Monuments and History

by Jay Nordlinger

Below, Jim writes about the Virginia governor’s race and Confederate monuments. I would like to make a point, or re-make it. Those in favor of the monuments like to talk about “history” and the importance of not erasing history. “Eradication” is another word they use. Eradicating history.

Beware this argument. This rhetoric. This trick. You’re not against history, are you? What are you, a Soviet-style air-brusher?

Some monuments are meant to record history, it’s true. I think of memorials to the dead. They are very important. Other monuments — probably most of them — are meant to honor the person depicted. He is literally on a pedestal.

Think of Nelson in Trafalgar Square. Are the Brits merely recording history? No! They are honoring Nelson, and declaring him a hero.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, people all over the former empire took down statues of Lenin and Stalin. In doing so, they were not eradicating history. They know this history all too well; they want it recorded, faithfully. They did not want Lenin and Stalin honored. They did not believe that these men ought to be on pedestals. So they took them down.

A reader made a point to me: There are no monuments to Hitler. Oddly enough, we manage to remember World War II and the Holocaust.

So, by all means, let’s have our arguments over the Confederate monuments. And let’s not shirk our duty to think. To exercise our powers of discrimination. To try to determine who is worthy of honor and who is not. Let’s not become, or pretend to be, zombies.

If you refuse to honor Calhoun, do you have to dishonor Washington and Jefferson? Oh, please.

And don’t fall for that “history” dodge.

P.S. Another reader pointed out that, if people were interested in history — history in monuments — they would erect monuments to Emancipation. Where are they? There are precious few, right? What about that, history-lovers? Do monuments honoring Emancipation dot the South?

If Calhoun and his cause are to be honored — what about the cause of freedom? How about a knickknack or two in favor of the people Calhoun would have kept enslaved forever?

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