By Tom Henry | as published in the April 1, 2017 edition of the Blytheville Courier News
“History has to be rewritten in every generation, because although the past does not change, the present does; each generation asks new questions of the past and finds new areas of sympathy as it re-lives different aspects of the experiences of its predecessors,” renowned English historian John Edward Christopher said.
Christopher was correct, history does have to be rewritten in every generation, but it does not have to be recreated from scratch. Instead of a historical repeal and replace paradigm, it needs to be more of a line upon line, precept upon precept stacking process. History has no end; there will always be more to add.
While in grad school one of my professors, my mentor in fact, made a shocking statement in class one day that I still disagree with somewhat. He asked, “If you are doing research, and you want the best information about a topic, do you go to the first books written on the subject (and closest to the event) or the most recent books?” I said the first books, because they would probably be eyewitnesses and/or participants. He said wrong, one should read the most recent because they have gone through the lens of modern scholarship and modern writers would be less likely to lie about the events. Implying that eyewitnesses are more likely to lie in order to inflate their importance or to justify some acts that are inexcusable. But I argue that a modern person unfamiliar with the mores, culture, customs, language and zeitgeist of another era would lie in order to advance the political or amoral worldview they possess today.
The writing of history is very much like journalism. It should be 99.9 percent pure factual reporting and only 0.1 percent commentary or context. I sincerely believe that we must take figures from the past at their word unless proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be false. Yes, the same burden of proof needed to convict someone of perjury in a courtroom. Why? Because they were there and they know what their convictions and motivations really were. They all left a record, via personal documents, diaries, letters, pictures, possessions, heirlooms, wills, Bibles and the list goes on and on and on.
At this point you may be asking why I am writing about the ethics of historiography. Here is why. We know that George Orwell was correct when he said, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past” and as bad as it pains me to say, President Abraham Lincoln was also correct when he said, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”
Progressives realized this and decided to leave the streets of protests and to enter academic ivory towers with a long-term goal of reframing our past, in order to change and control our future. That’s fair game, but we conservative, traditionalists that hold beliefs similar to our founding fathers and forefathers voluntarily gave up the high ground. Now we are being metaphorically shot at and we are losing because we aren’t showing enough “courage of our convictions.”
I am a conservative, Christian, proud Southerner…but I am not a rich, selfish, hateful, judgmental racist. I can hold conservative beliefs, being proud of what made our way of life great, blessed and the envy of the world – without being some millionaire that wants to see old people and babies eating cat food and unable to ever receive a helping hand. I can believe the Bible to be the Holy, inspired Word of God and not mean that I hate everyone that disagrees with me. I can also be proud of my Southern heritage [even proud of true Southern gentlemen like Gen. Robert E. Lee, President Thomas Jefferson and Patriot Patrick Henry] and proudly possess a worldview of limited government, refined agrarian Christian culture and antebellum honor and dignity without being a skinhead, Nazi or a racist.
When I look at monuments of southern heroes, I don’t feel a burning in my chest for the return to slavery. Slavery was, in my humble opinion, the second biggest sin our nation has committed. It is inexcusable and I have never attempted to…but thinking that the War Between the States (Civil War) was only about slavery is to miss the entire political battle over restraining the mammoth federal government. Historians have pulled a magician’s trick of “look at this hand and don’t look that that one.” If you look at both, you can still despise the horrid sin of slavery and also admit that Southern politicians of the early 19th century were correct about states rights and federal overreach.
German playwright Frank Wedekin once said, “Monuments are for the living, not the dead.”
Obviously. The dead can’t visit them and can no longer interpret or enjoy them. But, monuments are signpost of our past that must never be forgotten (good and bad, warts and all). If we forget the wells dug by our forefathers, then we will have to do a lot of unnecessary digging and still remain thirty. Also, if we allow the trend of destroying all history or monuments that ANYONE finds offensive…then eventually no history or monuments will remain, including ours.