My favorite pieces of Recording Editorial History have been these deep historical studies of times and changes and how history influences the present. This latest edition will deal with the endless revolutions that have altered human civilization throughout the development of organized society. It is hard work, requiring long stretches of research and analysis of a past that most are not interested in discussing. But I am an adamant historian (when I take this guise as a shield) and I vow to discuss reality in the face of partisan sniping, and the anger over what we believe.
It has been a while since I have submitted a commentary on this site, and this has mostly been personal (I am, after all, a professional writer, and sometimes the work for the money that sustains my existence and that of my family must supplant these commentaries that make me a handful of dollars a year.) But I do not wish to discuss myself and hopefully the word ‘I’ will be supplanted in what follows.
This is called a preface, but it is a historical discussion of the moment. With all the statues going down and the pandemic causing terror like nothing seen before–I mean nothing (goddamn the ‘I’) because any time these death sentences have happened in the past there has been either prayers to God or broken submission to the helplessness we all feel in the face of the world. Yet now in our conspiratorial arrogance we all believe we have a solution to the presumed lies we must counter. No, what needs to be discussed is actual history in this latest edition of Elsewhere is the grim realities of Revolution throughout the development of human society. And this is important–this is something that I wish my handful of thousand readers between the many sites Recording Editorial History is submitted (check out medium.com/@asphlex7 if you would like to throw a few pennies into my coffers) could hear, a discussion (or debate) over the grotesque partisanship that has turned historical reality into a talking point to support whatever idiotic theory people from all sides wish to justify their actions with.
History is the most important subject children learn in school. Oh, I hear you–science, math, the basic fundamentals of language (I used to be a high school English teacher and so I have my own partisan bias)–but all of this is merely a part of the greater aspect of history, of how we started and where we have wound up.
Let’s talk, as an introduction, about this latest craze among generally valid protesters over racial injustice, of the smashing of statues and the re-modification of the past. Now there is no reason to keep Confederate soldiers alight with bronze celebrations of their subjugating passion. Robert E. Lee, to take the most significant example, was a traitor to the United States of America. Here was a presumptively honorable man, a beloved general of immaculate talent, who not only renounced his oath of loyalty to his nation, but chose to lead an army against the those he had once promised to defend. He was a traitor. He was a human disgrace. No one should honor him. No one should pretend he was noble simply because he fought for a cause that was not only vile, but was unsuccessful. He was a failure, a loser, and how some people still attribute honor to this man who in modern times would have been executed for treason is beyond me.
You listen to and read the defenders of General Lee gibbering the nonsense that “if you ignore history you are destined to repeat it,” or whatever phrasing they choose to offer this cliche, and it is easy to realize that in this instance the speaker has no understanding of history whatsoever. Should the statues of Confederate leaders be removed from public squares? Of course they should. Does that mean they should be demolished? Of course not. Jab them into a museum with all the other traitors of American history, with Benedict Arnold’s diary and with Alfred Rosenberg’s nervous letters to his Soviet masters. Those people need to be remembered, they need to be condemned for their pathetic failure to be patriots to anything, to any cause, because they believed only in their selfishness.
There are those who pretend that taking down such statues is a destruction of history, is a crime greater than the treason these individuals were guilty of. This is stupid, pure stupidity, an acknowledgement of the speaker’s incipient not just racism (for example), but their profound misunderstanding of how the past influences the present. Such defenses are foolish, dumb, or perhaps they are merely a reflection of the treasonous instincts of those defending the very idea of celebrating failure.
Yes, history has always been written by the winners (here is a cliche with valid specificity), and so the failures, the losers, need only be dismissed as ideological stooges whose intentions were renounced by society. But for those whining about the removal of Confederate disgraces celebrated in bronze, why do they pretend that this will somehow alter history? When have any of you learned anything from a statue? When have you walked by a historical monument, the preface to much deeper study, and thought that if that frozen moment in time (for the Confederacy put into place as a warning to anyone that the war was still going on) were removed then American history was lost? Read a fucking book. Learn about what actually happened, and quit walking past some monster of the past with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and pretend like you care what it stands for at all.
Now, for those attacking the winners, those true patriots of the past, no matter their moral flaws, there is a problem. Yes, George Washington (for example) owned slaves. But what he also did was help forge a nation with the idea of freedom deeply ingrained, the concept of the future the primary goal of a hideous time where no one was truly free. And while the sin of continued slavery haunts the otherwise noble founding fathers, their efforts, the attempts they made to initiate the process of independence deserves serious recognition, no matter the sins of the father.
People have been tearing down statues of Ulysses S. Grant, a mostly mediocre President whose past is a little shifty, because his wife owned a handful of slaves. Awful, right? But this is the same man who finally led the Union army to victory over that disgraceful, traitorous confederacy, helping to finally free the slaves, and granting to humanity the right to create a hopeful future for everyone. There is no reason his statue should be torn down.
Teddy Roosevelt is another historical figure who has unjustly been targeted by young and angry people overwhelmed with their success. I mean, the statue is rather condescending, but the man himself was practically honorable. So there is a black man and a native essentially kneeling at his behorsed side. It is a poor image. This does not remove the importance of the man to the development of the nation such anger and protests celebrate. This is an example of going too far, of missing the point of history. Of not knowing history. History is the most important knowledge if you want to change civilization in the moment which we live.
It is suffocating to hear people from any and every side rant their self-righteous views about if and when and how and why over anything that has ever happened, and how they supply whichever interpretation they choose for the angry cause of the moment. It is not just stupid and horrifying to hear, but it is wrong, simply wrong, the sort of thinking not of revolutionaries, but of those cliches we are warned about who will repeat the same mistakes over and over again because they ignore the lessons of the past. This is not the smug defense of any individual side, but acknowledgment that no one really understands history unless they pervert their goals into something vague that actually had nothing to do with what they wish to say.
And so Elsewhere Series Five, a resumption of what was and remains the best work I have ever offered on this site (please–please please please check out some of the earlier pieces from such a naive time as 2019), will be a study of revolutions, something I believe the present moment is experiencing, the parallel issues from the past of plague, economic worries, growing unemployment, radical kinship or opposition to a leader, and a violent partisan divide of cynical, hopeless outrage that has changed society into a new and questionable world, time and time again, something we would know if we only remembered the history so many people warn us about forgetting.