History is Hope

“The generation of men is like that of leaves. The wind scatters one year’s leaves on the ground, but the forest burgeons and and puts out others, as the season of spring comes round. So it is with men: on generation grows on, and another is passing away.”

-Homer, The Iliad 

On May 9th, 1865 the Confederate States of America surrendered and the American Civil War ended. There are still echoes of that conflict all through out the Untied States, both in the North and South.

Growing up in Georgia, I always heard about the Civil War. I went on field trips to monuments, watched Ken Burns’ docu-series, and even saw reenactments. The conflict was never one that interested me.

I always wondered why the Confederates didn’t march on Washington D.C., because they won most military battles. Robert E. Lee was a great general and could have easily captured the city.

The South had a more genteel style to war, that ultimately was their downfall. I don’t recall General Lee attacking civilians and sacking cities.

General William T. Sherman did attack civilian targets and sacked cities along the way during his March to the Sea.

“I can make this march, and I will make Georgia howl!”

– General William T. Sherman

The Confederates did own slaves, but The Union had no slaves not because they were morally opposed to it, but because they didn’t have need for them. The South owned slaves for almost a hundred years and they did nothing. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed a year into the war, so it appears to be an afterthought.

There are no “good guys” in war, or human history in general. The good guys write the history books and conveniently leave out any atrocities they commit along the way.

Slavery and racism are wrong, but they are a part of the human condition. Slavery is still happening, even in the United States. Tearing down statues does not change that. Treating half of your country like sub-human barbarians is not going to engender loyalty, but instead incite another civil war.

Tearing down Confederate monuments is akin to claiming the Holocaust never happened. You should want to be reminded that these atrocities happened, so you don’t repeat them.

Why not destroy Roman monuments? They practically enslaved all of Europe and killed millions of people. Why not destroy the Egyptian Pyramids? They are monuments to totalitarian dictatorships. Why not torch the Sistine Chapel? Catholicism has been responsible for corrupt acts for hundreds of years. Why not bulldoze Jerusalem? Isn’t that where the Crusades happened?

It does not make you a racist to respect history and want to be reminded. History is not a pleasant walk in the park. It is the story of hardship, blood, guts, death, and despair. But, amongst all of that anguish and turmoil, is hope that we can change.

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Crito and Civil Disobedience

Yesterday I went to the second protest at the CNN Headquarters in Atlanta. I went there with a friend who was sympathetic to that cause and we filmed the event in order to make a video that I will share when it is complete.

Looking at the small crowd of people gathered outside the building in the heat, chanting, signs held high, I felt pity for them. They were doing the best to change the world, but at best they were an irritant for passersby.

I started to think about protests in general. It seems like a relatively modern phenomenon. History is full of change induced by violence, but as far as successful peaceful gatherings, I can only think of Dr. Martin Luther King’s marches and Mahatma Gandhi’s fasting efforts off the top of my head.

It seems like a lot of historical figures didn’t advocate civil disobedience, but change through example and education. Jesus Christ of Nazareth, famously said,  “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Which leads me to Plato’s Crito. This book is about one of Socrates’ friends, Crito, who visits him in prison after he has been arrested for “corrupting the youth of Athens.” Crito earnestly tries to convince Socrates to escape, but Socrates refuses. We know from history that Socrates is convicted of that crime and is forced to commit suicide by drinking hemlock.

Soc. From these premises I proceed to argue the question whether I ought or ought not to try to escape without the consent of the Athenians: and if I am clearly right in escaping, then I will make the attempt; but if not, I will abstain. The other considerations which you mention, of money and loss of character, and the duty of educating children, are, I fear, only the doctrines of the multitude, who would be as ready to call people to life, if they were able, as they are to put them to death- and with as little reason. But now, since the argument has thus far prevailed, the only question which remains to be considered is, whether we shall do rightly either in escaping or in suffering others to aid in our escape and paying them in money and thanks, or whether we shan not do rightly; and if the latter, then death or any other calamity which may ensue on my remaining here must not be allowed to enter into thecalculation. 

Cr. I think that you are right, Socrates; how then shall we proceed? 

Soc. Let us consider the matter together, and do you either refute me if you can, and I will be convinced; or else cease, my dear friend, from repeating to me that I ought to escape against the wishes of the Athenians: for I am extremely desirous to be persuaded by you, but not against my own better judgment. And now please to consider my first position, anddo your best to answer me. 

Cr. I will do my best. 

Soc. Are we to say that we are never intentionally to do wrong, or that in one way we ought and in another way we ought not to do wrong, or is doing wrong always evil and dishonorable, as I was just now saying, and as has been already acknowledged by us? Are all our former admissions which were made within a few days to be thrown away? And have we, at our age, been earnestly discoursing with one another all our life long only to discover that we are no better than children? Or are we to rest assured, in spite of the opinion of the many, and in spite of consequences whether better or worse, of the truth of what was then said, that injustice is always an evil and dishonor to him who acts unjustly? Shall we affirm that? 

Cr. Yes. 

Soc. Then we must do no wrong? 

Cr. Certainly not. 

Soc. Nor when injured injure in return, as the many imagine; for we must injure no one at all? 

Cr. Clearly not. 

Soc. Again, Crito, may we do evil? 

Cr. Surely not, Socrates.

You can read Crito in full for free (legally) HERE.

Socrates didn’t escape and start some Pan-Hellenic resistance because he knew that it would cause more harm than good. He had been judged guilty and even though he disagreed with it, it would be hypocritical of him to flee from the law when he advocated obedience of the law.

I know protesting is legal in Atlanta, but I do not believe it is as effective as leading a good life and having good ideas. Have discussions, be skeptical, and don’t be afraid to ask a question. We are all students of life and our goal should be to learn as much as possible.

Do you agree or disagree with this article? Please comment your thoughts.

All are welcome here. Please be respectful, courteous, and patient with your fellow readers.

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