“Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” – George Santayana
“I am a firm believer in ‘keep your history before you’ and so I don’t actually want to rename things that were named for slave owners.”
“I want us to have to look at those names and recognize what they did and to be able to tell our kids what they did and for them to have a sense of their own history. When you start wiping out your history, sanitizing your history to make you feel better, it’s a bad thing,” so said Condoleezza Rice.
It is the unwise among us and the individuals that can’t see past the tip of their noses that take down the past, like the Iranian Revolutionary Army destroying the Buddhas of Bamiyan, the barbarians knocking off the heads of the marble statues in Rome, or the Croatians shelling and destroying the medieval city of Dubrovnik. The wiser among us recognize this is barbaric, uncivilized, and betrays a lack of intellect and education. Dwight David Eisenhower insisted on photographing all the corpses in the concentration camps. If there is no photo documentation, we are going to forget the atrocities, he said.
The list of individuals who have denied history and tried to eliminate events is long and packed with the bad boys of history. Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jong Un, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are some of the more prominent among them at the top of the list.
There are many techniques to revise, rename, delete, or change what has gone before. Recently a favorite is taking down monuments and renaming institutions. Hitler’s favorite was book burning, while Stalin, even then, was in the habit of airbrushing people out of photos. Surprisingly the technology to do that goes back to nearly a century, way before photoshop. Denial is a good one. If you deny, often enough, people start believing the lie. Often the victor will write the version they want to be believed. Deception is a close relative of denial. Mistranslation or misquoting original text, manipulation of statistics, and propaganda are all in the playbook of the revisionist. If they can’t eliminate a statue, a book, or a statement, an ingenious technique is to trivialize it. If it is trivial, it does not matter. If it was an atrocity that cannot be belittled, one way to diminish it is to compare it to a morally equivalent event on the opposite side. For example, the London Blitz is minimized when compared to the Allied firebombing of non-military targets in Germany like Dresden, a beautiful historic Baroque city with mostly women and children inhabitants, 70,000 humans burned to death in one night, and various Zoos were also firebombed throughout Germany to create horror and panic, and I would guess to kill all those Nazi zebras, sloths, and monkeys.
The Armenian Genocide was the systematic extermination of 1.5 million unarmed, mostly males by the Turkish government, which to this day they deny. After World War II, Germany actually made it a crime to change or attempt to change historical events.
In 1932 to 1933, Stalin would teach Ukrainians a “lesson they would not forget!” for the sin of not giving up their land to the collective farm. He managed to starve to death 28,000 people a day. By Stalin’s own admission to Churchill, that amounted to 10 million people. It was called the Holodomor – death by starvation. It turns out Stalin was even better than Hitler at Genocide, a message that did not get out because, for half a century, the Russian and Ukrainian people were not allowed to talk about it under penalty of jail terms in Siberia, something my Grandmother experienced.
Auschwitz, the most famous of the Nazi extermination camps that memorialize the other atrocious atrocity of man against man, has been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site, precisely to remind us of that bit of shameful human behavior. It is to the Jewish people’s credit in having been instrumental in making Auschwitz a memorial for the ages to never let us forget! A lesson today’s protesters should take to heart.
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