aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,
aefenglommung
aefenglommung

Editing the past

The Secretary of the Army has announced that he is now "open" to renaming Army bases named after Confederate generals. This editing of the past seems bizarre to me. Leave the past in the past, I say. Deny none of it, but learn from it.

Still, the desire to pick sides and settle old scores is a long-standing one. When Winston Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty, he named a warship after Oliver Cromwell. The king asked him to reconsider; three hundred years after Cromwell's interregnum, the royals still felt a grudge. Churchill replied that whatever else Cromwell was noted for, he built up the Navy, and the Navy should acknowledge that.

Meanwhile, the Mayor of Indianapolis has decreed that a memorial to Confederate soldiers who died at a prison camp in Indy during the Civil War will be dismantled. After the war, the monument was paid for by private donations and erected at the cemetery where the Confederates are buried. That cemetery came to not want the massive thing, so the city moved it to Garfield Park years ago. The city has been asking for a museum to house it, but no museum has stepped forth, so the Mayor wants it gone, in order to cleanse the city of any memorial to Confederates. I find this appalling. Only barbarians violate grave markers. Even the Romans refused to violate Christian burial sites during their various persecutions, leaving the Christians at peace in their catacombs.

But our American Taliban want our history scrubbed. Such iconoclasm thinks the present and future can be divorced from the past. But the past is there, and it has to be lived with. I think the Norman Conquest was a terrible thing, but after nine hundred and fifty-four years, there's no going back and fixing what was done wrong. The villains are part of our history just like the heroes, and sometimes they are the same people. At Saratoga, there's even a monument to Benedict Arnold -- or, at least, to his wounded leg. Before he became America's iconic traitor, he was a talented officer who was greatly wounded in our country's cause.

My great-grandfather and his brother were captured by Morgan's Raiders, who talked openly of killing them to obtain their silence (they were eventually just dumped somewhere, miles from their home). Young Andrew Jackson Pulliam was so angry that he lied about his age in order to join the Union Army. He fought with Sherman and marched to the sea. He had no truck with Confederates. But I feel no sense of outrage over history markers I see here and there on the route of Morgan's Raid. I think, rather, that we should remember the past. Perhaps I would feel differently if my ancestors had been slaves. But while I wouldn't have thought naming Army bases after Confederate generals a generally good thing at the time, renaming them now looks petty. Better to name new facilities after today's heroes, and leave the more ancient dead in peace.

And even if one tries to edit the past, place names have a way of lingering. After JFK's assassination, the gummint tried to rename Cape Canaveral, "Cape Kennedy." All in vain. Everybody still called it Cape Canaveral. So the space launch complex was renamed the Kennedy Manned Space Center, and the cape on the coast was, as always, Cape Canaveral.
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