The ongoing frenzy to pull down every monument that represents an unpopular (or more correctly: misunderstood) person or group of people stems from the 2015 church shooting in Charleston, S.C., that killed nine black church members. When the killer’s obsession with the Confederate flag was made known, cries arose all over the south to remove Confederate flags, pull down Confederate statues and monuments, and rename any public building or park that bears the name of a Confederate soldier.
When this began to happen, I warned that it set a new and dangerous precedent. If Confederate monuments were unnacceptable today, who would be next? If it was about slavery, wouldn’t many of America’s founders come under attack for owning slaves? Even President Trump agreed.
Many people responded that no one would ever disparage George Washington’s name.
Well, they were wrong.
No one is immune
In 2017, the church that Washington attended for more than 20 years has decided to remove a monument to the first President (as well as Robert E. Lee, who also attended the same church). Why? “The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques,” the church leaders said in a letter to the congregation.
Thomas Jefferson now suffers the same fate. The Alamo, long called the cradle of Texas liberty, is currently in a fight to be “re-imagined” in a bid to make the story of that battle more “equitable” to Americans and Mexicans alike. Cities all over the south have renamed streets, buildings, and schools. The city of Austin has even faced the idea of changing its name, in an effort to whitewash any unpleasant historic facts. Christopher Columbus has been under attack for many years, and that fight is still going strong. What you won’t find is communist statues being removed, or the name of Margaret Sanger being defamed.
In a recent article for Intellectual Takeout, Daniel Lattimer correctly points out that “The West Has Done Bad Things…But So Has Every Other Culture.”
“This argument against the West usually takes the following form:
1) Western people in the past have committed violent atrocities based on a perceived religious or cultural superiority.
2) Therefore, Western civilization is not worth preserving.
But from a logical perspective this argument is missing a premise, namely, that every civilization or people that has committed violent atrocities based on a perceived religious or cultural superiority is not worth preserving.”
All of this shallow outrage is the result of a heavy dose of indoctrination and an equally large lack of actual education. We live in a population that suffers from a combination of strong emotions and weak critical thinking skills. Our feelings about a situation override all facts. And now these feelings are inserted into history textbooks for public school students.
Tearing down monuments to assuage feelings of social justice is not a solution. And while I believe wholeheartedly that the monuments should remain where they were erected, I don’t think it’s the worst part of our culture. It’s a symptom of a much worse disease: being woefully uneducated. It must be really embarrassing to defame the wrong statue because all you know is the last name of the guy you’re supposed to hate.
Books are better than monuments
So what is the answer? It could be long and complicated, like totally reforming the education system in this country. But that will take years (if it ever happens) and we don’t have that kind of time. Don’t worry, though. I know a short-cut: BOOKS.
Because pulling down statues is not the problem; it’s a symptom of the problem — Americans don’t know their history anymore. It’s sad, because we’ve never had such an incredible amount of information available to us, so easy to obtain.
For every statue or monument that offends someone, there’s the story of a real person behind it. And there’s almost always a collection of that person’s writings in the form of letters, journals, and speeches. If only Americans read more books, they’d know the person that was George Washington, Robert E. Lee, Stephen Austin, or even Margaret Sanger.
Sadly, these are not the books that libraries carry anymore. I have bought most of the first-hand historic accounts I own from library sales. While I am happy to have acquired such treasures, I mourn the fact that public and school libraries see no value in them.
History is stories and lessons and it’s your ancestors and mine. It cannot be accurately learned in a textbook paragraph or from a worksheet lesson. The real stories of struggle and battle and migration and everyday life are fascinating. They help us to see each historic figure as a real person, and not just a name or a statue. They help us to relate to them in both positive and negative ways. Their stories help us to understand the times they lived in.
(Oh, and don’t go to the internet to find the facts; too often they are skewed by modern writers or by the search engines you use to find them as I discovered.)
The Journals of Lewis and Clark – click photo for link
A very cold day. Wind from the N.W. The Big White, a grand chief of the first village, came and informed us that a large drove of buffalo was near, and his people were waiting for us to join them in a chase. Captain Lewis took 15 men and went out and joined the Indians who were, at the time he got up, killing the buffalo, on horseback, with arrows, which they did with great dexterity. His party killed 10 buffalo, five of which we got to the fort by the assistance of a horse, in addition to what the men packed on their backs. One cow was killed on the ice. After drawing her out of a vacancy in the ice in which she had fallen, we butchered her at the fort. Those we did not get in were taken by the Indians under a custom which is established among them, i.e., any person seeing a buffalo lying, without an arrow sticking in him or some particular mark, takes possession. Many times, as I am told, a hunter who kills many buffalo in a chase only gets a part of one. All meat which is left out all night falls to the wolves, which are in great numbers, always in the neighborhood of the buffaloes. The river is closed, opposite the fort, last night 1 1/2 inches thick . The thermometer stood this morning at 1 degree below zero. Three men were frostbitten badly today.
November 21st, 1805
An old woman and wife to a chief of the Chinooks came and made a camp near ours. She brought with her 6 young squaws — her daughters and nieces — I believe for the purpose of gratifying the passions of the men of our party and receiving for those indulgences such small presents as she (the old woman) thought proper to accept of. Those people appear to view sensuality as a necessary evil, and do not appear to abhor it as a crime in the unmarried state. The young females are fond of the attention of our men and appear to meet the sincere approbation of their friends and connections for thus obtaining their favors.
Everyone’s favorite villain – Christopher Columbus
In order to win their friendship, since I knew they were a people to be converted and won to our holy faith by love and friendship rather than by force, I gave some of them red caps and glass beads whey they hung round their necks, also many other trifles. These things pleased them greatly and they became marvellously friendly to us. They afterwards swam out to the ship’s boats in which we were sitting, bringing us parrots and balls of cotton thread and spears and many other things, which the exchanged with us for such objects as glass beads, hawks, and bells. In fact, they very willingly traded everything they had. But they seemed to me a people very short of everything. They all go naked as their mothers bore them, including the women, although I saw only one very young girl.
“These people (the Caribs) raid the other islands and carry off all the women they can take, especially the young and beautiful, whom they keep as servants and concubines. They had carried off so many that in fifty houses we found no males and more than twenty of the captives were girls. These women say that they are treated with a cruelty that seems incredible. The Caribs eat the male children that they have by them, and only bring up the children of their own women; and as for the men they are able to capture, they bring those who are alive home to be slaughtered and eat those who are dead on the spot. They say that human flesh is so good that there is nothing like it in the world; and this must be true, for the human bones we found in their houses were so gnawed that no flesh was left on them except what was too tough to be eaten. In one house the neck of a man was found cooking in a pot. They castrate the boys that they capture and use them as servants until they are men. Then, when they want to make a feast, they kill and eat them, for they say that the flesh of boys and women is not good to eat. Three of these boys fled to us, and all three had been castrated.”
Changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day sounds like a great idea, huh?
Letters of a Union Soldier during the American Civil War
“There is one thing that is painful for the Christians to reflect upon that is the small number who attend church or make any pretensions to even morality in this state. A person traversing any part of the south and even the southern border of the free states cannot but notice the utter disregard of all morality and virtue. Why is this? What is it that causes this vice and immorality to be so widespread and universal in this bright and sunny land? It is idleness. And what has caused idleness to prevail more here than elsewhere? Slavery, undoubtedly. Slavery the great cause of all this wickedness is being fast done away by this war. After this war is over the whole south will be ruined physically, intellectually, and morally. What a wide field it will open for those engaged in the education of the masses. There is much more that might be said upon the results of this war, but it is unnecessary.” August 18, 1863, Kentucky
Report of a Confederate soldier
“On the 3rd of April, Parson’s and Churchill’s divisions, about 4,500 strong, Churchill in command, took up the line of march for Dick Taylor. Passing through the hospitable village of Keachi [Keatchie, LA] in a forced march, we bivouacked on the night of the 12th in a beautiful grove of Magnolias, where we cooked two days’ rations, and at 2 o’clock a.m. on the 13th passed through Mansfield and passed through long lines of commissary wagons and a pack of captured artillery that glistened brightly in the light of the campfires. The air was rent with cheers of the Missouri and Arkansas troops at sight of these trophies of Dick Taylor’s prowess of the day before in the well-planned and well fought battle of Mansfield.
Along the road were evidences of a devastating army. Every house was a wreck. Rosewood, mahogany, and maple were piled up with pine and poplar. The drawing-room and the kitchen all smashed up together. The verandas were covered with ripped-up bed tips and yards carpeted with feathers. Cows and calves were shot down about stables, lambs and sheep were bayoneted in their pens. Even the faithful watchdog was shot down on the threshold he, perhaps, was guarding.
But the most touching sight of all this ruin that caught the eye of the soldier, was a brood of young chicks, chirping about their dead mother; vainly listening for the responsive cluck of the old hen – killed by a stray bullet or bayonet. The whole column obliqued by the fence to take a look at these feathered innocents.”
Everyone’s Favorite Cool Guys: The Vikings
A.D. 870: This year the army rode over Mercia into East-Anglia, and there fixed their winter-quarters at Thetford. And in the winter King Edmund fought with them; but the Danes [Vikings] gained the victory, and slew the king; whereupon they overran all that land, and destroyed all the monasteries to which they came. The names of the leaders who slew the king were Hingwar and Hubba. At the same time came they to Mehamsted, burning and breaking, and slaying abbot and monks, and all that they found. They made such havoc there, that a monastery, which was before full rich, was now reduced to nothing.” (The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle)
Do you read any of this in an internet meme or on a school worksheet? Do even your college students read firsthand accounts of the history makers? (Probably NOT.) Keyboard warriors and college professors can give opinions all day long, but opinions don’t teach lessons. They don’t teach us about human nature and lessons learned and what to do and what not to do. Learning from history is not only important, it’s also very exciting.
These people, the ones who statues represent, are worth remembering because they did big things. They did what others couldn’t do or wouldn’t do. They explored unknown corners of the world, or preserved stories, or led armies, or fought for freedom. And their stories are worth reading.
So where do you find these stories? How do you know where to start?
My online bookstore called Knowledge Keepers. I scour used book sales and grab up everything worth preserving, and I’m selling them to my readers. And when I can’t find a print copy of something that I consider worthwhile, I’m linking it to Amazon so you’ll have a handy way to purchase the good stuff.
These books are the ones I think are most valuable for preserving our heritage. They belong in every home. And you and your children should be reading them.
I hope you’ll visit my store, shop around, make a wish list, and share it with other like-minded individuals. And next time you see a story about a monument coming down, fight for its existence and then go look for a book written by that person. Because that’s where the real story is anyway.
And BIG NEWS: I have a new project in the works to bring even more firsthand accounts of history to your home. Stay tuned, and follow my social media accounts or subscribe to my email newsletter to be informed!