Letter to the editor: Cal Thomas off boat in recent column
August 25, 2017
In response to Mr. Cal Thomas' piece in the Aug. 23 edition, there is a fundamental point Mr. Thomas leaves out of his piece. While his writings do the usual politic-bashing and media-bashing, and the affirming notion of trying to do 'good things for the world' is most encouraging, the comparison of removing Confederate statues to shoving things in an Orwellian 'memory hole' simply doesn't hold up.
No one in the current discussion is advocating the erasure or the sanitisation of history. A crucial component is the role and intention of a statue as an element of history. An historical statue or monument is created with the intent of honouring a figure or event, an affirmation that the person or event is worthy of veneration. In this light, statues of figures that fought and even died to preserve the institution of slavery in the United States need to be reassessed. Placing such statues or memorials in the context of a museum as opposed to a non-contextual venue such as a public park makes all the difference.
The recent events in Charlottesville can serve as a clear example. The statue of General Lee was placed in Lee Park in 1924, a time when the Ku Klux Klan was very visibly ascendant in the United States, and Jim Crowe laws and segregation were the norm. The city council's vote on 5 June of this year to rename Lee Park to Emancipation Park reflects the ongoing shift in social norms, indicative of the larger national conversation about social norms and race. With the name change of the venue, the statue must also be reassessed. Cliche though it may be, one must consider the appropriateness of a statute of a Nazi SS officer in a public park. Even if the park was initially called Himmler Park in honour of the head of the SS troops, social norms of today preclude the veneration of the SS in such a venue. This is not erasing history, nor sanitising it, but instead is a demonstration that human understanding of our past is continually undergoing study and assessment in an effort to find greater clarity.
No one is currently advocating that the American Civil War be exercised from history, or sanitised for safe presentation, or even the roles of major figures on both sides of the war be minimised. General Lee, and many Confederates, genuinely believed they fought for what was right at the time. Lee's tactics and influence in the course of the war are historically significant and appropriate to study. However, in 2017 there simply cannot be a defence of slavery and racism as morally correct, and as such, monuments reflecting those ideas as worthy of veneration have no place in this country.
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Author and professional historian
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