas Jefferson, decided to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a downtown park, they ignited a nationwide argument about the propriety of honoring heroes of the South's confederate past. As a result of this controversy, a statue of Lee no longer towers over the city of New Orleans. And the limestone, almost life-size image of Lee no longer graces the entrance to the Chapel of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
Many adamantly protest any image that reminds them of a time when our national heroes did not respect the dignity of every human person, regardless of race or color. Will their protests eventually bring down the statues of Jefferson who spoke against slavery while owning hundreds of slaves himself? Will Christopher Columbus and Ulysses S. Grant be exiled from New York? If so, then what are we to do with the stone statue of Margaret Sanger in the Smithsonian? Can we legitimately immortalize the founder of Planned Parenthood who was active with the Ku Klux Klan and promoted doing away with races she deemed inferior?
The recent mob protests against monuments to our nation's past should cause us to ask some very serious questions. Do we simply erase our history? Do we choose to forget our past? Are we to replace what was with a revisionist's view of the facts? Stalin tried that. And, it does not work. The best solution to the social ills that still mar our national character can never be the destruction of our past, but the honest, reasoned understanding of it that inspires the effort to move forward.
At the basis of a well-ordered society is a rational approach to living together and fostering the common good. Today's protests and counter protests, accusations of hatred and bigotry have made it difficult to listen to the voice of reason. Irrational, angry iconoclasm not simply against statues but also against our leaders is making it more and more difficult for those of differing opinions to listen to each other.