The Perpetual War on History

The Perpetual War on History

© David Burton 2019

The War on History

     Here in the United States, we are currently cursed with a movement that wants to impose a sanitized and biased version of American history on our nation. We consider our freedom of speech and the press to be sacrosanct. But these same constitutional rights have recently been misused by those trying to reinterpret numerous inconvenient historical truths. “George Orwell's 1984 portrays a world in which the past is repeatedly rewritten to best serve the desires of a centralized party. A slogan of this party states, ‘Who controls the past controls the future, and who controls the present controls the past.’ Politically controlled revisionist history in the United States has brought us one step closer to Orwell's vision . . . {It’s time to stand up to} preserve the past as it was rather than as we wish it were. Changing it, even in service of some perceived higher societal goal, is ultimately detrimental. To paraphrase the great newsman Walter Cronkite, ‘that's the way it was.’ Let's leave it that way . . .” (Ref. 1)

     “George Orwell {also} said, ‘The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.’ In the former USSR, censorship, rewriting of history and eliminating undesirable people became part of Soviets' effort to ensure that the correct ideological and political spin was put on their history. Deviation from official propaganda was punished by confinement in labor camps and execution.
     “Today there are efforts to rewrite history in the U.S., albeit the punishment is not so draconian as that in the Soviet Union. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu had a Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee monument removed last month. Former Memphis Mayor A C Wharton wanted the statue of Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, as well as the graves of Forrest and his wife, removed from the city park. In Richmond, Virginia, there have been calls for the removal of the Monument Avenue statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gens. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart. It's not only Confederate statues that have come under attack. Just by having the name of a Confederate, such as J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, Virginia, brings up calls for a name change. These history rewriters have enjoyed nearly total success in getting the Confederate flag removed from state capitol grounds and other public places.
     “Slavery is an undeniable fact of our history. The costly war fought to end it is also a part of the nation's history. Neither will go away through cultural cleansing. Removing statues of Confederates and renaming buildings are just a small part of the true agenda of America's leftists. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, and there's a monument that bears his name — the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. George Washington also owned slaves, and there's a monument to him, as well — the Washington Monument in Washington. Will the people who call for removal of statues in New Orleans and Richmond also call for the removal of the Washington, D.C., monuments honoring slaveholders Jefferson and Washington? Will the people demanding a change in the name of J.E.B. Stuart High School also demand that the name of the nation's capital be changed?
     “These leftists might demand that the name of my place of work — George Mason University — be changed. Even though Mason was the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which became a part of our Constitution's Bill of Rights, he owned slaves. Not too far from my university is James Madison University. Will its name be changed? Even though Madison is hailed as the ‘Father of the Constitution,’ he did own slaves.
     “Rewriting American history is going to be challenging. Just imagine the task of purifying the nation's currency. Slave owner George Washington's picture graces the $1 bill. Slave owner Thomas Jefferson's picture is on the $2 bill. Slave-owning Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's picture is on our $50 bill. . .
     “The challenges of rewriting American history are endless, going beyond relatively trivial challenges such as finding new pictures for our currency. At least half of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were slave owners. Also consider that roughly half of the 55 delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia were slave owners. Do those facts invalidate the U.S. Constitution, and would the history rewriters want us to convene a new convention to purge and purify our Constitution?
     “The job of tyrants and busybodies is never done. When they accomplish one goal, they move their agenda to something else. If we Americans give them an inch, they'll take a yard. So I say, don't give them an inch in the first place. The hate-America types use every tool at their disposal to achieve their agenda of discrediting and demeaning our history. Our history of slavery is simply a convenient tool to further their cause.”[Emphasis mine] (Ref. 2)

     “They finally came for George Washington.
     “The perpetual war on history now has the father of our country in its sights as the San Francisco Board of Education considers removing a mural of Washington from a local school.
     “If the board succeeds in politicizing Washington, whose legacy was once so secured and uniting that his home at Mount Vernon was considered neutral ground during the Civil War, then we have clearly crossed the Rubicon of social division.
     “Critics of the mural point out that, in addition to Washington, it also depicts slaves and Native Americans—and one of the Native Americans appears to be dead.
     “The liberal Left continue to push their radical agenda against American values. The good news is there is a solution.
     “They have called the artwork offensive, and the school board says it ‘traumatizes students’ and ‘glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, manifest destiny, white supremacy, oppression, etc.,’ . . .
     “But the original intent of the mural was actually the exact opposite.
     “It was painted in 1936 by artist Victor Arnautoff, a man of the left in his own time who, according to {a} historian . . . , wanted to depict Washington in a less glamorized way by including images of disturbing realities. . .
     “[Arnautoff] included those images not to glorify Washington, but rather to provoke a nuanced evaluation of his legacy. The scene with the dead Native American, for instance, calls attention to the price of ‘manifest destiny.’ Arnautoff’s murals also portray the slaves with humanity and the several live Indians as vigorous and manly.
     “Those who condemn the murals have misunderstood it, seeing only what they sought to find. [Emphasis mine] They’ve also got their history seriously wrong. Washington did own slaves—124 men, women and children—and oversaw many more who belonged to his wife’s family. But by his later years he had evolved into a proto-abolitionist, a remarkable ethical journey for a man of his time, place, and class.
     “No matter to the modern iconoclasts. It’s too much to expect one to think about what one is rushing to destroy. Obliterate now and ask questions, well, never. [Emphasis mine]
     “This is just the latest example of attempts to purge American history of its historical figures. Not only is this trend wildly misguided—how destroying statues and paintings bring an end to racism and prejudice is never fully explained—but it also cheapens the debate over America’s past by ignoring nuance.
     “From the beginning, it was clear that this movement had far less to do with genuinely criticizing past historical figures, but instead reflected the need of modern radicals to feel good about themselves and think they are ‘doing something’ to stop oppression, [Emphasis mine] be it real or imaginary.
     “Reflection and thoughtfulness are uncomfortable impediments to those who never dare question whether they are on the ‘right side of history.’
     “It makes sense that the same people who seek to de-platform individuals for wrongthink on social media and shut down controversial speakers at universities are the same people who want to erase artwork and monuments. The common thread is for their views to be constantly reinforced and never challenged from without.
     “The unthinking maxims of intersectionality and identity politics must be recited over and over again from all sectors of society. No alternate views can be tolerated. Such teachings soothe the minds of radicals who can easily ignore the moral complications of life from the safe comforts of their college campuses and public buildings. (Those, of course, are made possible by the wicked people they seek to extinguish.)
     “Doubt, skepticism, and the use of reason are uncomfortable and problematic.
     “It didn’t take long for the iconoclasts to move from Jefferson Davis to Thomas Jefferson, and then from Jefferson to the most revered of our Founding Fathers, George Washington.
     “What’s truly revealing about the empty, surface-level nature of these efforts is how little cost is involved for those doing the erasing.
     “Criticizing slavery and racism in 2019 can get one tenure, public office, and a six-figure salary as a corporate consultant. So brave.
     “It’s easy to cover up or take down a painting, not so easy to sacrifice the immense benefits of living in the prosperous constitutional republic that problematic men like Washington created.
     “As David Marcus wrote for The Federalist, it was easy to get rid of Kate Smith’s ‘God Bless America’ recording at Yankee games due to her singing what are now considered offensive songs in the 1930s—but are Yankee fans willing to abolish the Yankees themselves because of their team’s historical role in segregation?
     “For that matter, are Harvard University administrators and professors willing to give up their jobs at an institution founded in part by a man who owned slaves because its origin was problematic?
     “Not likely. [Emphasis mine]
     “It’s far more satisfying to take the less costly step of tearing down a painting or a statue. And it’s much easier to avoid the complicated fact that so many of these supposedly ignorant and prejudiced people built the very institutions they enjoy today.
     “In their simplistic thinking, surely those who founded a free republic based on consent, and truly ‘broke the wheel’ of tyranny that had been the norm for virtually all of human history, couldn’t be great if slavery was still a part of their heritage.
     “They failed to live up to their own ideals, so they best be erased.
     “But to follow this logic forward, we can’t stop with the Founders.
     “The over half-million Americans who lost their lives and countless others who risked them to end slavery, the ‘original sin’ of this country, also weren’t so great, you see.
     “Their skin was generally too fair, their motivations insufficiently pure, and most were undoubtedly homophobes who couldn’t have conceived of modern concepts like gay marriage or a man literally becoming a woman.
      - - -
     “Greatness, according to the history erasers, truly belongs to the wokescolds {A wokescold is a person who is very pretentious about how much he/she cares about a social issue and scolds others who are not} who wage hashtag campaigns to raise awareness about offensive art and ensure society conforms to their ever-evolving whims.
     “But the truth is, those who wage war on America’s history are tacitly acknowledging the benefits of living in America, a free country that allows them to pursue their radical activism, even though it is antithetical to the founding ideals that enable free speech.
     “These movements are forcing politics to infect every corner of our existence, and that weakens this country. It makes us more hateful toward one another and trains us in the un-American notion that to win arguments, we must quash, liquidate, and erase from all memory those we disagree with. [Emphasis mine]
     “The Washington mural may come down in San Francisco, but the real damage is not being done to the art. It’s being done to the legacy of Washington, to ourselves.
     “The past is an easy target for iconoclast bullies, but if Americans don’t want them to keep winning, they will have to begin standing up and speaking out against them.
     “If not, the destruction of our statues and artwork will merely be symbolic of the destruction done to our country at large.” (Ref. 3)

     Back in June of 2018, Americans lost another battle in the War on History when it was announced that: “Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital officials plan to remove 31 gold-framed portraits of some of the hospital's department chairs — most of whom were white — as part of the institution's initiative to ramp up its diversity efforts . . .
     “The portraits {had} hung in the hospital's Bornstein Amphitheater for decades . . . Of the 31 portraits, 30 are of white leaders, while one is of a Chinese department chair. . .” (Ref. 4)

     A year later, the “offending” portraits were gone. “The walls were entirely bare. Thirty-one oil portraits of medical and scientific leaders that had made the room distinctive were gone. Images of . . . historic figures — had been removed.
      - - -
     “A year earlier, The Boston Globe reported that the portraits would be removed as part of a diversity initiative . . . {This} was not diversity, but sterility.
      - - -
     “Why should this be? Today’s Brigham is increasingly diverse with respect to gender and underrepresented minorities, but [Emphasis mine] nearly all the portraits were of white men.
     “The gap between portraiture and current workforce was obvious, and addressing it fell to Brigham’s CEO, . . . , a physician-scientist who had trained in medicine and cardiology at the Brigham 30 years earlier. She concluded that removing the portraits would foster a more welcoming environment for the increasingly diverse community of employees, students, trainees, and faculty. And then — overnight — the portraits were gone. Some were redistributed to other, less public, locations, raising the question of how such relocation would promote diversity or create a more welcoming environment.
     “Reactions to removal of the . . . portraits varied. Some who couldn’t decouple the portraits from prior exclusion of women and minorities cheered.
     Others supported the portraits as a means to recognize past accomplishments, despite the subjects living at a time of limited opportunities for women and minorities. But voicing such views today is not without risk. [Emphasis mine] . . . discussion is less likely when those questioning the change are probably going to be characterized as members of a white patriarchy indifferent to concerns of women and minorities.
     “. . . removing all the portraits from this historic amphitheater — in this way — was a mistake. Celebrating diversity doesn’t require erasing or suppressing the memories of those who contributed greatly to the institution and the profession — people whose work continues to have impact today. [Emphasis mine]
     “This issue is not restricted to the Brigham. In Harvard’s historic psychology department, portraits of its founder, William James, famed psychologist B.F. Skinner, and other leaders were removed for similar reasons. Such events have broad cultural significance.
     “Institutions commission portraits to acknowledge past contributions and to narrate institutional history, and their public display highlights important issues. In this case, American medicine — and medicine elsewhere — was for much of its history largely closed to women and minorities. The first women were admitted to Harvard Medical School in 1945, and the first woman was appointed full professor in 1946. Black medical students were few in number until 1968, when faculty pressure happily produced a sustained effort to increase their numbers.
     “But display or removal of portraits doesn’t change history or current practice. The latter requires culture and policy to evolve. Brigham and HMS {Harvard Medical School} now aggressively seek equal opportunity for women and minorities, reflected in broadly increased participation by students, residents, faculty, and CEOs. Women represent half of entering medical students and lead programs and departments throughout the school. Underrepresented minorities have also advanced . . .
     We should seek to learn from this story of substantial progress — rather than hide it from view. [Emphasis mine]
     “Some wish to judge those who lived at a time when different values prevailed, but this is hardly straightforward. Unlike disputed portraits and statuary related to slavery and the Civil War, these men made contributions to medicine and research that stand up well to current scrutiny. Early in Brigham history, actions of single individuals wouldn’t have diversified the workforce — that required major shifts in societal values. . .
     “History and context matter, and should be accurately communicated in any effort at portrait renewal.
     “Removing all the historic amphitheater portraits — leaving bare walls in their place for the past year — won’t advance diversity. . .” (Ref. 5)

     And the perpetual war on History continues on. There are those who fight the war on history in other, even more, ridiculous ways. In one of the most blatant attempts at political pandering and historical revisionism, Democrats in Congress have proposed compensating Black-Americans for slavery in the United States that ended more than a century-and-a-half ago. Such a proposal may have had validity immediately after the Civil War or while victims of slavery were still alive, it has no business being considered in 2019! Slavery in America is a historical fact of the 19th century and before. It is over and done with. Historically, it is certainly not something to be swept under a rug, but it is not a subject requiring any action in the 21st century. How many former slaves are alive to receive such compensation? How many children of former slaves are alive to receive such compensation?

     In true demagogue fashion, Democratic Senator and potential presidential candidate Cory Booker said, about the proposed compensation proposal: “the U.S. needs to address ‘persistent inequalities’ experienced by African Americans by discussing reparations, the idea that the descendants of slaves should be compensated for the injustices and cruelty their ancestors experienced.” (Ref. 6) As a potential Democratic presidential candidate, is it possible that Booker is hoping to solicit Black-American votes in his bid for the White House with his support of the compensation proposal?

     Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell exhibited rationality and common good sense when he said: ‘I don't think that reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible, is a good idea. We tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a Civil War, by passing land mark civil rights legislation. We elected an African American president’ . . .
      - - -
     “{Senator Booker laughingly claimed:} ‘This is a very important hearing. It is historic. It is urgent.’ . . . He argued that black Americans deserve compensation not only for slavery, but for the legacy of domestic terrorism against black people post-Civil War, segregation, as well as for redlining, a practice used by mortgage providers that kept black people from obtaining mortgages.” (Ref. 6)

     Booker and his fellow Democrats surprisingly forgot to urge compensation for all Native American descendants, along with compensation for descendants of Chinese, Irish, Italian, and Japanese immigrants whose ancestors suffered often violent discrimination and economic hardship in 19th and 20th century America. If the Democrats want to be truly fair, then they should propose that we return the land of these United States to the Native Americans from whom America stole it. They could have also called for some form of compensation for the American Buffalo which were rendered nearly extinct by our early American ancestors. And let’s not stop there. How about reparations for the descendants of Mexicans killed in the Mexican-American war or the descendants of British soldiers killed by Americans in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812? Lest we forget, there were thousands of German, Italian and Japanese soldiers and civilians killed by Americans in the two world wars. Don’t their families and their descendants deserve reparations similar to what is being proposed for the descendants of America’s black slaves?

     It is simply mind-boggling that there are those in Congress who have nothing better to do than consider stupid proposals on issues that took place more than a 150 years ago. Today’s questions on illegal immigration, health care, a nuclear Iran, trade wars, drugs, and poverty are so irrelevant to these historical revisionist zealots that they pale in comparison to a problem that was largely taken care of by a Civil War and an Emancipation Proclamation in the middle 1800’s. Is it any wonder that so little is accomplished in our nation’s capital when we elect representatives and senators who waste their time and our money on such ridiculous considerations? There have been others, e.g., Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung, who have tried to revise history for political gain. Such behavior has no place in today’s America.

     One final and recent example of the absurd ongoing war on history comes from Yale University. “This past week {June 2019}, Yale University announced plans to rename one of its residential halls bearing the namesake of John C. Calhoun, a nineteenth century statesman and passionate defender of slavery. This decision comes in the wake of the growing controversy surrounding the administration’s initial pledge to keep the name as a biting reminder of our nation’s past transgressions to teach future students about all we’ve had to overcome.
     “Despite its initial pledge, Yale swiftly reversed course and conceded to the demands of those who wish to see every blemish of our history purged from the history books. If today’s culture were not so politically correct, Yale’s decision might have been more easily forgivable or, at the very least, its instigators be subject to less cynicism concerning the possibility of ulterior motives. Whether or not this change really furthered some nobler end, however, is by and large irrelevant to the greater danger of unbridled revisionism carried out by indignant, politically correct folk. The profounder evil is opening our long-standing traditions to a burgeoning relativism that seeks to dismantle anything in its path for no legitimate end beyond temporarily appeasing its own, insatiable appetite. [Emphasis mine]
     “As long as Calhoun’s namesake continues to no longer serve as a sobering reminder of our nation’s past, who is to say future generations won’t be more readily susceptible to lapses in moral judgment given modern predispositions to expunge even the slightest of disquieting truths from the public consciousness? Have we as a civilization finally reached a level of moral apotheosis that allows us to purify our past with total confidence that no future American will commit an equally abhorrent sin? By establishing this precedent to remedy our past as it comports with today’s moral framework, are we not effectively giving future Americans total leverage to erase from today what they deem morally impermissible by tomorrow’s standards?
     “The exercise of moral revisionism is as ridiculous as the perverted ideology of those who advocate its doing. [Emphasis mine] This habit of tarnishing the legacies of historical figures purely and simply due to a position or belief we now find unacceptable also does a disservice to the many positive contributions that came from these men whose legacies are under attack. Woodrow Wilson, being another recent target of revisionism, navigated our nation through the First World War and then passionately campaigned for the League of Nations, an ambitious international peacekeeping project that set the template for the United Nations. In addition to his accomplishments on the global front, Wilson’s ideas about progressive government still remain salient, fortifying a legacy that seemed unbreakable until just last year, when leftists at Princeton – a university for which he dedicated many years of his life as a student, professor, and president – waged a successful campaign to remove a painting of his likeness based on his racist views. There was also another campaign last year to rename the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, but it was ultimately struck down, though not without controversy, by Princeton’s Board of Trustees.
     “Indeed, Wilson is by modern standards an unabashed racist. He viewed African Americans as fundamentally inferior and sought to bar their admission from his institution as other Ivy League schools began admitting them. However, it’s also critically important to befit Wilson, a man born in Virginia nine years before the outbreak of the Civil War, to the times in which he lived. That is not to say Wilson’s views on race — or Calhoun’s for that matter — should be discounted simply because he grew up in different times, but it is equally important to note that these views were considered outmoded not just by today’s standards, but also in many parts of the country by the standards of the times in which they were expressed.
     “For instance, Calhoun’s view of the ‘positive good’ of slavery was not the predominant view of the majority of the country in 1850. And even in 1933, when Calhoun was chosen as a namesake for the new residence hall, there was some controversy surrounding the decision. However, the name remained unchanged in the eight decades that followed, despite being susceptible to the moralities of different people across several generations. Now more than eighty years onward, it seems that we should take extra precautions to preserve our history, particularly in today’s era of hyper sensitivity in which many on the left readily pounce on even the slightest ‘microaggression.’ This is not to say that change should never be welcomed, but in times like these it would be more advisable to buckle down on long-standing traditions, lest we want to risk giving in to the forces of a revisionism that may wind up being less edifying and more Orwellian in the long run.
     “Lastly, if we take this moralizing to its extreme, who from our history books can be spared from the towering judgment of today’s self-righteous demigods? Surely none of the founding fathers who were slave-owners, nor Teddy Roosevelt for his bigoted views of American Indians, nor Franklin Roosevelt for his decision to intern Japanese Americans. And why not forsake the great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, for expressing on several occasions his view that whites were superior to blacks?
     “The key point is that there will always be ugly truths in our past since mankind has and always will continue to be imperfect. [Emphasis mine] As difficult as it may be given today’s politically correct zeitgeist, we must face these harsh truths head on, simultaneously taking pride in all that we’ve overcome and yet mindful of the complex legacies of some flawed, but great, men in our history.” (Ref. 7)


  1. Rewriting history and the pursuit of ignorance, Michael Rosenbaum, The Hill, 26 February 2015.
  2. Rewriting American History, Walter E. Williams, New American, 14 June 2017.
  3. The War on History Comes for George Washington, Jarrett Stepman, The Daily Signal, 20 May 2019.
  4. Brigham and Women's takes down 31 portraits of male leaders in diversity effort, Alyssa Rege,
    Becker’s Hospital Review, 14 June 2018.
  5. Removing portraits — a mistaken approach to promoting diversity in medicine, Jeffrey S. Flier, Boston Globe,
    19 June 2019.
  6. House committee confronts the "inheritance of slavery" in panel on reparations, Grace Segers, CBS News,
    19 June 2019.
    20 June 2019.
  5 July 2019 {Article 367; Suggestions?_25    
Go back to the top of the page