So, I have watched with great interest the events in the United States. We are living in an unprecedented time.
I remember in the early fall of 1989, I was at Western, studying history. One course, was the history of Russia, and we were speaking and learning of a time in Russian History called the “Time of Troubles”, which was an almost 20 year period of serious challenges, between the changes of the Rurik dynasty and the ascension of the Romanovs. I remember saying to my professor (Professor Ruud, a great professor) that we lived in such boring times…..the Soviet Union had been in place for a long time, detente was common (not that I wanted war….) but we spoke a lot of how things had not changed much…..then BAM, it all fell before the end of the year, and we entered a new world.
Well, we are living in these times once again. I have to admit, I greatly dislike reality tv. I have never watched Survivor, even once. I do like spoofs of reality tv, like TPB, but I have felt for the last 15 years or so, that reality tv would change our society, and maybe just a wee bit of me was correct, as the type of voters who Trump could appeal to, seemed to have challenges distinguishing truth from reality. I know some just simply agree with him, but his complete onslaught against mainstream media, and his supporters willingness to believe a guy on youtube over a highly trained journalist puts us squarely in the “interesting times” epoch.
I am not sure we can equate, however the argument over Confederate monuments and our own challenges with our history. General Lee, was not only a soldier who fought to keep a race of people as subhuman, but he was also a traitor. He openly took up arms against his own country. I wondered as I watched the arguments over the symbolism of a General Lee statue, it seemed a no-brainer.
But, now, it has come to Canada, and we have movements suggesting that some of our historical people, who accomplished great things and helped build this great country, should not be honoured due to their actions, specifically in relation to Aboriginal Peoples and Asians. This is a challenging discussion. While it is true that Sir John A. MacDonald did not lead a rebellion against Canada, he did enact policies that were clearly racist, by our standards, and that were clearly intended to physically damage a specific race of people, for the benefit of the country. Many point to the fact that he was only acting as everyone else did then, which is true, but that does not make it better, in our own eyes, does it? Perhaps a difference with the US Civil War, is the Confederate belief in race, was opposed by millions, but I fear that too is a weak argument.
My feeling tells me that we need to find a way to somehow still recognize the important roles played by historical figures in building a country that we now have and are lucky to be in, and balance it with the reality of other elements of their lives. We need to recognize that these people were operating in the culture and expectations of their time (as we are now) but recognize the evils of their ways, as well. How do we do that, without igniting flames of controversy? I think that is a good question, and it should be an interesting fall as we discuss these ideas more. I think as a country, we have to find a way to deal with these questions otherwise we risk whitewashing history.
Stay tuned, I am sure it will be some interesting times!