“YOU CAN’T REWRITE HISTORY!”
…or can you?
I recently had a phone conversation with a good friend—a lady in her mid-70s—who lives in Fairfax County, Virginia. She’s perhaps typical of older white Southerners, whose grandfathers served under Gen. Robert E. Lee in the Army of Northern Virginia. My friend said that although she deplored the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, which resulted from the “Unite the Right” rally of August 11-12, 2017, she agreed with the rally organizers that the City Council’s order to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from Charlottesville’s Lee Park was a mistake. “You can’t rewrite history!” my friend emphatically insisted over and over again, during our long discussion about removal of this and other Confederate statues—including that of a Confederate soldier in Ellwood Park, Amarillo, Texas, where I grew up.
We held our discussion because I phoned to tell her that Volume 5 of my Once Upon a Time in The Texas Panhandle romantic-novel series will soon be published: Colleen and the Statue. I explained that “the statue” of the title refers to the Confederate statue in my novel’s fictional city of Mackenzie, Texas. I explained that my novel is exactly that: a rewrite of history—false history: “The Confederate statue is a lie—a false statement about the Civil War. It’s a statement of white supremacy. … My story argues that the soldiers who fought in the Confederate Army, no matter how brave and how sincere, were in the wrong army and were defending the wrong cause. Therefore, they should not be honored but should be shamed—and their statues removed.”
“Rewrite history”—that’s precisely what historians do. It’s true that there are certain “core” facts, which can be said to comprise “objective” history, and which remain unchanged. But the interpretation of these core facts is constantly changing. And in that sense, history itself is constantly changing, as historians re-examine and re-interpret what “really” happened.
All opinions are not equal. For a historian to say, “It’s your opinion. We should just agree to disagree,” is absurd and nonsensical. For a Southern historian to say that the valiant soldiers of the Confederacy were completely sincere in their beliefs, and therefore were right and fully justified in fighting to preserve their way of life—is absurd and nonsensical. Just as there is in real life, there is a right and a wrong in history.
Symbols—especially statues—are statements, and I believe they’re much more powerful statements than printed documents. If a printed document presents falsehoods, a reputable historian should disprove them and then consign the offensive document to the file titled, “LIES.” And if a symbol such as a statue presents falsehoods, an honest city council should order its removal, and consign it to a museum, where an additional tablet would point out the falseness of what the statue purports to proclaim. In doing so, a reputable historian and an honest city council is rewriting false history and replacing it with the truth.
You surely can rewrite history—and morally you should.