“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This quote is attributed to writer and philosopher George Santayana. At this writing, I am traveling through Budapest, Austria and Germany. I am struck by the history here. There are so many buildings that are being lived in and used today that have been here long before America was discovered. These countries have churches and castles and thousands of buildings built 500 to 1000 years ago. Here, one feels the history. You can visualize the people in castles and behind city walls defending their very lives. The buildings are preserved as they were from an era long past. These countries have incredibly varied and violent events throughout their histories.
Budapest, Hungary has roots back to the Stone Age. In the last few hundred years, they have been conquered by Romans, Turks, Russians and Germans. Hundreds of thousands were killed during these times. They endured a civil war and eventually came together. Yet a visit here will show pieces from their historic past everywhere you look. Now a Republic, and thriving, the Hungarians honor and remember their past, including the bad parts of their history. Understanding that history has led them forward.
Austria also, with roots back to the Stone Age, was a part of the Roman Empire. They were the largest country in Europe, but through time and takeovers they are now a very small country. In the capital of Vienna, the buildings from long ago eras still stand. The city is full of statues and memorials to people and events of their long history, their struggles and wars and the people who shaped the future of Austria and Vienna. They have museums memorializing the soldiers throughout their history, the arms they used, and the wars that were fought.
It is truly a city of remembrance of their past. Today Vienna has been voted to be the most livable city in the world, and is a Republic.
Germany has the checkered past of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi’s. It is only a part of their long history, but it is the most visible to recent generations. In Germany, history is honored. The Churches and castles that have been here for hundreds to a thousand years, are continually restored, as are thousands of buildings in towns and villages across the country. The vestiges of Hitler and the holocaust are not erased as a bad part of Germany’s history, but embraced and memorialized to help future generations learn from that time to never allow such regimes to do these acts again, and to always question authority..
There are thousands of “stumbling blocks” (small plaques) embedded in the cobblestone streets in front of houses where people were pulled from their homes and sent to prison camps where they died. Elementary and high school students are enlisted to clean and polish each of the plaques every year as a way of remembrance and honor for those who perished. School children must go to the Documentation Center in Nuremberg to learn the history of the rise and fall of Hitler and the Nazi’s. Germans are not hiding their past, they honor the truth of their history and make a true effort to learn from it.
Each day here in Europe, I cannot help but think how much Europeans pay homage to their history, and they respect the truth of history, the people that were part of their history, and the lessons that can be learned from it.
It is a stark contrast to those in the United States who have chosen to revise our American history to be “politically correct.” We have changed our history books and paintings and statues to make them inclusive. We are selectively choosing what truths will be taught, and what truths will be ignored. We have changed the truths of our short history so that our children learn someone’s idea of a “cleaned up” version. We are erasing our true history.
Who decided this and why is it allowed to stand? History cannot change, it is set in stone for all eternity. History is the roadmap for our future. Who are we to alter that roadmap for future generations?
History is a glue that binds a people and the propellant for a better and wiser future. Schools are being allowed to change history books, allowed to not teach history; the good, the bad, the reasons, and the consequences.
Through an ignorance of our American history and an understanding of the time and the reasons for things that happened in the time and circumstance that they happened, and the results of the actions of people in our history, we have Americans tearing down statues and monuments to those that shaped who we are today. Because people on the Union and Confederate sides of our Civil War took the actions they took, for the reasons that applied at that time of history, we have a better country today.
To dishonor our history is to dishonor America. No country on earth has an unblemished history, but history must be told with truth, and honored for people that went before and we that come after. To destroy the monuments to history is shameful. To remove the pride that we as Americans have come so far in so short a time takes away from our unity and our patriotism, without which we have no country to stand behind.
America is a historical infant. Generations long after we are gone deserve to know the truth, to see the statues, the monuments in all of their glory and with all of the blemishes. That truth will light the paths of future generations, and will tell them the stories and the true actions and consequences, thereby helping future generations to not be condemned to repeat the parts of history that should not be repeated.
We must keep our history, our monuments, and our statues, all of them, to commemorate who we were, who we are and who we will become. History is forever, who are we to think we should revise it? Learn from it, it is life’s greatest and most honest teacher.