Cleaning out my research piles last weekend pretty much convinced me that with all that’s happened these last few years, the republic on which this nation was formed must be the most resilient body in existence.
Despite everything, our democracy toddles along, stumbling often but somehow regaining enough balance to keep on going. This is America at its finest — and worst.
It has been the home of the brave since the first stranger came ashore. Every new wave of arrivals had to fight for something or against someone else.
Explorers came seeking freedom from the ghosts of their past, but ironically failed to share that with those who followed.
This continent was discovered nearly 600 years ago by explorers whose baggage was full of inequities and heinous acts from their native lands. It was a mean time, when beheadings for an insult or imprisonment for pennies was common. There was always a war.
Our DNA is a composite of all these people who created these United States. Not a pretty picture, but we are them. They are the foundation of our history. We shouldn’t forget or ignore it, but change it, we must.
Now I’ll tiptoe into the muddy waters rising everywhere. Stay with me because I’m trying to understand how the messes of this 21st Century developed during the 400 years since European slave traders captured Africans, bringing them to America in chains.
These deep roots prove human nature changes only reluctantly. Beginning when Pharaoh forced the Israelites into slavery in 2000 B.C., when they finally escaped from Egypt, the first thing they did was find their own slaves. They hadn’t learned a thing in 40 generations!
Neither have we. Mankind is wired to feel superior to someone else.
The War Between the States, a very un-Civil War that took more lives than any other American conflict, lasted three years but has festered for more than 150. The Confederates lost the war but when Reconstruction ended, Southerners began raising statues to generals to remember their great conflict.
Today, African Americans understandably view those statues as hateful. What I wrestle with is, when statues are destroyed, all the history behind that person or event is soon forgotten. When that happens, the circle repeats itself in coming generations.
Soldiers fight for a cause, a statement of fact. But half of all those soldiers aren’t bad. At some point in everyone’s life, we do something regrettable and hope for forgiveness. Many redeem themselves, which should be considered. By destroying evidence, public education has no way to teach what happened because history and civics classes have been all but eliminated. No proof exists that evil happened.
In just the last few weeks, many European protesters have joined the U.S. in destroying statues of their earlier leaders, from Cecil Rhodes in South America to a Scottish politician who delayed Britain’s abolition of the slave trade by 15 years in 1807. A bust of Ulysses S. Grant and “Star-Spangled Banner” writer Francis Scott Key were also “killed” in effigy in San Francisco because they once owned slaves.
Institutional racism is on the rack, and it’s about time. Owning another person is wrong and so is prejudice. What I fear is that everyone who has suffered any injustice is tossing the baby out with the bathwater. When everyone is painted as evil, there is no justice.
Most colonial representatives forming this nation in 1775 owned slaves, except for the Quakers. Those men who wrote the Constitution and Bill of Rights tried very hard to make this a land of the free, but they were breaking very hard, new ground.
These ancestors don’t deserve to be impaled for not getting it right initially. When statues of each and every one of them disappears, so will the source of American stamina.
It took strength for Germany to face its World War II demons so that Nazi atrocities would never happen again. Those concentration camps are displayed to the world so no one will forget how 6 million Jews were murdered.
Jews are committed to this cause and incredibly rise above the bitterness which they easily deserve to feel. Instead, they support the cause to create museums of the Holocaust anywhere possible. Visuals are teachable reminders that evil can return when people forget.
To end prejudices against skin color, nationality or gender, humans should realize that slash and burn methods solve nothing. Keeping some Confederate statues in place teaches far more than mobs smashing them. Without knowing the who, what, why and where about slavery, bitter bile keeps rising in every throat.
Ironically, the colonists’ fight for their freedom from Britain created misery for many. Yet without it, none of us would be here today, hoping to end centuries of injustices.
Statues are art to me. They tell a story of time and place about that effigy. Regardless of the war, soldiers from both sides were the pioneers who brought you and me here to this place and made it what it is. Our forefathers — and foremothers — weren’t perfect, but they’re ours. We own them.
Heck yeah, lower the Confederate battle flag and put it under glass in a museum. That war is over and that flag should not wave. Our current fight is to bring fairness and equality to every person, of every color and gender, in this land. Period.
Let’s continue the discourse that Beto O’Rourke, a white Democrat, and Will Hurd, a black Republican, began in 2018 on a road trip from Texas back to Washington, D.C. Political compromises create social enterprises, and that can start society’s wheels rolling forward.
That’s my two cents about getting along. We need it now!
Shelly Kuehn is a resident of Cooke County and a former volunteer on the Gainesville Daily Register’s reader advisory board.