Don’t Know Much About History

Don't Know Much About History
Gone With the Wind premiere, Atlanta, 1939

History is a mixed bag. Rarely is a cause, a person or a nation all good or all bad. The same Roman Empire that fed Christians to the lions made possible the world-wide expansion of the gospel through the Pax Romana and the best network of roads the world had ever seen. Martin Luther who sparked the Reformation which led to the recovery of the gospel in western Europe also wrote some very troubling things about Jews. The job of a historian is to consider all the information and report it as accurately as he or she can, taking the good with the bad.

The job of an ideologue is different.

The ideologue seeks to manipulate the past to facilitate their agenda in the present. Sometimes that manipulation is subtle as in the altering of text books. At other times it takes the more extreme forms of demonization and elimination. One of the tactics of tyrants is to erase the history of a people or culture so they can remake that people or culture in their own image – in other words, control them.

Consider this from Jung Chang & Jon Halliday’s biography of Mao:

“Mao thus succeeded in wiping out culture from Chinese homes. Outside, he was also fulfilling his long-held goal of erasing China’s past from the minds of his subjects. A large number of historical monuments, the most visible manifestation of the nations’ civilization, which had so far survived Mao’s loathing, were demolished. In Peking, of 6,843 monuments still standing in 1958, 4,922 were now obliterated.”

You saw similar things after both the French and Russian revolutions and in both cases the history purgers made the abuses of the ancien regime look like child’s play. Certainly the public square should reflect different points of view and be a place where people can disagree with one another. However, when one group demands that the public square be sanitized of any historical references they don’t like –  danger Will Robinson! 

What began as a request to remove a single Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol in the aftermath of the racially-motivated murders in Charleston has turned into a full-court press to remove all references to the Confederacy from the public square.

Here are a few of the cries that rang out over the last few days:

If the new standard is that nothing should be displayed on government property that any citizen finds offensive, I need to know where to send my list.

In addition, retailers like Amazon, are removing the Confederate battle flag from sale (while still offering items with Nazi and Communist symbols on them) and Apple has removed all Civil War strategy games from the app store because they contain images of the confederate flag.

I knew we would end up here when this started – as should anyone who’s been paying attention for the last 20 years. There is no such thing as “enough” in the left’s eyes when the specter of racism is invoked. It’s the trump sin. Anything and everything can be justified if positioned as fighting racism – especially things that are purely symbolic and do nothing to actually solve the problem. I also realize most of those originally calling for the removal of the flag in South Carolina did not have this kind of nation-wide purge in mind but unfortunately knee-jerk reactions are often the mother of unintended consequences.

So where do we go from here? Someone needs the guts to stand up and say “enough.” However, I can think of no one either in politics, business or among the evangelical elites with that kind of courage. Perhaps when other expressions of history are in the cross-hairs of the cultural sanitizers (and they will be), someone who values whatever the sledge-hammer is being swung at then will arise and stand in the gap. But I’m not holding my breath.

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