Will we remember?
Angry mobs are vandalizing and destroying monuments across the United States. Many say that these are attacks on the preservation of our nation’s history, and they are right. Clearly, those who are taking down the monuments don’t have a thorough understanding of history, because statues of heroes such as Hans Christian Heg, an abolitionist, have been torn down. The impulsive actions of these mobs show very little forethought or rationality, since even statues of famous musicians have been defaced. Apparently, this is more about riotous behavior than actual civil justice.
Even the Emancipation Memorial—which was funded by freed slaves—has become a target. The memorial, located in Washington D.C. and replicated in Boston, was originally intended to commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s actions to emancipate those in slavery. Somewhat closer to home here in Texas, the Cenotaph located in San Antonio right next to our beloved Alamo was vandalized with red spray paint. The Cenotaph honors those who bravely and selflessly fought and died for the freedom of Texas. It is even sometimes referred to as the Spirit of Sacrifice. It is truly heinous that this beautiful monument honoring our Texan history was vandalized.
Sadly, for both the Cenotaph and the Alamo the attacks are not new. In the past couple of years, there have been government-backed plans to relocate the Cenotaph further away from the Alamo—whose defenders the Cenotaph commemorates. Other plans aim to diminish the Alamo’s special significance as a part of Texas’s unique story, by pouring millions of dollars into a new museum to detail over three centuries of “layered history.” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick echoed the sentiments of many Texans when he stated that “the design, planning, and execution of the project is badly off track.”
These memorials serve to inform present and future generations about our shared past. They exist to educate the general public. But when a small angry faction goes out and tears statues down, or when a government agency plan to “re-imagine” a sacred battleground is instigated, then the public suffers. Not only are monuments that tell our nation’s story being erased, but also the general interest of the population at large is not being served. These memorials belong to all of the American people, not just the ones who are angered by the monuments’ existence or a government agency trying to make a name for itself. Why should the angry and reckless actions of one group be allowed to do such a disservice to the population as a whole? Or why should government plans to completely redo a historic site be advanced when most citizens who are unhappy with them have had little to no say in the matter?
During the 86th Texas Legislature I coauthored a bill that would have protected monuments in Texas by requiring local and state officials to hear public input before relocating any memorial. The bill would also have ensured the protection of the Cenotaph and other monuments across the state.
Action must be taken at both the state and federal levels to preserve our history—and to protect the interest of all citizens. Tearing down monuments (or re-imagining them) does not erase what happened years ago. We cannot pretend that certain events and people never existed. It is far more important that the facts are preserved for us to stay educated about our past as we live in the present.
Statutes and monuments provide a record of our past—whether you agree with the record or not. They do reflect the values of the times in which they were erected. Removing them does not change or ease those sentiments. The failings we attribute in hindsight to historical figures should not necessarily negate the contributions to history they may have made. The monuments and statutes that raise concerns according to today’s standards should be used as an opportunity to educate both sides of an issue on the changing standards. Let them prompt discussion, rather than discord. Monuments should come down in the same manner in which they went up—by consensus of the people at that time. Indeed, in some cases, such as the Holocaust Museum, the evil reminder of the site serves as a warning to all future generations.