I read with wonder and amusement a critique of my view of history. Did I miss something regarding the study of history? I had to look it up. I Googled “history,” and this is what I found.
“History is the study of the past as it is described in written documents.”
“The study of past events, particularly in human affairs.”
“History (from Greek historia, meaning ‘inquiry, knowledge acquired by investigation’) is the study of the past as it is described in written documents.”
What is the purpose of history if not to judge what has worked, what has not, and how we should proceed? Is it not the purpose of the human intellect to analyze the past in order to prepare for a future with hope and promise?
I confess, I have never considered judging historical figures as a cowardly deed. In fact, I never considered it as an act of bravery, only a passion for curiosity of the human experience, hoping to glean some wisdom to contribute to a better world.
It seems to one reader, I hit a nerve with my critique of Robert E. Lee. His defense was to cite his resume. Regardless, Lee was a traitor. However, the use of “whataboutism” missed the mark.
To claim that soldiers from both sides held each other with respect is absurd. He stated that Grant held slaves (no citation). He missed that Grant was most likely an alcoholic, too, but that is beside the point. He mentioned the cruelty of Sherman, as if that absolves the acts of treason and secession. No, I don’t believe that these men deserve statues, either.
History tells us how the Union won the war, but lost the Reconstruction. It tells of how racial discrimination and hatred of melanin led to the mass killings of thousands of humans since the (Un-)Civil War. It tells the story of how we came to this current state of racial nationalism. And there are a lot of details: Not many good, and no statues deserved.
I admit that I found it odd that I am told to “stop making war on the dead.” Hitler, Pol Pot, Lenin, McVeigh, bin Laden, etc., are all off limits on historical judgment? I cannot accept that as rational.
I am told that “history doesn’t change — what we think of it does.” I agree. When we have the facts of history, considered critically, we judge our conduct as humans. Done with a thought process tempered with consistency, continuity and logic, we may, someday, improve our planet for all humanity.
“How cowardly is it to judge long-departed people who can no longer defend themselves as unworthy of respect?”
Exactly this cowardly.
George Simpson lives in Pittsfield.