National Security

Erasing History Doesn’t Change It

“Look at the division in our country today.  Right against left, liberal against conservative, and millennials against those of us that primarily support them.”

What happens when a country and its people forget history?  Even worse: what is the result of people purposely trying to erase history?  That is exactly what is taking place in the United States today — all in the name of political correctness. Many states and their politicians have decided to simply erase their history.

I know some will find issue with this analogy, but isn’t this akin to what ISIS has been doing?  Are they not erasing culture and historical monuments and symbols?  Today, in state after state, that is precisely what is happening.  Since when did we only learn about things with which we agree?  Instead, we should embrace our history and learn from it.  The memorials to those times and events are a reminder of what happened.  They can be a teaching point for or against. If they are erased in an attempt to make us feel better, we are only fooling ourselves.

Should we remove all memorials and mentions of George Washington?  He had slaves you know.  So did Benjamin Franklin.  Do we need to remove all mention of him in the history books?  Maybe his statue in Philadelphia needs to come down.  After all, the memorials and statues in New Orleans and elsewhere have been removed, some even at night with workers under guard as they completed their revision of history.

State after state is bending to the call to remove the Confederate flag.  It is called a symbol of hate, and the very sight of it offends some people so badly they can not function.  The outcry regarding the Confederate flag began in earnest following the mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina — a racist attack in which a gunman killed innocent African American churchgoers in their place of worship. The Confederate battle flag, also called the rebel flag, the southern cross, and the Dixie flag, has been the subject of contentious debate because the shooter had a picture of himself with the flag.  Like it or not; that flag is part of our nation’s history, a very big part.

We are becoming a weakened people, afraid to face our past. What we as a nation are doing is just wrong.  I don’t care if you agree with what history tells us or not, it is still history.  This is a slippery slope that we as a nation cannot continue to go down.

Almost everyone feels the Vietnam War was a mess.  So do we remove it from our history?  Hitler was a monster, but do we remove him and his acts from the history books?  Maybe if we just don’t teach about such events, we can happily go through life believing they never happened.

Maybe it is a juvenile way to look at it, but all this reminds me of a line from the animated series in The Simpsons. Bart says, “Ref didn’t see it. Didn’t happen.”  Well, that is not the way the world works.

Already our schools are neglecting to teach history.  Our education system has deemed it not necessary.  I beg to differ, and there is a well known saying which goes like this:  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Those words were first spoken by George Santayana (1863-1952) who was a philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist.  That is a very telling statement, but one that has proven true over and over again.  Of course, if you never studied history, you wouldn’t know this fact.

The problem of erasing history goes deeper than just removing monuments.  A 2012 story in Perspectives on History magazine by University of North Carolina professor Bruce VanSledright found that 88% of elementary school teachers considered teaching history a low priority.

I have to admit I was appalled some 25 or so years ago when a relative of mine showed his lack of historical knowledge.  It was December 7th, and I asked him about Pearl Harbor Day.  He asked me, “Did we bomb someone then?”  I almost fell out of my chair.  He was a second-year college student, and he admitted he had never heard of Pearl Harbor.  He now is a middle school teacher, and I would bet he still doesn’t know about what happened.  That “day which will live in infamy” changed the world forever, but again, you would have to study history to know that.

We have a duty to teach our history, good and bad, like it or not.  It is imperative we know where we came from, what we were about and how we got to where we are.  Removing monuments, refusing to teach history, and trying to rewrite it so we don’t offend anyone is a recipe for disaster.

Just pretending history didn’t happen doesn’t change it.  Removing the symbols of historical figures and events does not mean they didn’t exist.  It is like closing your eyes and believing the tiger about to devour you can’t see you because you can’t see it.  It is ignorant, foolish, and a fatal mistake.

When society decides they will just ignore the past, erase it from memory and try to forget it, they will repeat it.  Look at the division in our country today.  Right against left, liberal against conservative, and millennials against those of us that primarily support them. It becomes plain to see history is repeating itself.

It may not be the North against the South, the Union against the Confederacy, but the divisions are close.  Maybe those that are calling for the removal of our history should take a little time to study it before they decide to rewrite something about which they know nothing.

Jon Harris

Jon Harris is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and former Army NCO, Sergeant Morales Club member, civilian law enforcement officer, and defense contractor with over 30 years in the law enforcement community. He is published in Army Trainer Magazine, authored regular columns in several newspapers, and is the author of the Cold War novel Breakpoint. His adventures as a security contractor in Afghanistan and Iraq can be found on He holds a B.S. in Government and Politics and an M.S. in Criminal Justice and is currently completing his Juris Doctor degree.

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