Statues Are Not History
It seems that every mainstream journalist is now some sort of history expert. They are constantly equating the tearing down of statues with "rewriting" history, which could not be farther from the truth. What they are really talking about is heritage, and not history. Tearing down a symbol of heritage has nothing to do with the history of the person or event.
Heritage Versus History
Heritage is the past, fondly remembered, usually through symbols. It is an idealized and positive view of another time. It is not meant to encompass all the events surrounding the time period or event. Heritage is often passed down via verbal recollections, personal writings or heirlooms. History, on the other hand is pretty much the opposite. It is the rigorous analysis of the past, both good and bad. Depending on the author, history can be biased, or simply leave out information. That is why any serious student of history will read many sources on a topic, or endeavor to read primary sources. Trite phrases such as "history is written by the winners" or "revisionist history" sound good but are meaningless. History is written by anyone who can put words on a piece of paper. Journalism is usually the first historical look at an event. Also, a historical portrayal of an event or person should be revised if a valid piece of new information is discovered, or an author decides to include pertinent information that previous writers have chosen to ignore.
Which brings us back to this latest brouhaha on statues, and how they should represent the heritage that people claim. Statues of Confederate soldiers may be claimed by some as a symbol of their heritage, however, that does not mean that they have to be displayed in public view in taxpayer funded public spaces. They supported a cause that fought to preserve slavery. I am not quite sure what "positive" view of the past these statues represent. History tells us that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slaveowners. However, one could argue that the statues and symbols dedicated to them are due to their many positive contributions to the country. Statues of Christopher Columbus are claimed by many Italian Americans as representing his positive contributions during the Age of Discovery. He also introduced slavery to the western hemisphere. Winston Churchill was an outspoken racist. However, he also contributed significantly to the defeat of Nazi Germany. Perhaps it would advisable if many of these more divisive symbols of heritage be placed in heritage centers, where people that desire to view them can go. The rest of us, that are more interested in history, can avoid them.
History In America
Perhaps it should be no surprise that Americans are confused, as the education system in this country did us no favors when it came to discussing our history. When I was in school, the genocide of native Americans was called "manifest destiny", whatever the hell that was. All I Iearned about George Washington was that he chopped down a cherry tree and had wooden teeth. The American Civil War was fought over "states rights". What? This was still being taught in the 60's and 70's, 100 years after Abe Lincoln said it was about slavery. I guess that wasn't good enough.