Of Course Historical Figures Should Be Given Leniency
We need to remember that everything is relative. Nearly everyone of the past is terrible by today's standards, and by some now-unknown metric, we will all fail the tests of tomorrow.Regarding the specific conversation regarding the statues of controversial figures, these statues should be viewed and responded to on a case-by-case basis.Firstly, I don’t think any of these statues should be destroyed, no matter how disgusting the person is. History should be preserved, and while we don’t need some people, like Confederate generals, prominently displayed in the public sphere, these statues and monuments ought to be in museums rather than destroyed. History and art ought to be defended, and there is a better option than, as historian Robert K. Krick described, “destroying monuments in the fashion of Soviets after a purge, and antiquities in the manner of ISIS.” Many argue that the history is already preserved elsewhere in primary, secondary, and tertiary historical sources. However, I would argue that the erections of these monuments and statues is also history in and of itself and destroying the primary source of that history is tantamount to burning historical records and books which we disagree with and akin to burning down Monticello and Mount Vernon and tearing down the slave-built Taj Mahal and White House.Secondly, we ought to acknowledge that there are different degrees to the negative sentiments we should feel about these characters. Robert E. Lee, for example, is known for his generalship of the Confederate armies and that is why he is celebrated. These statues, many built long after the civil war, celebrate a traitorous general who was fighting for a nation that was formed primarily to retain its ability to enslave others based on race. Jefferson, while being a slave owner, is not celebrated with these statues for being a slave owner; he’s celebrated for being a founder of the country, author of the Declaration of Independence, and our nation's third president. Because of his involvement in establishing the political order discussed above that set a moral standard of liberty for all, Jefferson, in my view, should be proudly displayed while Lee should be shooed to a museum or collector. The intent of the statues’ assembly and what values we are celebrating when we raise them is the most important question when deciding what our reaction should be, rather than the figure’s otherwise imperfect character. Otherwise, the man who said “I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race,” should be torn down as well, despite his great emancipating tendencies.
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