Future demands remembering history 'objectively'

Will Hebert

Editor's commentary

Will Hebert


No human being can live up to the image of a person the mind can create. After the imaginary personality of an individual has been hyped for many years, the popular idea of how someone thinks, feels and behaves inevitably becomes vastly different from the reality of the inner person.

This happens with modern heroes after only a few decades. It grows extraordinarily with historical heroes after a few centuries.

Youthful education sometimes lacks complete story

In elementary school, we were told a black-and-white story about the tyrannical English monarch, against whom the just and noble founding fathers revolted in the name of freedom and human decency. In college, further examination tells a more complicated story.

The notion of a king telling all the people what to do is simple and inaccurate. The English government at the time of the colonies was made up of committees, councils and legislative branches.

In elementary school, we learned Patrick Henry shouted, “If these be treason, let us make the most of it,” after some suggested his questioning of British laws was treasonous. Other sources suggested he sat down and apologized for his remarks after such accusations.

It is true the colonial English versions of these governmental groups featured less representation from common people, which was one of the main concerns of the colonists who revolted. Part of the colonists’ offense to the lack of representation was the ability of the English government, particularly Parliament, to tax the people of the colonies without their consent.

What was left from the equation in elementary school was the colonists were making more money than any others in the English empire and being taxed the least. I learned in my history class at Laramie County Community College that most Englishmen in Britain paid about one-third of their income to taxes, while American Englishmen paid about one-20th of their income.

Considering the amount of money the English government spent protecting and supplying the colonies, it would seem fair the colonists help ease the burden.

Icons of the past were not the storybook heroes of legend

As children, we learned winning the Revolutionary War created a new land of previously unknown freedom and changed the world for the better. As adults, we see debates and arguments that were fought more than 200 years ago raging again today.

The heroic images we have created for these figures contradict the individuals we were told to admire.

We were all taught America was founded on religious freedom because the original colonists had to flee from persecution themselves. It is left out, however, they had no qualms about persecuting Native Americans, Catholics and Jews because of religion.

Patrick Henry even proposed states implement Christian instruction in the curriculum of early American schools.

Let’s also not forget that whole bit in the U.S. Constitution about “all men being created equal,” which was written at the same time Africans were being shipped to America to be claimed as property and Native Americans were having their crops burned and lands taken by colonists.

In junior high school, we were told Nathanial Bacon was an early champion for the poor farmers of the colonies. Other sources indicated he used racism to manipulate the working class and was a bigot toward Native Americans.

We should promote ideals, not romanticize figures

I don’t mean to be purposefully pessimistic, but the storybook versions of these people we were introduced to as children make their real flaws much worse. Many good ideas came from these early leaders, and the entire process could be viewed as a step in the right direction.

Thomas Jefferson, for instance, was an outspoken opponent to slavery and promoted a secular state.

Benjamin Franklin and his brother William founded one the first newspapers in America, promoted a free press and opposed censorship.

These people helped promote progressive thought, but the romanticized versions we have created put them above criticism. If we do not openly criticize them, we will not be as aware of their mistakes, thus never learning from those missteps.

If we focus more on promoting the ideals than the individuals, we can examine the past more objectively and benefit from it more.

If we acknowledge the English monarchy wasn’t quite as evil as they have been made to sound and the original colonists weren’t quite as innocent, perhaps we can boil down the issues of the past to find what was really important about the American Revolution.

In so doing, we may gain a greater perspective about issues such as the American economy and tax rates, which could help us boil down what is really worth fighting for.

Even at LCCC, the coming of new leadership requires us to examine attributes we didn’t like about previous leaders and decide what attributes our new leader must possess.