As an American I hate so much of what the Confederacy stood for: racism, division, greed, narcissism, reactionary politics, and the implicit belief that a good nation could rise on the flesh and bones of people in fetters.
Yet the misguided attempt to wipe from the face of the earth any memorial to the Americans who died in that conflict offends me as an historian.
We should never forget, nor allow our children to forget, that good, well-intentioned people die in the name of bad causes, and that it is not their cause that needs to be remembered, but the hubris that led them to the slaughter.
The problem lies not in statues or monuments, but in the way we use history and memories to teach.
A great problem with too many of us is that, subconsciously or otherwise, we bought into this idea that the tectonic political changes of 1989 had brought about a world where the rules had changed. This is the essence of Francis Fukuyama’s treatise “The End of History,” but the problem went even further. We began to believe that the normal rules that applied to business, to markets, and to nations no longer applied.
In the end, we will find that history does not end, even if sometimes it seems to take a sabbatical. Despite a flirtation with the contrary, the past decade has proven that the world is not on a path to liberal democracy and global markets: Russia is still the rapacious yet insecure bear; that China is still the nation and culture of Confucius, Mencius, Sunzi, and Mao; that businesses must still make money; nationalism still trumps globalism; and that markets cannot soar forever purely based on exuberance and a near-term lack of better investment alternatives.
History is back, and if you don’t watch out, it will maul you. It’s a great time to be an historian.