By Mark Shepard
The recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, has a long history that must be remembered if we have any hope of not repeating a part of history that, thankfully, almost all Americans today find deplorable. This history of our nation is built on the lives and actions of people with huge problems and inconsistencies. Those we put our hopes in today to lead our governments are built of the same material and have the same potential as General Robert E. Lee. If today’s leaders lived in the times and situations of Lee, they very likely would have held similar views.
This does not at all excuse actions that in any way made way for the evil of human slavery. But we need this history in our faces to remind us that talented, accomplished and popular people are wholly capable of supporting or defending evil practices. While the statues of key figures in our nation’s history point to very accomplished and loved people in American history, they also remind us all how even accomplished and loved people can embrace that which is gravely wrong.
It is an awesome thing that our nation has grown from where it was when the color of a person’s skin could completely determine their station in society. It will be an even better day when skin color or any other physical characteristic is simply seen as part of each person’s God-created uniqueness, period. But that societal growth will not happen if we hide history.
We are not in a battle of good people versus. bad people. We all have a fallen nature and the biggest mistake we could make is to pretend that human nature has improved and is more trustworthy today than in the days of Robert E. Lee. Who is not bent to put their well-being and the well-being of those closest to them far above the well-being of others, most especially those who have no voice? Are we any more righteous than Lee, or are we just “lucky” we did not live in his world, so that the stain of human slavery is not also on us?
Don’t we have our own stains today? Do we really embrace the equality of all human lives? Or have we stood by in our own comforts while over 50 million defenseless little human lives have been “legally” snuffed out? Are we as much products of our time and numb to this killing as Lee and others were a product of their time? Do we really have the courage to face the horrors that we as humans are capable of committing? Or are we going to cleanse history and go on ignoring the evils of our day?
Those who framed our nation were greatly influenced by biblical teachings on human nature and biblical recorded history, which puts the failures of even its key figures on full display. Our nation did not become the most free and prosperous nation by the efforts of perfect people, but rather from the efforts of very imperfect people who understood human history well enough to know that for this new experiment in self-government to survive it required a government with both limited opportunities for, and checks against, the abuse of power.
How foolish it would be for us to “clean up” American history such that future generations cannot learn from the failures of those who came before. Ignorance of history is responsible for elitist ideas like socialism, communism and fascism that reject human equality and every human’s bent to abuse power, to grow like a cancer and deliver massive human and environmental carnage.
Mark Shepard, formerly of Bennington, served two terms in the Vermont Senate. He moved with his family to Virginia in 2011.