Perspectives: Resisting the temptation to rewrite history to our liking

Stock image, St. George News

OPINION — What is it that makes some people so intent on either erasing or rewriting history to fit their current ideological fads?

It’s bad enough to have sort through the politicized accounts of court historians whose purpose is to rewrite history in a way that compliments whomever is currently in power. Recognizing the fact that the winners most often end up writing the history books is not so difficult to accept.

What’s unacceptable is the idea that we must surrender our commitment to reality itself regarding what actually did or didn’t happen. That’s where the whitewashing of history crosses the line into unreasonable demands that we surrender our values or beliefs.

For instance, activists in Virginia have been agitating for Washington and Lee University to divest itself of any historical connection to the Confederacy. At the top of a list of 31 demands, disguised as “recommendations,” they wanted school officials to convert Lee’s Chapel into a museum.

The official demotion of the final resting place of Robert E. Lee, the most iconic Confederate symbol of all, might have been seen as striking a decisive blow for the cause of diversity.

Thankfully, university officials declined the opportunity to pander to the so-called Coalition for Campus Change and chose to keep Lee’s Chapel as it is. In the past, the school had made concessions to critics who argued that symbols of the Confederacy are synonymous with slavery and racism.

These same critics conveniently forget that more generations of slaves lived and suffered under our beloved Stars and Stripes than ever did under the Confederate flag. Clearly, the court historians have done their work well.

Few of those protesting are aware of historical facts that would show how misguided their agenda has become. Their understanding of who Robert E. Lee was and what he actually stood for is as incomplete as it is unreasonable.

Writer Steve Byas fills in some of the more noticeable gaps:

Lee opposed secession, but eventually, he reluctantly resigned his position in the U.S. Army rather than participate in an invasion of his home state. Once Virginia seceded, Lee offered his services to the new Confederate government. He certainly did not join Virginia to save slavery, as he freed his own slaves, which he had inherited from his father-in-law.

Anyone who has actually ever read any of Lee’s personal writings and correspondence can immediately grasp that he was among the most honorable men of his time. Of course, that requires a willingness to step away from textbooks and to instead examine original sources.

Not many are willing to put forth the effort required to engage in intellectually honest study. It’s much easier to demand that others change their viewpoint to fit whatever the activists are demanding.

A similar battle for the identity of another school has been going on in Utah’s Dixie for many years as well. In this case, however, school officials have proven to be much more desirous to win the approval of their self-centered critics.

When I first visited the campus of Dixie College in early March 1985, I understood immediately why it was loved by Southern Utah locals as well as visitors.

After all, how many places in the Intermountain West can a person comfortably throw on a pair of shorts and flip flops and play frisbee in the warm sunshine before spring officially arrives? The Dixie Rebel brand had not yet become a political frisbee for those who feel the need to rewrite history to suit their own preferences.

Since then, the school has undergone a very public and puzzling bout of schizophrenia as it struggles to become whatever those-who-know-best are demanding. One by one, the school’s Confederate symbols have been banished, only for more demands to be made of it in the name of tolerance.

But these demands to banish American history have not transformed the school into a model of tolerance. Instead, they have made it a playground for anyone with a pathological need to control others.

Skyler J. Collins offers a simple but effective test of what constitutes authentic tolerance:

If you will abide, then congratulations, you are being tolerant. If you will not abide, if you are unwilling to either permit them in your presence or permit them their life or liberty, then you are being intolerant. Whichever characteristic it happens to be, only when it truly bothers you, yet you abide their expression of it, can you be said to be a tolerant person relative to those people.

History is not always comprised of things with which we agree. It’s no one’s job to sanitize it to protect our fragile psyches.

Instead of pretending that certain things never existed, we should be learning from what worked as well as what didn’t. For this to happen, we need an honest, factual accounting.

Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events and liberty viewed through what he calls the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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11 Comments

  • comments September 17, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    I’ve found that all history is biased in one way or another, a lot of it extremely biased. It’s really discouraged me from studying it because I’d rather not know than fill my head with falsities and manipulations. I guess I know enough to know that most of the accounts come with bias and agendas. In the civil war the North (who were supposedly “the good guys”) were brutal with their invasions of the south. Soldiers would rape, pillage, murder civilians, and on and on. Their really were no “good guys” in that war. It’s a similar story with “the allies” in WWII. They’d rape and pillage and murder civilians, and the conditions that enemy POWs were kept in were torturous, and I’m not even talking about the Russians here. The fact is it’s not difficult to whitewash history and they do. And people have short memories and are distracted easily, so it’s not difficult to do. When it breaks down into war, people become the worst kind of savage beast. Aint no good guys, really. Anyways, the south was quite brutal to slaves and the whole slave system needed to come to an end. It’s just too bad it couldn’t come about in a more peaceful way. If they want to remove confederate relics from public spaces I could agree with that.

    • pay attention September 18, 2018 at 10:32 am

      No good guys in WWII? Really? What if “the allies” would have lost? People do have short memories…

      • comments September 18, 2018 at 7:04 pm

        The winners always write the history, and the winners always write themselves in as the “good guys”. Try not to jump to too many conclusions with that. Things in history are mostly not so simple as “good guys” vs “bad guys”. I’m not going to spoon feed anyone an essay about it. If you’d like to learn more, well, go read up on it. Oh, and at the end of the day Russia was never an ally of the US were they? Maybe read up on Russian atrocities in WWII to get a taste of what a wonderful ally they were. I won’t go on and on. cheers 😉

  • bikeandfish September 17, 2018 at 7:43 pm

    I love the notion that s moderate slave owning (he kept others after emancipating his own) Confederate commander was “among the most honorable men of his time”. Sorry, but thats a miss from someone who subscribes to the supremacy of liberty and freedom. There were plenty of “honorable” citizens of that era who refused to oppress an entire race under law. Lee may be a complicated figure but he clear felt God was supportive of racial enslavement:

    ” The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.”

    I also find it ironic that Hyde lambastes a national disinterest in original sources while failing to provide any of his own to support his weak argument. He is a hypocrite and intellectually dishonest through and through.

    • comments September 17, 2018 at 9:00 pm

      “He is a hypocrite and intellectually dishonest through and through.”

      Add arrogant and smug to that and you’ve pretty well summed him up.

  • RedRockFilmFest September 18, 2018 at 2:47 am

    “It is best not to judge people; but to use good judgement and evaluate people as anthropological groups to study and learn from like in a good documentary vs. partisan induced, finger pointing propaganda.”

    History is rewritten to keep catch-phrase politics alive; but can keep other topics such as stealing, drug use, age of consent, or even killing or rape suppressed until it is fashionable again to demonize solely because it’s the topic of the day. Partisans, for example, popularize sex scandals as an unforgivable act depending on which side they determine to demonize. IE — how fast people forget that Trump supported (Bill) Clinton and yes, partied together. For example, during the war in Iraq, the news media often suppressed the atrocities in North Korea.
    The news media often thinks we are stupid and can only handle a few topics a day, often because the average person really can only handle a few choices a day — They don’t want to be bothered, have short-term memory loss, prefer to live in their bubble and want to “think about it later.”
    Popular History has been rewritten to exclude all the other reasons why there was a Civil War ‘picnic’. It has also been rewritten to exclude the Muslim identity from West Africans and other places that were enslaved during the same period.
    Modern day groups can pride themselves for being more politically correct, because they weren’t around 200 years ago or in the same place. But fail to realize that if they were around and in the same place, they would probably adopt the same beliefs or same violence from long ago and fail to realize that 200 years from now they themselves will be judged as just as politically incorrect — such as the notion that Eric McCormack playing a ‘gay’ man ‘gay-faced’ in “Will and Grace” will be a politically charged issue, or words like ‘Asparagus’ or ‘Giraffe’ will become ‘racist’ for whatever reason or concoct 200 years from now.

    FLAT EARTH vs. ROUND
    Another example is the thought that the world was flat until it was ‘discovered’ that is was round (meaning globe shaped.) But today neither one is correct, because our current knowledge is that the Earth is slightly an ellipsoid.

  • Craig September 18, 2018 at 9:18 am

    Wonderful.

    Those excoriating Lee are doing so as if he was living today. He was living in a different time.

    Further, greatness does not demand perfection. The flawed men who founded our nation were great men.

    • bikeandfish September 18, 2018 at 12:31 pm

      You do realize Lee wasn’t remotely a founder of this country, right?

  • redrock4 September 18, 2018 at 11:14 am

    “. . . they have made it a playground for anyone with a pathological need to control others.” Hey Bryan, can you substantiate that this is why the changes have been made at Dixie College? Or could it be for other reasons that you are blind to because of your obvious bias?

  • commonsense September 18, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    You do realize that the conferate south and it’s institutions like the KKK were Democrats. Right?

    The freedom of black slaves and later obtaining the vote for blacks was all Republican. Right? That seems to get lost because blacks soon embraced the welfare offered by the Democrats.

    Now the Republicans have again helped blacks by providing jobs and lower taxes while their own BHO betrayed them and created racial division.

    • Marshell September 20, 2018 at 2:54 pm

      Conservatives consider Pres. Obama divisive because for the first time we had a president that didn’t excuse the misbehavior of white folks just because the victims were African-Americans. No matter how egregious the crime against Black people by Whites is, conservatives assume they must have deserved.

      Bothan Jean was killed in his own dept, by a white cop, but because he allegedly have marijuana, the murder was justified according to the GOP. Party of racists.

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