Denying history is actually denying one’s self.

I have watched with some curiosity a series of recent political efforts to change, even destroy reality; namely history.

My curiosity swam in the murky waters of “to what end?”  What is hoped to be accomplished by the destruction of history?  Yes, I will have a supposition at the end.

A couple of my favorite quotes by men, well established in history as relevant, set the stage.

“There is properly no history; only biography.”

Said Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

In a vague manner it echos the sentiments of Cicero,

“History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illuminates reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life, and brings us tidings of antiquity.”

My curiosity began to “bring [me] tidings of antiquity” with the clamor to tear down the Confederate flag, because someone lost in his interpretation of current reality killed faithful Christians in a church known to be predominate “black.”  That was tragedy of failed perspective.

Yet, I could not see the correlation between a Century and a half old flag and the acts of self-aggrandizing extremist.  I would not succumb to the idea that the flag perpetuated his hateful and anti-social behavior.

What followed was a cacophony of shouts to obliterate all things that reflected the “biography” of the past.

Silly ventures associated with political pandering followed the course of denial of those past events…which “provide guidance for daily life.”  The political cat-calls of “how can I join-in to the scuffle of over-reaction” led to such absolute ludicrous notions as digging up the dead in one city.  The dried rotting flesh and bone of long deceased southern military leaders presumably suddenly posed a threat which had heretofore floated by, unnoticed in the stream of daily living.

There are many other issues which I could tediously opine on that I shall leave for another day.  They are simply part of history.  They reflect this passion for living aimlessly in the present.

Yet, yesterday I read about a group of history bigots wanting to sever one of the vitalizing memories, which Cicero might have included, in their zeal to denounce racial bigotry.  I am hard pressed to see how one form of bigotry has superiority over an alternate form of …bigotry.

I refer to the bastion of bigots trying to remove a statue from the Smithsonian Museum because it portrays a real and salient point of reference to the past serious and decadent racial bigotry of the worst kind.  I am reminded of the statement by Frederick Turner,

“Each age tries to form its own conception of the past. Each age writes the history of the past anew with reference to the conditions uppermost in its own time.”

What we are seeing is the blind ambition for political clout being played out across America.  “Conditions uppermost in [our] own time,” bear witness to a demand to deny what once was…, whether it was good, or evil.

Again as Emerson said “There is properly no history; only biography.”

If I may make a weak, at best, analogy please bear with me.  The biography of a great baseball player could be written from the perspective of his prowess, with let’s say a 2.50 ERA.  Without the perspective of his whole career (total innings) combined with a win/loss record such an excellent ERA is nearly meaningless.  My point is that his true greatness as a player is framed in both his glory days and his distasteful outings.

It is the same with political or social history.  The bright stage lights of tolerance are nearly indistinguishable without the corresponding dimming of the house lights.

What makes the achievements of racial equity salient is the very fact that those accomplishments were gained in the overwhelming shadow of bigotry.  Without the contrast the sorely won victory is a shallow echo of the true struggle.

Of particular importance are our full depictions of history in our schools and museums…even the National Smithsonian Museum.  To place statues of a historical figure in their proper biographical context sheds the contrast essential to fully illuminate the  accomplishments of civilization.

I am reminded of the Poem by Shelley, Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Please dear readers, read on.  One Morris Bishop followed-up on Shelley’s work with a somewhat similar poem entitled Ozymandias Revisited;

Ozymandias Revisited
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Also the names of Emory P. Gray,
Mr. and Mrs. Dukes, and Oscar Baer,
Of 17 West 4th Street, Oyster Bay.

Those that seek to tear down history with the intent to “form its own conception of the past” do little more than graffiti the work of others.

That Is The Way I See It.

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