In George Orwell's dystopian novel "1984," which has returned to the bestseller lists here in the age of Trump, the observation is made: "Every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped."
Since the Charlottesville showdown Aug. 12, Americans are revisiting the cascading revisionism. That showdown between the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and those who take seriously the Founding Father's efforts to forge a "more perfect union" centered on the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
In the two decades before and after the 20th century commenced, there was a concerted effort to remember the Lost Cause or the War Between the States from the southern perspective. The Daughters of the Confederacy funded, forged and erected more than a thousand statues honoring President Jefferson Davis, Gens. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, along with dozens of others, though not Gen. James Longstreet, who as New Orleans police commissioner quelled a violent white supremacist mob in 1874.
Here in Indiana, there are at least five: The Confederate Memorial in Corydon, the Confederate Mound at Crown Hill Cemetery, the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument at Garfield Park in Indianapolis which honors some 1,000 prisoners who died there, the Woodlawn Monument Site in Terre Haute, and at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Evansville that honors 24 southern POWs who died in captivity.
One of Gov. Frank O'Bannon's gleam-in-the-eye challenges was to name the two Civil War battlefields in northern states. Most remember Gettysburg, and the other was his hometown of Corydon when Morgan's raiders crossed the Ohio.
After three died and 19 were injured in Charlottesville, President Trump weighed in, saying, "Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson — who's next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!"
Historian Jon Meacham writes in the New York Times: "The answer to Mr. Trump's question begins with a straightforward test: Was the person to whom a monument is erected on public property devoted to the American experiment in liberty and self-government? Washington and Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were. Each owned slaves; each was largely a creature of his time and place on matters of race. Yet each also believed in the transcendent significance of the nation, and each was committed to the journey toward 'a more perfect Union.'"
Meacham continues: "By definition, the Confederate hierarchy fails that test. Those who took up arms against the Union were explicitly attempting to stop the American odyssey."
This should be one of those stop-and-think-for-a-minute moments. While Trump has expressed sympathies for the "fine people" among the Kluxers and Nazis, what is happening is a convulsion of revisionist history. Some is justified, as mostly African-American populations in places like Richmond, New Orleans and Baltimore lived for decades with symbols of the defenders of slavery in their parks and boulevards.
The Garfield Park monument in Indianapolis and the one in Evansville serves a purpose: Marking the graves of more than 1,000 Confederate soldiers who died there.
Do these Confederate statues confer affirmation of the Lost Cause? Or do they prompt the viewer to recall the nuances of history and context, that Gen. Lee actually broke up slave families and had his human chattel beaten and doused with brine water?
Our own historic figures can change before our eyes as history is revised. Former vice president, senator and governor Thomas Hendricks, whose statue resides on the southeastern corner of the Statehouse campus, was against the 13th, 14th and 15 Amendments, which included the abolition of slavery. Should we revisit his relevance through that prism? Or accept that he was a notable and respected statesman of his day simply reacting to issues?
Lee himself was against the statuary, believing it would be "adding to the difficulties under which the Southern people labor."
Here's the other thing to keep in mind. In a century or two, America will be a very different country than it is today, to be inhabited by browner people. Imagine if misguided passion prompted the state to remove Martin Luther King monuments, or, those of white presidents.
The perfection of the union cascades over time with the blood of tyrants and patriots via the sword and whip, and the ink of journalists.
I'm about as Yankee as you get. My great-great-grandfather, Harvey Platt, fought with the 7th Indiana, lost part of his skull in the Battle of Laurel Hill during the Wilderness campaign on May 14, 1864. Patched up with a metal plate by Union surgeons, when he returned to Napoleon, Indiana, to farm, he had to wear a cork hat to keep his brain from frying out in the cornfields.
In his memory, the notion of states seceding from the Union makes my blood boil. Of President Lincoln's passion for preserving the Union, there is no greater advocate than I.
But history is history, blood, warts and all.
Brian A. Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.