by JN Fenwick | Author and former U.S. History teacher | Feature Image by David Brickner| Shutterstock

“The U.S. Constitution states that American citizens have the right to free speech and the right of the people to peaceful assembly and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. However, looting, destroying public and private property, and vandalizing historic monuments is not free speech. These actions not only border on anarchy but show a real lack of understanding history.”

Carl J. Asszony | | June 2020

The death of George Floyd was nothing short of evil. I do not care who you are or what color your skin is, you cannot watch that video and not be outraged and grievously saddened.

Floyd’s death sparked outrage, as it should. Outrage that then escalated into rioting and acts of violence as hate-groups and politicians alike fed on people’s emotions and encouraged them to take to the streets in demonstration.

In the days and weeks following Floyd’s death, these protests became less and less about Floyd, and increasingly a tool to advance a very destructive political agenda. An agenda that calls for the destruction of historical monuments across the country in a calculated attempt to control the message and therefore history itself.

“This is not a momentary civil disturbance. This is a serious and highly political movement. It is not superficial. It is deep and profound. It has vast ambitions. It is insidious; it will grow. Its goal is to end liberal democracy and challenge Western civilization itself.”

Tucker Carlson | Fox News | June 2020

These groups are not simply protestors and rioters, instead they are tools being grossly and willingly manipulated. They have no idea of the historical significance of the monuments they are destroying, and what is worse, they are overshadowing the voices that really need to be heard. Voices that truly do care about equality, democracy, and the future of this country.

Sadly, we only have ourselves to blame. We have allowed the miseducation of our youth on college campuses across the country to prevail for decades. It’s only now when the call for the removal of monuments of Abraham Lincoln, the president who signed the 13th Amendment as racist, Founding Fathers Washington and Jefferson as white supremacists, and even “all murals and stained glass windows of white Jesus and his European mother and white friends” that we are witnessing the inherent danger of the ideologies we’ve allowed to seep by us.

The destruction of historical and cultural heritage is a distressing byproduct of conflict. War, civil unrest, and acts of violence and terrorism more often than not result in the collateral damage of history, be it buildings, monuments, art, or documents. Once gone, these artifacts cannot be resurrected, nor can the history they represent be reclaimed.

In America, we have been fortunate that our heritage has predominantly escaped the ravages of the wars fought on foreign soil; that monuments dating back to before the Revolutionary War are still standing as visible reminders of our Nation’s past.

When I was teaching middle school American History, it was my great honor to take my 8th-grade students on an annual tour of Colonial Williamsburg, the original Jamestown settlement, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, President’s Park, and Yorktown Battlefield. It was at Yorktown that British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington effectively ending the Revolutionary War and ensuring American independence (October 19, 1781).  

Witnessing my students standing on these historical grounds, curious and excited by what they were seeing and the history they were experiencing was the highlight of my fifteen-year teaching career. It is also why the willful destruction and vandalizing of historical monuments at any time is something that saddens me to my core.

As a teacher, I was extremely cognizant of my responsibility to represent all sides of history in my instruction. It was vital to me that I provide my students with facts, in whatever light they shone on the people, places, and events occurring, and to teach them how to use that knowledge to form their own opinions rather than accepting anything on face value alone.  

Visiting Colonial Williamsburg each year was an annual highlight for my students. | Image by JN Fenwick

Our Founding Fathers lived in a generation far removed from the one in which we exist. Part of understanding them requires us to place ourselves in the context of the society in which they lived. Isolating one aspect of their stories and discounting all else is dangerous and quite frankly, unfair.

These men sacrificed much to fight for independence. They understood the power of compromise in writing the Constitution. They looked far beyond their own lifetimes when reaching those compromises, determined to create a document that would withstand the passage of time, forming a strong Nation, and building a place of freedom for generations to come.

In fact, in one of the compromises they reached, The Slave Trade Compromise, Northern states agreed to wait until 1808, to ban the slave trade in the U.S. Why? In order to keep the Union intact. Many of the Southern states would have walked away from the table had this compromise not been reached. And it was, in fact, President Thomas Jefferson who signed the bill abolishing the slave trade that took effect on January 1, 1808.

Again, diminishing the contributions of these historical figures based solely on a single facet of their existence is in itself biased. And you have to ask, what purpose does removing them from our national landscape truly serve?

The Civil War was THE turning point in American History. However, it is virtually impossible to separate slavery from any discussion surrounding it. And yet, to say that slavery was the sole cause for the conflict overlooks the other important differences dividing the North and the South at the time. Differences that included economic, constitutional, and civil disparities.

Abraham Lincoln entered the conflict, not to end slavery, but to preserve the Union. His Emancipation Proclamation did not, in fact, free all slaves, it freed “enslaved people in the states currently engaged in rebellion against the Union.” It was not until he signed the 13th Amendment in December 1865, that slavery was permanently and forever abolished.

Add to this the fact that the majority of the soldiers fighting for the Confederacy were not in fact slave owners and you have to ask yourself what purpose does continuing to focus only on slavery as the prevailing cause really serve? Does removing these statues and monuments erase the history? Proponents of this practice surely hope so. Because in order to rewrite it, don’t you have to destroy history first?

The mobs currently tearing down and vandalizing historical monuments in their protests against racism are acting without thought, and certainly without facts. For them, any historical figure will do. Never mind the fact that a number of the figures they’ve recently targeted, Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Francis Scott Key included, did not fight in the Civil War; they had nothing to do with it or the Confederacy. (If you do not know who Francis Scott Key is, google The Star-Spangled Banner.)

And then there is the little matter that most of these statues are Federal property and their destruction, a punishable Federal offense. Yet there have been no repercussions. None.

“National symbols should be respected — but not necessarily in the way most people think. National symbols deserve respect not because they are static representations of unchanging ideals, but because they offer a focal point for diverse societies to express and navigate what it is that unites and represents them.”

Cynthia Miller-Idriss | New York Times | 2016

Image by Cameron Thomsen | Shutterstock

So where does it end? Do healthy societies really go about systematically destroying their own history?

A question we all need to ask.

A country’s heritage is important because it is the sum total of what has happened in it, good and bad. Without history, there is no country. Without history, the lessons learned, and the wisdom gained is obliterated. Will tearing down statues, desecrating war graves, and renaming military bases improve our lives? Absolutely not. In fact, it will ultimately destroy us, because eliminating the past renders us incapable of saying who we are.

Further, if we judge history only from today’s mindset, then we do not leave ourselves open to the opportunity to see the progression of our society, the transformation in our thinking and understanding, and the important lessons that have been learned from it.

Finally, if we unfairly relegate historical events and individuals to the static position of merely existing as black and white, good or bad, justified or unjustifiable by today’s standards, we diminish the important role they played in our Nation’s past, the conflicts and wars that were waged to change or defend it, and the wisdom gained from those experiences.

This current climate of destruction is nothing short of a willful and systematic attack on America. And the hate-groups and political entities engaging in and supporting it are doing so with premeditation and with purpose.

If we do not collectively stand against them now, they will win. And we will most assuredly fall.