ISIS did not destroy America but Cancel Culture might. Protesters destroying American monuments are reminiscent of the Islamic State attempt to cleanse history.
- “The great mass of humanity will be more easily led by a big lie than by a small one.” (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1939).
American psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 2002 for his research into the power of “availability bias,” a sort of groupthink in which a proposition is widely accepted as true merely because it has been repeated in the media. Kahneman’s research challenged the long-held, view that people make decisions rationally, based on their own self-interest. His research demonstrated that groupthink can result in irrational decisions that are contrary to self-interest.
The threat of groupthink, though not in so many words, was at the heart of George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, about a future totalitarian society in which human will is controlled by established norms. Since Orwell wrote his landmark novel, studies have shown that decision-making groups often fall victim to groupthink, a phenomenon that excessively demands group concurrence and condemns dissent. Members blindly convince themselves that the group’s position is correct by suppressing all evidence to the contrary. It sounds very familiar.
We have heard a multitude of examples in recent months. Some of our leaders have embraced the groupthink, for example, that Covid-19 is easily spread among Catholics at Mass but not at all among mass protesters, plunderers, and rioters in a “woke” demand to cleanse our history. Any dissent from the current doctrine is met with group condemnation.
History would call this “The March of Folly.” My favorite among the many historians I have read is Barbara Tuchman, twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize. And my favorite among her books is The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam. In it, Dr. Tuchman analyzes four turning points in history that illustrate a group’s actions against its own self-interest.
Her choices for this analysis were: the Trojan War; the breakup of the Holy See provoked by the Renaissance Popes; The loss of the American Colonies by Britain’s King George III, and the United States’ folly in Vietnam. Her Introduction contains a wise caveat that should be the hallmark of every historian:
- “Nothing is more unfair than to judge men of the past with the ideas of the present.” (The March of Folly, Ballantine 1984, p.5)
Were Barbara Tuchman alive in some distant future, I wonder if she might add a fifth turning point: The folly of 2020, the point at which America turned on itself by destroying its monuments to history, committing on a national sale the same unfair judgment of the past that Tuchman described above.
History must be clearly understood by every generation lest it repeat itself. When the Third Reich came to power in 1939 Germany, it was all about amassing power by convincing the people that certain of their neighbors, and certain of their neighbors’ ideas, were dangerous. Books were burned. Monuments were destroyed by fired-up mobs. Businesses were looted and burned to the ground. The past was stripped away from the present.
AN INDEPENDENCE DAY ADDRESS AT MOUNT RUSHMORE
The usual critics were loudly vocal, but not exactly truthful, about President Trump’s speech on the eve of Independence Day before a crowd gathered at Mount Rushmore. The memorial features the heads of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.
The impressively massive sculpture was carved into the granite rim of Mount Rushmore 500 feet above the valley floor. Each face is 60 feet tall. The monument was begun in 1927 and completed in 1941 as the United States entered World War II.
The rhetoric surrounding the President’s appearance there has been astonishing. The viral disparagement that took place among much of the U.S. news media is evidenced in these headlines:
Los Angeles Times:
- “At Mt. Rushmore, Trump Uses Fourth of July Celebration to Stoke a Culture War”
New York Times:
- “Trump Uses Mount Rushmore Speech to Deliver Divisive Culture War Message”
- “Trump Pushes Racial Divisions, Flouts Virus Rules at Rushmore”
- “At Mount Rushmore, Trump Exploits Social Divisions, Warns of ‘Left-Wing Cultural Revolution’ in Dark Speech Ahead of Independence Day”
Senator Tammy Duckworth at CNN:
- “What really struck me about the speech… was that [Trump] spent more time worried about honoring dead confederates. [He] spent all his time talking about dead traitors.”
The claims from Senator Duckworth seemed the most puzzling of all. Even The New York Times, no fan of this President, reported that Mr. Trump “avoided references to the symbols of the Confederacy.” In a later article, the Times added, “[Trump] avoided specifically mentioning anything related to Confederate monuments!” He never mentioned any of the “dead confederates” cited by Senator Duckworth who appears not to have actually heard the speech.
During the presidential primaries of 2016, some of the same media reported on Senator Bernie Sanders’ visit to Mount Rushmore. Of the monument itself, Mr. Sanders was quoted: “It really does make one proud to be an American.” When Mr. Trump spoke there on the eve of Independence Day 2020, a CNN reporter characterized it as a speech “in front of a monument to two slave owners on land wrestled away from Native Americans.”
Somehow between 2016 and 2020, Mount Rushmore – and America itself – became a symbol of oppression to the media left. The Wall Street Journal’s assessment was vastly different, however. In “Trump at Mount Rushmore,” a lead editorial of July 6, 2020, editors commended the President for delivering “one of the best speeches of his presidency”:
- “Contrary to the media reporting, the America Mr. Trump described is one of genuine racial equality and diversity. He highlighted the central idea of the Declaration of Independence that ‘all men are created equal.’ As he rightly put it, ‘These immortal words set in motion the unstoppable march of freedom’ that included the abolition of slavery.”
In a published Letter to the Editor on July 6, 2020, one Wall Street Journal reader wrote that after following all the anti-Trump Facebook rhetoric about the Mount Rushmore speech, he conducted a little experiment. He posted an excerpt of the speech on Facebook, but without attribution. The passage was:
- “We are the country of Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Frederick Douglass. We are the land of Wild Bill Hickock and Buffalo Bill Cody. We are the nation that gave rise to the Wright Brothers, the Tuskegee Airmen, Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Jesse Owens, General George Patton, the great Louis Armstrong, Alan Shepherd, Elvis Presley, and Muhammad Ali. And only America could have produced them all. No other place.”
The passage merited a barrage of Facebook “likes” from the same people who had been condemning the President’s Mount Rushmore speech – obviously without ever actually hearing or reading it.
THE EMANCIPATION MEMORIAL
Another debate has been raging over a longstanding Washington, DC monument in Lincoln Park known as the “Emancipation Memorial.” The monument was dedicated on that site in 1876 by Frederick Douglass, a former slave who campaigned for the abolition of slavery. His widely celebrated autobiography described his life as a slave in the South, as a fugitive in the North, and as a prominent African American orator, journalist, and antislavery leader.
In later life Frederick Douglass worked for full civil rights for African Americans while holding several U.S. government positions. Despite his dedication of the Emancipation Monument, he had misgivings about its design. The current controversy over the monument unearthed a previously unknown letter in which Douglass wrote that the former slave depicted there, “while rising, is still on his knees.”
Two Letters in The Wall Street Journal (July 7, 2020) captured the opposing views of the controversial monument. One writer knew its history. The other judged it solely by impressions of the present when separated from its history. I leave it to you to decide which expresses the monument’s original meaning:
- WSJ Reader 1: “The image shows a clear hierarchy of power – Abraham Lincoln with elegant clothes dominating Archer Alexander [a former slave] wearing only a piece of cloth… No back story, facts or prestigious titles you wave in our faces will convince people to see ‘emancipation’ there. What might have been questionably allowed in 1892 isn’t acceptable now.”
- WSJ Reader 2: “The scene depicted actually happened. Admiral David Dixon Porter accompanied President Lincoln to Richmond to accept the surrender of the Confederacy, and recounted the story in his 1885 memoir. Lincoln was recognized by hundreds of newly freed slaves who crowded him. When one fell to the ground at his feet, Lincoln said: ‘Do not kneel to me. You must kneel only to God and thank Him for your liberty. Liberty is your birthright. God gave it to you as he gave it to all others. It is a sin that you have been deprived of it for so many years.’ It was Admiral Porter’s account that inspired the statue’s design. Little more than one week later, Lincoln was dead.”
UNDERSTAND HISTORY OR BE DOOMED TO REPEAT IT
Ignorance of history misleads and degrades us, and diminishes those who have struggled before us. Back in 2015, I wrote a controversial post about ISIS, the Islamic State of Iran and Syria that terrorized the free world for the last decade.
One of Islamic State’s powerful tools for propaganda was the image above. Twenty-one young men, Christians abducted from Egypt, were marched onto a beach in Libya and beheaded by masked Islamic State terrorists as the world watched in horror. My post was entitled, “Copts, Catholics, and the Crusades of ISIS.”
Like so much in the Middle East, there were aspects of this incident that many Americans neither knew nor understood. The executions were an assault on the heart of Christian cultural history in the Middle East. The Coptic faith takes its name from the Arabic word, “القبطية” and the Greek, “Αιγύπτιος” which simply means “Egyptian.” Coptic Christians comprise the major Christian denomination in Egypt.
The English name, “Copts” simply points to the denomination’s origin. Tradition attributes the Coptic Christian sect to Saint Mark the Evangelist and his legendary preaching of Christianity in Egypt after the Resurrection of Christ,. The Islamic State attack depicted above was not just meant to end the lives of those 21 young Christians. It was meant to demoralize any hope that the Western World placed in its own religious culture. As the West abandons that culture under the pressure of a “Cancel Culture” movement, Islam sneers.
Just two months before the deadly scene above took place, some members of Islamic State carried out a carefully planned attack at the Paris, France offices of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. Eight of the magazine’s staff were brutally killed in retaliation for publishing a disrespectful image of Mohammed.
In reaction to the brutality, a French entrepreneur created a T-shirt which sold to demonstrators by the thousands containing the words, “Je suis Charlie,” (I am Charlie). It was an attempt to express solidarity with the magazine’s murdered staff. The title of the post I wrote in response might be better understood today given what is happening in the “Cancel Culture” movement. My title was also in French, “Je suis Charlie? J’étais Jonas!” The title in English was, “I am Charlie? I was Jonah.”
Just weeks before Islamic State’s death raid at Charlie Hebdo, ISIS carried out a far more destructive attack – destructive of history, at least. Islamic State blew up the tomb of the Prophet Jonah at the ancient archeological site of Nineveh near Mosul in Northern Iraq.
The Biblical Book of Jonah relates the life of the Hebrew Prophet Jonah. In the Eighth Century B.C., Jonah was commanded by God to “go to Nineveh,” a great city in what is today Muslim-controlled Iraq, and to call its people to repentance. Jonah was not to convert them from Islam, as often erroneously believed, because Islam did not exist until fourteen centuries later.
Nonetheless, feeling the task to be impossible, Jonah boarded a ship “to flee the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3,10). A storm rose, and, blaming Jonah, the frightened mariners threw him overboard. Jonah was then swallowed by “a great whale” (1:17). From its belly, he prayed and was thus “vomited out upon dry land” (2:1-10). Jonah was again commanded by God to “go to Nineveh to proclaim the message that I tell you” (3:2). He finally went, did his best, and the people of Nineveh repented.
Many Biblical commentators regard the book as allegorical. The story of Jonah and the whale that swallowed him is often taken by Christians to prefigure the entombment and Resurrection of Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself compares his entombment with Jonah’s:
- “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, the Son of Man will be in the heart of the Earth. The people of Nineveh will rise with this generation and condemn it because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah. And see, something greater than Jonah is here!” (Matthew 12:39-41)
It was not just the tomb of the Prophet that ISIS set out to destroy. It was its deep significance rooted in both Hebrew and Christian Scripture and faith. The world seemed to miss this significance, oblivious to its history and to why ISIS wanted to wipe it out. The terrorists of Islamic State knew this history well. Part of their contempt for Western Culture is that they knew it while most Americans – those who profess to adhere to Judeo-Christian traditions – did not.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2001
This was also true for that terrible day of infamy – September 11, 2001. The terrorist group, Al-Qaeda organized attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and on the Pentagon across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. That day is now engraved on our collective American conscience. I once wrote about that day from an unusual perspective in “September 11, 2001: An Account of that Day You Haven’t Heard.”
On that day, 19 terrorists hijacked four passenger aircraft soon after their departures from airports in Boston, Massachusetts, Newark, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. Two of the planes were deliberately flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. By the end of that day, both buildings collapsed.
A third aircraft was flown into the Pentagon, where the U.S. Department of Defense was located and severely damaged. Simultaneously, passengers aboard a fourth aircraft learned of the other attacks. They heroically struggled to disarm and subdue the hijackers, crashing the plane into a field in rural Pennsylvania. The death toll in all totaled about 3,000 people.
The above account explains what happened, but few Americans understood why it happened. Over three centuries earlier, on the night of September 11, 1683, Muslim invaders from the Ottoman Empire suffered a humiliating defeat in an epic struggle as they invaded Western Europe. The struggle between the Ottoman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire had raged on for some 300 years.
On September 11, 1683, a massive invading Ottoman army, some 200,000 strong, was held back at Vienna and crushed by Polish forces numbering only 15,000. As elements within Islam became radicalized in the late Twentieth Century, September 11 – their own Day of Infamy – was chosen for an attack on America. The terrorists knew this history. Most Americans did not.
History cannot be cleansed or revised to the whims of a “woke” culture. It is time for America to wake up the woke and cancel Cancel Culture. Self-righteous ignorance of history is the only benefit of destroying monuments reflecting both its great and its ugly realities. We extinguish history to our peril.
Democracy has a far more effective means for people to redirect culture without riots, without destruction, and without tearing down our history. It’s called an election.
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Editor’s Note: Please give some volume to this Voice in the Wilderness by sharing this post with others and on your social media. Please Subscribe to These Stone Walls and Follow us on Facebook. You may also like these other adventures in history:
- Poetic Justice: Say Not the Struggle Not Availeth
- Hitler’s Pope, Nazi Crimes, and The New York Times
- Where Were You When Neil Armstrong Walked on the Moon?
- Notre Dame Burned but the Smoke of Satan Is More Subtle