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About History June 27, 2020

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.

I have a true affection for history.  Beyond events, dates, and outcomes, I voraciously did outside reading on trends, motivations, the context, and the personalities of historical events and figures.  I have my favorite historical times, but consume whatever history I can find.  Learning about them teaches about human nature.

Like most of us, I learned my fundamentals of history in fits and starts in various junior high and high school history and civics classes.  It was only in retrospect that I was able to put these various classes and their lessons into perspective.

I discovered that we learn history in waves, from the simplest to gradually more complex.  So from elementary school we learned that Columbus discovered the New World.  Later through school, we gradually learn that there were other people here first, that his motives were largely venal, that he and other early explorers knowingly and unknowingly spread disease, and that his contemporaries were much the same.

I don’t necessarily begrudge him for very much of that, although it did make me wonder why he alone held an exalted place in our history.  It was similar to the robber barons of the late 19th century.  Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, and their ilk built the foundations of a mighty nation, but did so on the bodies (literally) of immigrant workers like my grandparents.  It almost certainly didn’t have to be like that.

If we are to build monuments to their memory, it behooves us to thoroughly understand the context and times under which they lived.  A monument without context invites, no, demands misinterpretation.

I have no strong feelings one way or the other in the matter of removing historical monuments and statues.  I simply want to point out two things.

1) History gets written by the winners.  By this criterion, it seems odd that the country would have many monuments to specific Confederate leaders.  They were, after all, the losers.

2) It’s dangerous to us and society to worship a man through his monument (I say “man” because the vast majority are).  Few if any historical figures have fully admirable records, and while it can be constructive to learn from them, the monument itself teaches us nothing.  We need to do better there.


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