Sam Smith – I’ve been trying to figure out why statues of history’s bad guys don’t bother me as much as they do younger Americans. What I’ve come to realize is that for at least half my life history kept getting better and many, including myself, just assumed that we would – and in fact were put on this earth to – continue to make things better. The unspoken assumption was that those statues were a reminder of how things had improved. History was just full of bad stuff and my own reaction was typically “glad I didn’t live back then.”
But if you are under 60 years old, that is not the case. History has been overwhelmingly the story of the deterioration of American politics and culture. Thus there is far less hope concealed in it. The Confederates have returned as a part of today’s story, as in Charlottesville, and the statues are too close to today.
But before you get too judgemental across the board, bear in mind that even otherwise good people once accepted slavery just as otherwise good people today accept war. What if in a few generations, war inspires a new abolition movement that is eventually successful.What will those generations have to say about us?
As Barbara Tuchman noted, “To understand the choices open to people of another time, one must limit oneself to what they knew; see the past in its own clothes, as it were, not in ours.”