By Ruth Gadebusch
To you who would tear down statues, rename places and force others out of jobs due to views expressed decades ago: Whoa! Slow down! Rethink all this laundering of history. Are we so arrogant, so self-satisfied, so perfect as to fail to consider some future society judging us by the enlightenment of their era?
Might we find a position of enlightenment in our time between glorifying and destroying? It might be a worn expression, but there is something to the idea that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it, not interpreted as rebuilding any good.
If I may use an old Southern expression, let us give the devil his due. Strange as it might seem, difficult as it may be, we might accept that the heroes we now condemn were just as fervent in their beliefs as our protesters of today. Then and now, each thought/thinks they had/have the right, the obligation, to act on their beliefs.
Thus, it startles me when I hear the Confederates called traitors. They acted on their states rights political belief that they had willingly joined the union and therefore could withdraw on their own initiative.
Today, we consider such ideas preposterous but from time to time rogue groups threaten withdrawal from a state or the nation. We label them crackpot, and they have remained too inconsequential to be taken seriously.
Unfortunately, that was not the result in that long ago time, on occasion still debated as the Civil War or the War Between the States! Nevertheless, participants then and now believe in their own good intentions. Good in intentions in slavery, bondage? Alas, humans have long done unspeakable harm to their fellow/sister humans while proclaiming their own righteousness.
Now, if credulity can be stretched, we can consider the possibility of the monuments as a symbol of the greatness of the concept for the founding of the nation allowing us to forgive and come back together. Without equivocation, the overwhelming need currently is for tolerance, coming together and respecting that some merit might be found on each side: not the idea of holding one person in bondage, but the humanity and value of all.
Unfortunately, simply tearing down statues, changing names and the like fuels dissent. Some feel that totally vanishing is the only way, but it is arguable that more appropriate placement and more appropriate focus might move us to our goal more rapidly. Wouldn’t the world be better served if we put our energy in correcting today’s ills instead of condemning the unchangeable past? Of course, it depends on those ills really being wiped out.
As for what someone said or did decades ago, let us give credit to where s/he is today. After all, what is education if not learning from our exposure to the world? What is protesting except an advocacy of our own position, an attempt to convince others? Nothing is more pathetic than the poor soul who cannot be moved one iota despite evidence contrary to outdated beliefs.
Yes, the nation was conceived on fantastic principles but the concept has not reached fruition. It is time. It is past time. It is to be devoutly hoped that the current unrest, however it is expressed, can awaken us to the fact that equality of opportunity and effort does not match the dream.
Words enacted into law might be the starting point, but it is the reality that we must strive for. It is not true that anybody can make it. It is controlled by birth, ability, effort, help and luck. Some we control. Some are out of our hands.
Our challenge is to allow those things to come together for all. Until that happens, we are just as culpable as our predecessors for actions that will be judged in a different era in the parameters of that time.
In the meantime, let us keep in mind that action without study is folly but study without action is futile. We cannot afford either. The need is serious enough to require every talent and effort we can muster. We can. We must.
Ruth Gadebusch, a longtime community activist, is a former Naval officer, Fresno Unified School District board trustee, vice chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the Center for Civic Education.