I am against tearing down statues, because I am against destroying history. I say this not as an abstract appeal to principles (though it should be that as well), but as someone who has personal experience with those who destroy history for their own purposes. Because to destroy history, to deny the truth of a person’s past, is the first step in destroying the person: body, mind, and soul.
I come from a family of iconoclasts. Not in the active, visible sense of tearing down statues. Theirs was a more subtle destruction, by acts of deliberate omission. What family history may have existed before my siblings’ generation has been obliterated, outside of a bare handful of facts, because our relatives Did Not Talk about our history.
Yes, I mean all our relatives. Down to our parents. I know one grandfather was a waist gunner in a bomber in WWII; and I can say I know this, because I verified it through historical records. The other one may have been a game warden who may have stopped a fox hunt on his property cold, given he didn’t like other people hunting on his land. I haven’t been able to verify that. And since the man’s relationship to the truth was rather iffy all the years I knew him, I can’t take his own story as fact.
And with those two bits, you have at least one-third of the family stories I know.
Yes, I’m serious. Yes, despite the fact that I spent weeks every summer pre-seventeen with the possible-game-warden set of grandparents. They didn’t talk about the past. Grand schemes for the future, always – schemes that never quite came off, ever – but not the past. I don’t know what schools they went to. What friends they had in the community. What their favorite foods were.
Try to picture spending a month with relatives every year for as long as you can remember, and knowing none of this.
It’s a horrible thing, to grow up without a past. You have no roots to draw on; no traditions of “this is what we do as a family” for work, or life, or faith. You have no foundation. No firm footing against the crashing waves of public opinion or vile slander. No one to look up to, to say, “He faced war and privation and indignity, and still never stooped to villainy.” Or, “She held her family together against the odds, bad crops, Indians, and who knows what else.” You have nothing, except whatever frail convictions you can win for yourself, out of books picked off library shelves when no one was watching.
And that frailty was exactly what my family intended to create.
You see, they never wanted to raise children to be rational, self-sufficient adults. They wanted followers, mindless workers to carry out their glorious plans for a perfect future. A future which demanded sacrifices – from us, not them – and was always… next month. Next year. Next decade. Never now, and whatever we gave up was never, ever enough.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Today, I see the statues dragged down. I see the empty pedestals, where History once stood. I see the silence.
That silence is meant to destroy. Not those of us old enough to remember those statues, and what they stood for – history good, bad, tragic and heroic as any human story. It’s meant to destroy our children.
I built my own foundation. It took a long time, and it’ll never be as firm as someone raised with a history of who we are. But I did it. That’s what happens, when you leave a desperate soul unsupervised in libraries.
…So of course, the statue-wreckers will be coming for those next.
Monuments. Manuscripts. Men. Thus ever runs the path of bloody destruction.
I hope I’m wrong this time.