When visiting Jerusalem, I typically make my way down King George Street as I journey to the Western Wall to pray. Millions of Israelis likewise traverse King George Street every year. None of these people thinks of changing the street’s name or takes offense to it.
King George Street, which is one of Jerusalem’s most central and important thoroughfares, was named in 1924 by British officials to mark the seventh year of Great Britain’s conquest of Jerusalem under General Edmund Allenby. Although the naming ceremony for King George Street was presided over by Great Britain’s military governor, and mention of British rule over Jerusalem from 1917-1948 undoubtedly evokes memories of injustice and repression, Israelis understand the historical significance of the street’s name and the role of this history in the development of Jerusalem and the modern state of Israel. They can also contrast to that history the gracious humanitarian wartime assistance of Great Britain to Jewish German children who otherwise would have been murdered as well as Great Britain’s good treatment of its Jewish citizens. Painful memories do not obscure deeper truths of common humanity and purpose.
One might argue that a street named after a former adversarial occupying power should be changed and renamed after a native son; yet no one in Israel feels so compelled. Instead, King George Street retains its name and preserves an important piece of history for a nation and land whose connections to the past are in large measure the basis for its future.
Every nation must be reminded of its political and societal development and progress. To deny any expression of the historical Confederate narrative of the South is to deny the South a vision of much of its origins and evolution since the Confederate States of America fell in defeat and undertook the long mission of Reconstruction and reform. Looking back and appreciating one’s origins and heritage, along with where one stands today, is critical to a sense of self-awareness and justice—both personal and communal.
Having grown up in Central Florida, where Confederate flags and monuments were somewhat common, I can state with certainty that almost no one read deeply into them and thought that they were anything other than markers of history. Most of these flags and monuments were displayed and erected not by cruel and mentally ill people who ram cars into young women, but by people with a sense of history and the need to preserve it.
Years ago, President George W. Bush defended flying the Confederate flag over the Texas State capitol dome, explaining that the six flags were displayed to signify the state’s history. The flags of Spain, France, and Mexico fly over that grand edifice for the same reason. It is history, not racism.
Sadly, a significant part of the Leftist agenda has been the obliteration of history rather than its preservation. Orwell depicted this so vividly, and we see it before our eyes today, as all public traces of historical personalities and events which can now be identified with socially unacceptable ideas are being subjected to eradication by left wing politicians. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is seriously considering the removal of the famed statue of Christopher Columbus from Manhattan’s Columbus Circle (which, of course, would need to be renamed); the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. would be updated to reflect the “complexity” of Thomas Jefferson in terms of slavery and social mores; much more of this is coming.
Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, while governors of Georgia and Arkansas respectively, honored the Confederate flag and continued to authorize its prominent display on state land. Should the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, and that of Bill Clinton, be shut down, and should the historical records of these men now be revised to reflect their Confederate apologia?
To live in a sanitized vacuum of time, in which all that does not conform with present-day norms is filtered out and banished, is to be blinded of perspective, appreciation, a trajectory of destiny, and even self-identity. The Torah commanded the Children of Israel to uproot live manifestations of idolatry from the Land of Israel, yet the Talmud notes that the names of several Biblical cities reflect the idolatrous past and history of transgression that were associated with these places. The Talmud explains it was necessary for the people to be reminded of previous infractions, lest these acts be repeated, and that an appreciation of God redeeming the people from a culture of idolatry was to be gained by preserving memories of those former times.
Obliteration of all public traces of the Confederate States of America is perhaps the best way to make America vulnerable to future intolerance and to forget its identity, mission, and national aspirations.
Let us remember the past, understand it, and embrace its lessons and the meritorious values that it preserves. Let us not deny history and fail to internalize its crucial messages for the future.