In light of events this past weekend we now see a resurgence in initiatives to remove some monuments to our darker historical past. Understandably this is causing quite an uproar, especially among the conservative side, with strong voices stating this is a sanitizing of our history. You hear such things as, “Heritage, not hate,” “It is part of our history, leave it there,” “How are we to learn about our past without these,” just to start.
With that in mind, I’d ask that you take a moment to consider this from other angles.
You travel to Germany, hop off the plane, and one of the first things you see is a statue of Joseph Goebbels and a line of swastika bearing flags. What would you think?
You travel to Russia and step to a monument to Stalin or Lenin and a surrounding view of the hammer and sickle. How would you feel?
You visit the treasures of Southeast Asia only to meet images of Pol Pot and the millions his regime killed or Africa and receive greetings from pictures of Idi Amin.
You get where I’m going here. None of those are welcome thoughts or images. In most countries symbols to these people and their acts are not only not on display, they are outlawed from public display completely. Are they gone and erased from history? Were they sanitized? Of course not, as you can find exhibits and historical references to these people in museums, civic centers, city historical preservation societies, and so on. They are not forgotten, learning of them is not discouraged, however here is the key, they are not in places of honor, reverence, or civic lead. The retreat to places of learning and thought.
Now let us get silly for a moment.
Imagine if you will engineers and inventors from all over our nation begin an uprising. They congregate in violent, hate filled rallies around Nikola Tesla statues throughout our country. Would it seem reasonable for colleges, cities, and parks, to remove the symbol of the inventor rage? We would not erase the things he accomplished simply by moving those symbols to less public displays.
Astrophysicists have finally had enough and begin a fury filled campaign of pro-space-and-time rallies paying homage to every plaque related to Albert Einstein. Would it seems unreasonable to move those plaques to collections within museums and learning environments?
While silly the answer is of course not. Removing rallying points of violence, hate, suffering, is a logical step. It in no way infringes on free speech, it simply removes a visible motivator to that hate.
One other thing we must remember is words and symbols can change in meaning over time. The clearest and most obvious example of this one is the swastika. Before the ambushing of the symbol by Nazis, it was a symbol of luck. Destroyed was that historical meaning and the symbol became a rally point for hate, violence, and death. The same thing occurs here as well, and you need look no further than multiple Civil War pieces of symbolism. Flags, statues, and speeches have all becomes points of hatred, not history. That hatred should be properly ridiculed and removed from civilized society and achieving this is possible without losing any of the historical significance.
You are not erasing the significance of the symbol’s history, you are removing the power of the symbol’s future.