On Dec. 8, 1980, a young man named Mark David Chapman approached Beatles legend John Lennon for an autograph. By Chapman’s own account Lennon was very kind to him. Specifically, he said Lennon was a “very cordial and decent man.” Five hours after the pleasant encounter, Chapman put four hollow point bullets into Lennon’s back and killed him. The news shocked the world. Who would assassinate a universally loved musician?
Though the media initially reported Mark David Chapman as the shooter, many mainstream media outlets soon began to refuse to print or broadcast his name, allegedly to stop the killer from receiving any notoriety. I was 16 years old at the time of Lennon’s senseless murder and remember wondering how the media could possibly think it was up to them to determine what pieces of the news should be filtered before the world could hear it. Like it or not, the shooter was part of history.
Mark David Chapman was an evil man. So was Lee Harvey Oswald. So was John Wilkes Booth. History has had bad characters sprinkled all throughout time. The idea that we should somehow pretend they didn’t exist or forget their evil deeds is absurd, yet in the case of Chapman, that was what many in the media put into practice. It was wrong.
It is just as wrong in 2020.
Spurred on by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, (whose name ironically, some news outlets are now refusing to repeat) activists across the United States are calling for the removal and destruction of any statue or memorial they deem offensive. Former officer Chauvin created his own awful legacy and will surely go down as a huge villain of this era. No one who watches the video of Floyd’s slow agonizing death can possibly see anything else. The removal of historical monuments however, ignores both the complexity of their respective legacies and the lessons they teach.
Statues and plaques commemorating the Confederate era are coming down in several southern cities including Richmond, Virginia, Mobile, Alabama, Nashville, Tennessee and Jacksonville, Florida.
Among the items being removed from Jacksonville is a 122-year-old statue and plaque that honored fallen Confederate soldiers. Some say such memorials mark history and honor heritage. Others are adamant they are racist symbols of America’s dark legacy of slavery. What should follow such a disagreement is a civil discussion of our history including both its highlights and its shameful chapters. Instead we are on a path to erase that history and inevitably to forget it.
In Richmond a statue of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States has been torn down. Famed General Robert E Lee’s likeness has been dismantled. Richmond’s Monument Avenue will soon be renamed Empty Pedestal Avenue. Multiple statues including Davis, Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jeb Stuart and others will all be gone. They had stood and survived for well over a century. Doug Wilder, the first African American to serve as governor of Virginia (1990-94) never raised the issue while serving in office, but in 2020 apparently we know better. One current article refers to the statues as toxic. Simply erase it all.
Christopher Columbus is also caught up in society’s rush to change history. Columbus famously first arrived on the soil of the Americas in 1492. His discovery on behalf of Spain would set into motion a chain of events culminating in the establishment of the most prosperous nation in the history of the world. Our woke culture however, has decided this was a bad thing and statues of Columbus are being toppled from Minnesota to Boston and beyond. Rather than debate his impact on Western culture, we’ll erase any trace of him.
There is a huge danger in that.
Adolf Hitler was a really bad guy. His Third Reich believed that the disabled were a burden to society because they needed care. According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, those with disabilities were among the first to be killed by the Nazis. Hitler exterminated 6 million Jews. In all he killed about 11 million people for perceived inferiorities. Mid 20th century Germany will always remain among the most barbaric points in human history.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was built specifically to remind us of those horrors. Photos, films and first hand accounts show the Nazi atrocities, not to honor the evil, but to remind us why it must never happen again. The website for the museum states “Knowledge of Holocaust history shows us why we must stand up to hate today.” The museum is absolutely correct. Knowledge is not only power, it is our best defense.
The alternative is that we could pretend Hitler didn’t exist. We could treat him like Voldemort, the fictional character from the Harry Potter stories, frequently referred to as “He Who Must Not Be Named”. In the stories however, it is only after Harry Potter dared to say his name aloud and recognize his evil that the good guys had a chance to ultimately defeat Voldemort. It is for that same reason we must not shy away from remembering evil.
Edmund Burke uttered the words “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it” in the mid 18th century. His words are just as true today as they were then.
The US Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act this past week. Included in it is a mandate establishing a commission to study and provide recommendations concerning the removal of names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America. As a result, Fort Bragg, Fort Benning, Fort Hood and Fort Lee, all names that are ingrained in the US military psyche, are among ten bases likely to have new politically correct names. Why? All four were opened long after the Civil War’s end, but all four carry the name of men from the Confederate era. Three of the four posts have more than one hundred year’s successful military history to celebrate and the fourth was opened during World War II. Sadly that history is apparently secondary.
Please don’t make the mistake of thinking it will end with the military bases either. That will just be the beginning. There are twelve Lee Counties in the United States. There are 24 Jackson Counties. There are 26 Jefferson Counties. Speaking of Jefferson, didn’t Thomas Jefferson own slaves? It’s just a matter of time before the primary author of the US Constitution has his Memorial removed from our nation’s capital.
Stop the madness. The painful points being brought up most recently as a result of the death of George Floyd are worthy of robust discussion and thoughtful action. Anything our nation can do to assure every man, woman and child is treated equally is a worthwhile endeavor. We are at our best when we have open, honest, rationale discussions. Removing our own history, however, is a misguided and downright dangerous course of action. It may satiate the thirst for immediate action among some, but will ultimately prove to be an empty gesture that endangers future generations.
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