The left-wing war on history comes for George Washington

By Jarrett Stepman | The Daily Signal

The 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.

Wikimedia Commons/Dean Franklin

First U.S. President George Washington, left, as seen at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills region of South Dakota.

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.

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.,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

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 historian Fergus M. Bordewich, wanted to depict Washington in a less glamorized way by including images of disturbing realities. Bordewich explained:

[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. 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.

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, 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.

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.

How can men like President William McKinley, who could simply be attacked for other reasons, be celebrated?

They can’t. They too must be obliterated.

Greatness, according to the history erasers, truly belongs to the wokescolds 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.

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.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Dean Franklin

10 thoughts on “The left-wing war on history comes for George Washington

  1. It’s the minority take over of a country without firing a shot. White men now cower in fear of being called ‘toxic’. Whites are being shamed….shamed, can you believe it?….. for functioning better than any other society on the planet…… and we feel guilty!! Incredible!!! We are giving our country away to failed people from failed cultures and failed societies.

    • With all due respect, ‘whites aren’t being shamed’ and I, for one, do not ‘cower in fear’ from anyone. To degrade this debate to racial circumstances is precisely the primitive digression of cognitive reasoning Benjamin Franklin warned about.

      This debate, the ‘attack’ if you will, is on personal cognitive development and individualism. It’s based on the inherent fear of being held responsible for one’s own actions. I have good friends and know many people of various ethnic and racial backgrounds. They are all constitutional patriots. And they understand the precepts of individual liberty.

      On the other hand, I know of many others, including many prominent elected representatives, of equally various racial and ethnic backgrounds, who fall prey to what T. S. Eliot referred to as The Cocktail Party.

      “Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm; but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”

      George Bernard Shaw astutely opined that Liberty is freedom, freedom to think for ourselves and live our lives in accordance with our own rational thought. “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”.

      Eliot went on to say of the Cocktail Party:
      “If we all were judged according to the consequences
      Of all our words and deeds, beyond the intention
      And beyond our limited understanding
      Of ourselves and others, we should all be condemned.”

      I think a little introspection is in order before heaving stones at glass houses.

      • The debate was degraded under eight years of Obama. If you don’t think that whites….especially white males….aren’t being shamed you need to connect with reality. Try paying attention to what’s going on.

        • This debate has been degraded since the beginning of time. Speaking as a white male…last time I checked…believe me, I’m paying very close attention to it. That’s why I commented and suggestted that you speak for yourself, as do I. I’m secure in my own skin and gender and refuse to let anyone, be it you, Mr. Obama or anyone else, speak on my behalf or shame me. That’s what Liberty and personal responsibility is all about…the ‘content of my character’, not the color of my skin – no matter what anyone else claims my reality to be.

          • Not to mention,while these people are busy tearing down statues white men are working at the tasks at hand.Somebody has to toil for all those foodstamps,free lunches,and unlimited healthcare.And in times of war,it will always be the white man that calls the plays.

            Perhaps they’re just to tired to care.

  2. San Fransisco the city of poop maps poor tent citys on the streets, heroin needles strewing the ground.. Ya we should listen to the wise elders of crap city.. PCism is UN-American.. how about all the butt hurt snotflakes just move somewhere else where the government already takes care of their
    feelings..Maybe lady Trudeau will take ’em.

  3. Put your head in the sand Liberal America, all the shameful history that has made our
    country great won’t be gone, you may remove a few statues or monuments to help you
    sleep at night, but you’ll never erase our countries history, like it or not…………

    Like everyone we learn from our mistakes, that includes our founding fathers. They were
    men of that time and that was the way of life back then, not today’s so-called standards
    and today’s standards are pretty horrendous if you follow the Liberals mindset !!

    I bet our Founding Fathers, are rolling over in their graves seeing what this country has become
    they wrote a document that has stood the test of time, I would like to see one, just one politician
    write anything that comes close to our Constitution !!

    These Liberal fools are able to do an act as they do, because of our Constitution what a pack
    of idiots, if they tried there BS in any other country, well we know what the outcome would be.

  4. Re: “The common thread is for their views to be constantly reinforced and never challenged from without.”

    This can be said of anyone, progressive, liberal, conservative, educated or ignorant. And saying so obfuscates and further polarizes everyone.

    Re: “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.”

    No. They aren’t waging war on America’s history. They likely never learned it. And this is the fault of an over-politicized public education system more attuned to controlling public tax dollars than educating anyone. If any organization is guilty of a constantly reinforced, never challenged viewpoint, look no further than the government cronyism warned by Benjamin Franklin “…when the People shall become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other.”

    What our educators fail to realize, and fail to teach, is that the institutions of slavery and racial discrimination were ubiquitous long before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. The slave trade between African tribal leaders and Arabs was in full swing two thousand years before the Mayflower ever set sail. And the real divide between European colonists and North American natives began in earnest as a result of the Seven Years War between France and Great Britain, fully 150 years after Columbus, Champlain and Cabot explored the east coast of North America.

    The history of human individualism, beginning with the Magna Carta in 1215 AD, to the Pilgrim’s first institution of private property rights, to American independence and the U.S. Constitution, is, in my opinion, the greatest human story of all time. Indeed, Washington and the other founders inherited institutions of vile human barbarianism. But instead of attacking them as though they created all of the evils of humankind, we should understand that they’re actions were the culmination of the institutional ‘age of enlightenment’. The actual creation of a government recognizing “…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But nothing has ever changed over-night. And the human species is still in the throes of its cognitive development, even today.

    Unfortunately, Franklin’s observation is, again, on the cusp of yet another cognitive setback. Those who seek power from an uninformed, uneducated mob are well documented in our modern history. As Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Communist Party, recognized: “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted”.

    Fortunately, we still have our 1st Amendment right of free speech. Hope springs eternal.

    • Jay that was exceptionally well stated, so I don’t even need to put in but a few of my words. The basis of our problems in my opinion come from the 1960s I believe, when there was uproar on campuses and around the country and we sat there and allowed it to happen. Our answer to the problem was “This is just a phase the country is going through, let them shout and yell and it will all die down”. Well it didn’t.

      • It’s far more complicated than that.Those protests of the 60’s were the result of 50,000 young men sent to their deaths for quite literally NOTHING.

        Washington and the participants of the American Revolution were protestors of their day.That war was quite literally for EVERYTHING.

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