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Thursday, June 25, 2020

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I agree with what you say here, and I find your analogy to postwar Germany apt. But I get to the conclusion in a different way.

The quotation you start advances a view of "history" that I'm wary of. To me, "history" is as much about framing, interpretation, and exploration. It's also about revision. Therefore, I disagree with the premise that if a statue's purpose is to "rewrite" history, that's an argument against it. You of course had two other premises, about erasing history and repeating something negative that happened in the past (like a neo-Jim Crow, which some credibly argue is what our policing and incarceration practices currently amount to). I cautiously agree with you there, but I feel the need to point out that any attempt to revisit and reinterpret history is going to have some erasures. Some things will have to be de-emphasized that formerly were emphasized.

I'm not too keen on the "we learn history in order not to repeat it." That trope has been around a long time, and I still am not sure whether I agree with it or not. But I have the feeling that there's something wrong about it.

One thing I think we agree on--in addition to agreeing on our opposition to pro-CSA statues--is that the reinterpretations, revisions, and memorializations should approximate the truth, even if they can never completely get at the truth. So, for example, I wouldn't sign on to a view of the Civil War that failed to put slavery somehow at the front and center of what it was "about." But to me there is something nameless and inscrutable about history and "what happened" that it's very hard to reduce down to simple binaries of good and bad. Yes, the Civil War was "about" slavery and yes, we shouldn't celebrate those who fought for slavery.

So the statues should probably come down, even in some cases, I might endorse a mob doing it. But any honest exploration into the history just might find that the bad guys had more complicated motivations than, "let's fight for evil today."

I realize I'm writing this long comment attacking something you weren't exactly saying. But I have noticed this trend most times people talk about "history," and I think it needs to be considered.

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