What to do with the past?

Those of you, who like me, have been paying attention to the demands of students around the world, especially in Yale,  South Africa and UK, for a rewrite of history would welcome the suggestion by this reader of the Economist who wrote

What to do about Confederate monuments? One suggestion as you reported is to add plaques to them explaining their background (“Recast in stone”, February 6th). Statues and monuments are immediately visual experiences, not reflective mental experiences. Remove the sabre from the hand and put into it a lash and from the other hand a chain that leads to a collar around the neck of some poor miserable wretch. Add one or more statues of slaves to every monument to the Confederacy and the viewer will immediately and viscerally understand what the civil war was about and what Confederate soldiers fought for. Instantly those men will be deprived of the patina of nobility and gallantry that they did not earn and do not deserve to have attributed to them.

Bang Bua Thong, Thailand

This way all groups are appeased; those who want the monuments to stand get their wish and those who feel the monuments don’t tell the entire story also get their voice heard.

But I think there’s a problem when students in higher institutions of learning prefer sanitising their environment of every history. I have read of students voting to ban free speech groups on campus!  What’s the world coming to? Are the current generation of students so pampered they can’t read Huckleberry Finn without crying erase the nigger references! What world will they preside over?

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

46 thoughts on “What to do with the past?

  1. It’s an interesting idea adding elements, or taking them away that would show historical statues in such a fashion so that people know the bigger picture about atrocities committed by those previously, or presently revered enough to have a statue erected of them.

    In the UK, the statue created of Margaret Thatcher could not be erected in a public place, because it would be so defiled and most likely destroyed by those who found her behaviour as a politician abhorrent. I say they should have had the balls to place it in the public. You reap what you sow and all that. So her statue didn’t even get as far as being somewhere people could call for its removal.Now that’s quite something, to be hated so much. (The government are, by the by, at present planning a museum in her honour that will cost around 15 million pounds of tax payers money, whilst people all over the UK are having ti use food banks to survive and homelessness has more than doubled in the past five years from just over 3,500, to 7,500).

    I strayed a bit there – I agree with you is the upshot, especially the last paragraph.

    – esme upon the Cloud

    Liked by 2 people

    • makagutu says:

      The only time you can stray here is when you start preaching about how the gods love us lo.

      I didn’t know the good people of Britain don’t love Thatcher to the extent her statue had nowhere public to rest on.

      I think some of the statues would look interesting with all the additions

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Barry says:

    I doubt that many of the confederate soldiers were fighting to retain slavery. If anything, I think they would have been fighting for the right of their (state) government to secede from the Union. Sure the desire by the south to secede was over slavery, but the war itself was over the right of states to leave. Well, that’s how I learnt the story.

    If history is to be rewritten, care needs to be taken that a new (and equally untrue) myth is not created.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I like the idea of adding slaves to the monuments in the South. I recently read that 20% of Donald Trump supporters feel slavery should not have been abolished. Adding slaves to statues should sit nicely with them. I think the idea of bathing in the full history of events is far more appealing than sanitizing it.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. tildeb says:

    What world? You should be submitting such a request – with a trigger warning, of course – only to Ministry of Truth. They’re the officially sanctioned ones licensed to tell you what the Truth is.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. KIA says:

    Sanitizing the past is way too Orwellian. What kind of society is too weak and imbicilic to need such protection?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. john zande says:

    What world will they preside over?


    Liked by 3 people

  7. archaeopteryx1 says:

    Twain wrote of his time. He used the word, ‘Nigger,’ because that was the word in prevalent use in the era. But if you pay close attention, he imbued the character, ‘Jim,’ with qualities and sensibilities far superior to the White men in the story. ‘Huck’ himself, raised in a world in which the Black man was believed to be no higher than the animals, throughout the book, continually reappraises his view of ‘Jim,’ and weighs his observations of Jim’s character as displayed by his actions on the trip, against the beliefs with which ‘Huck ‘ was raised, continually revising them. The word, ‘Nigger’ was used without a trace of racial prejudice on Twain’s part, and to remove it, would gut the book and negate entirely Huck’s transformation and Twain’s character study as well, removing an entire dimension from the book.

    Liked by 4 people

    • makagutu says:

      Those students who want the words changed I think are not concerned with the plot development. All they see is Twain called black Niggers and that’s it


      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        If the word is removed, the development is lost, then all you have is a teen-age boy’s adventure story, sans substance, a la “Hardy Boy’s Mysteries.”


  8. The most dramatic part of this is, for me, the terrible consequence of forgetting our history. Good and bad. Auschwitz was a death camp, should we take it down and pretend it never happened?
    Another interesting example is when Tildeb was talking about Putin a couple of days ago. Emotional responses led some people to the point where they couldn’t recognize his competence and effectiveness as a leader (no matter how evil we may think the man is.) All that emotion is clouding judgement. History just isn’t black and white.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. themodernidiot says:

    This is literally the stupidest thing I’ve heard all day.


    • makagutu says:

      I am sorry dearie. I promise not to spread stupid anymore


      • themodernidiot says:

        Haha not you of course, but the idea of changing statues etc. to change history. That IS our history like it or not. We would do better pitting that energy is making current, event recording accurate to settle debate and ensure future history is correct. Let those already digging keep digging up the facts and learn more about why we always need to gloss over the truth. Perhaps that would get us closer to it. If you want new art, then make it, new books, then write them. But let the history that is, be.


        • makagutu says:

          When Saddam was beaten out of Baghdad, his statues were brought down. Do you think they should have been left as a reminder of a time he was in power or were they right to do so?


  10. shelldigger says:

    Banning free speech only serves those who will use it for power.

    History should not be whitewashed. Far too many now have no idea what foundation their religions lie upon. If you can’t suffer the truth, tough shit. Maybe you should stay inside where the truth cannot find a way to upset you?


  11. The impatience of youth, the persistent demand to push forward by the younger members of our community doesn’t ever erase history, but it does help create the force to change it, and we desperately need that.


  12. fojap says:

    I wouldn’t be against taking them down. Monuments are inherently political and we erect them in order to promote particular ideas and they come down for much the same reasons. However, I am very against the whitewashing of history.

    One problem I have with many of the young people on campus today is the certainty they possess. They don’t seem to even entertain the idea that they may be wrong. The idea of people whose actions now appear checkered, who have done good things and done some bad things, is one they could actually stand to learn. I have less of a problem with some of the Confederate monuments being removed since they are more geared to promoting an ideology than honoring an individual. It’s humbling to know that despite our best intentions, despite believing our hearts are in the right place, despite being educated or being considered enlightened in our own time, we could still make grievous errors.

    Some of the students’ arguments I don’t like. I’m not really interested in their feelings. It really seems too overwrought and, frankly, anti-intellectual. I’m more than a little bothered by their tactics. The call to remove statues isn’t coming in a vacuum. Some of their demands have more merit than others. Regarding, specifically, the situation in the U.S., I’m afraid, if the demands (that’s what they call them, like hostage takers) are met, they will be emboldened to continue to use the same tactics to achieve the demands that remain unmet. I’ve read a little bit about the unrest elsewhere, but I’m not knowledgeable enough about those countries to have a firm opinion.

    Taking Wilson as an example, we all know now about his racism. However, until a few months ago, “Wilsonianism” meant something specific – that “peoples” have a right to self-determination is part of that. This laid the seeds for an international anti-colonial movement. At the same time (and I’m guessing here) the notion of “peoples” had overtones of racial theorizing. Knowing that our ideas are not clear cut, that there are no “good guys” and “bad guys” I think is a very important lessons for these students to learn.

    I, for one, feel as if our politics has become far too tribal, Manichean, even.


    • makagutu says:

      Yes, monuments are for the larger part mainly political.
      Demands to bring down some of them might have merit. Though I think removing them seems as a way to sanitise the history. I think having them also allows people to have debate about that past especially because some of them represents, in a way, that particular period of history.


  13. I completely agree with your commentary, Noel. Great post.


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