(The audio version of this essay can be found here.)
On last week’s podcast, I discussed the descent of western civilization from its peak of glory following victory in World War II. I mentioned Lieutenant Colonel Richard Cole, the last of the Doolittle Raiders, who was laid to rest earlier this month. I watched the recording of his memorial service at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in Texas and was struck by some things. Here were the Secretary of the Air Force, the Air Force Chief of Staff, and other high-ranking officers and dignitaries speaking at the memorial of a man whose heroic deeds occurred before any of them were born. They grew up reading about him and the other larger-than-life heroes of World War II in school, and now they have taken their places in the old institutions. Like most memorial services, Colonel Cole’s was all about remembering the man and his deeds.
Imagine going through life with the certain knowledge that you will not be remembered when you are gone. Imagine knowing that nobody will remember your name, your face, your deeds; that everything you ever do in life will vanish after your death. I cannot imagine that being anything but depressing. Life would lose its meaning if there was no chance of being remembered after you’re gone. The recent seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones have been hit or miss, but there was a line in a recent episode that stood out. As the zombie villains of the show were preparing to wipe out all humanity and to erase the memory of men from the world, the character Sam remarked that life is memory, while death is forgetting. This is what makes apocalyptic stories so terrifying; not only is humanity on the verge of extinction but there will be nobody left to even remember humanity. Gone forever are the memories of wars and battles, art and literature, architecture, stories, ideas, and philosophies. Only animals remain, crawling amongst the ruins of ancient civilizations, without any awareness of the people who lived and breathed there.
Knowing your heritage provides answers to some of life’s most fundamental questions. Where did you come from? What made you *you*? You are the sum of uncounted years of human history, the end result of millennia of growth, migration, and philosophy. The beliefs, practices, and traditions of your ancestors made you who you are, even if you reject those beliefs now. I believe that everyone has a right to be proud of their heritage, no matter which culture or nation you are a part of. Yet today we are witnessing a concerted effort to erase the heritage of Western Civilization. Whereas every other ethnic group is encouraged to be proud of their heritage, western Christians are taught to be ashamed instead. We are continually reminded that white people have no culture, as if Bach, Rembrandt, and Shakespeare never existed. We are told that we must all bear responsibility for America’s original sins of slavery and racism, yet they say we cannot claim credit for ending slavery, fighting against tyranny, or inventing all the products that make 21st century life so easy. Mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Post simultaneously tell us that white people will inevitably be replaced in America, and that replacement theory is a white-nationalist conspiracy theory.
Western heritage is also being erased in popular culture. Traditionally white characters in movies, whether based on real people or not, are often cast with non-white actors. Whenever this happens it is lauded as progressive. Achilles, Margaret of Anjou, and Alexander Hamilton are appropriated for other cultures. At the same time, if a traditionally minority character is portrayed by a white actor, media condemns it as racist, colonialist, and evil. The same effect happens in comic books as well. The latest Spider-Man is a Hispanic boy, while the new Iron Man is a Muslim girl. None of this is to say that I have anything against non-white characters or actors. What I reject is the implicit idea that white culture is not worth preserving.
Not even sports are immune from these attacks. For decades, both the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball as well as the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League have played a rendition of “God Bless America” as recorded by Kate Smith in the 1930s. This tradition has been kept for decades without issue, until last month when social justice warriors with too much time on their hands discovered recordings of Smith singing supposedly racist songs over seventy years ago. The media pounced and the teams dutifully complied, promising not to play her rendition of the patriotic song ever again. The Flyers even tore down a statue of Smith they had erected at their arena. One wonders if the next step is to dig up her body and put her on trial for racism.
The same thing is happening to the statues of Confederate heroes throughout the American south. Despite losing the Civil War, southerners remained proud of their heritage and their stand against what they saw as tyranny. They built monuments to the men who made that stand, fighting and dying for their homelands. Today, however, the south is increasingly full of people who are not related to veterans of the Confederacy. These “new southerners” have no attachment to those men or their stories. They simply see these monuments as celebrating racism and slavery, so they tear them down. Former governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley, a Republican, decided to take the confederate flag down from the grounds of the state house in Columbia after pressure from social justice warriors was amplified by the media. With all due respect to Ms. Haley, whose birth name incidentally was Nimrata Randhawa, I believe that she lacked a complete understanding of the issue. Though born in South Carolina, her parents had only recently immigrated from India. Her heritage, therefore, was not that of the South Carolina of the Revolution, the Nullification Crisis, or the Civil War, but of a nation half a world away. She had no skin in the game, and so her choice to bow to media pressure and remove a symbol of her state’s history was all too easy. Her views on the flag and the statues were those of an outsider to that culture, yet since they elected her governor the decision was hers in the end. It only takes one weak generation for monuments and memories to be destroyed forever.
There is a perverse idea in modern discourse that suggests that immigrants and their children are the real Americans while the descendants of America’s Founding Fathers are not. Anything older than the 1960s is derided as racist and therefore not worth preserving, while the contributions of “new Americans” are lauded and promoted. Every city in America has some sort of monument to Martin Luther King Jr, while Columbus Day is being erased from the calendar. New Holocaust museums are opening, commemorating the victims of an event that happened in Europe two generations ago, while museums dedicated to the heroes of the Revolution are closing their doors. The descendants of immigrants who arrived within the last century are redefining what it means to be “American”.
It is disconcerting to see the same mainstream media and academia who condemned the Taliban for destroying Buddhist statues in Afghanistan twenty years ago cheer the destruction of Confederate monuments in America. In the eyes of our media some cultures are worth preserving while others are not. There is no objective heuristic for deciding which cultures are permitted to be memorialized, save for “White man bad / People of Color good”. If we must erase Robert E. Lee from history for being a slaveowner and a rebel, then what of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson? They too owned slaves, and they too rebelled against their legitimate government. If you travel to Mongolia you will find numerous statues of Genghis Khan, a man who killed hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, as he ravaged and pillaged his way across Asia and toward Europe. Nobody expects modern Mongolians to be ashamed of this heritage, rather, they are proud of the achievements of their ancestors. And why shouldn’t they be? Genghis Khan and his family permanently carved their names into the annals of history.
A few years ago, I was taking a class on ancient Rome at university. Day one began with a butch blue-haired professor telling the class that she hated the Romans and all they stood for, because they were evil, racist, sexist, murderers. I transferred out that very afternoon, choosing instead a class on Shakespeare by a professor whose love for the subject matter was obvious. It is fine to condemn the evil actions of historical figures, but it is the wild abandon with which western culture is uniquely attacked that I find vexing. In modern discourse, white people are held uniquely responsible for the evil of their ancestors in a way no other ethnic or racial group is. Every time a Dylan Roof murders black people, Jews, or Muslims, mainstream media says that all white people must take responsibility. Yet whenever an Omar Mateen, Emmanuel Deshawn Aranda, or Osama bin Laden commits mass murder of white people or Christians, we are warned not to make the same associations. In fact, after the recent terrorist attacks against churches in Sri Lanka by Muslim radicals, several western cities added extra guards, not for churches, but for mosques! The implicit lesson here is that massacring Christians or white people is acceptable.
Heritage is important. Before the embers were even cold at Notre-Dame Cathedral, modern secular architects were already salivating at the chance to redesign the building in a modern way They are so excited at the prospect of erasing another piece of western history and replacing it with something brutal, modern, and multicultural. The glories of multiculturalism and the phrase “diversity is our strength” are pushed relentlessly by schools, journalists, and politicians. This propaganda, however, merely masks the ongoing destruction of western culture. Diversity is not a strength, as anyone who has read Robert Putnam or Charles Murray will understand. Diversity stifles trust and cooperation within a group, because everyone has a different history and perspective. The word “nation” comes from the Latin word natio, which means “birth”. The essence of a nation is a group of people who share a common language, common history, common faith, common tradition, and a common worldview. People of different backgrounds can cooperate on a limited basis, and there is no reason for them not to be friendly with each other, but they have no basis for forming a community. It takes generations of people growing up in the same environment, sharing the same beliefs, and having the same experiences to form a nation. The first century of the United States saw the formation of a nation based upon mostly English heritage. In its second century, Italians, Germans, and Irish slowly assimilated, creating a slightly different nation. Over the last generation, however, diverse peoples from across the globe have come to America while retaining their own diverse heritages. America today is not a nation, but a country that encompasses many different nations, each with its own heritage, beliefs, and ways of life.
Last summer, my family and I stopped in San Antonio and visited the Alamo. Nearly two centuries after the battle, it remains as a monument to the memory of the men who fought to defend Texas against General Santa Anna and the Mexican Army. They died to a man, but they were not forgotten – the battle cry afterward was literally “Remember the Alamo”. I wondered at the time if the current leadership of San Antonio would identify more with Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, Stephen Austin, and the others who made Texas, or if their historical loyalty would instead be to men like Santa Anna, who fought to retain Texas as part of an independent Mexico. To these leaders, who are mostly Hispanics who came here over the past few generations, the Alamo is a monument to the wrong side.
This is what happens when populations are displaced. The new citizens don’t have the same connections to the heritage of the places they now inhabit. The Taliban of Afghanistan, for example, were entirely unsentimental about the Buddhist statues. In the eyes of those young radicals, the statues were simply profane idols that must be destroyed. Right-wing news sites recently uncovered tweets by Minnesota’s Somali representative Ihlan Omar in defense of the Somali warlords who killed American soldiers in Mogadishu twenty-five years ago. They wrote about being shocked by such rhetoric, which puzzled me. Why should we be surprised that she would side with her people? It was her people who killed our people, and her people celebrate that as a triumph. Setting foot on American soil did not make Ms. Omar as American as a son of the American Revolution any more than putting your hamster in an aquarium made it a fish. If “new Americans” such as Ms. Omar have no loyalty to the Americans of 1993, then why should we expect them to have any loyalty to the Americans of 1776?
George Orwell wrote extensively about the use of language to control thought. One of the themes of his novel 1984 was that whoever controlled the past also controlled the future. By erasing or rewriting history, Big Brother was able to constrain the way people thought of their own place in history. Schoolchildren today are being taught that America is an evil, racist nation that was built upon nothing more than slavery and imperialism. They are being taught that there is nothing redeeming about white culture, that men like Bach, Rembrandt, and Shakespeare are meaningless dead white men. It only takes one weak link in a marathon to drop the baton, and it only takes one generation to erase a heritage. We see it being done before our eyes. Our ancestors knew better, thought. On a hill in Greece, near the ancient battlefield of Thermopylae, there is a stone plaque with an inscription written on it. The plaque is a modern recreation, but the words of the inscription were those recorded by Greek historian Herodotus more than two thousand years ago: “Oh stranger, tell the Lacedaemonians that here we lie, obedient to their laws.” The three hundred Spartans who defended Thermopylae against the invading Persians died to a man, just like those at the Alamo. Yet also like the Alamo, they deserve to be remembered, especially by their own people.
104 years ago today, a Canadian army doctor named Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae watched a friend die in the trenches of World War I. The next day he composed the now-famous poem that captured his thoughts at the time:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
McCrae himself would die in those same trenches three years later.
Why do we wear poppies on Memorial Day? Why do we put flowers on the gravestones of our ancestors? Why do we carve inscriptions into stone? It is because humans are a forgetful race – I have trouble remembering where I parked after an afternoon of shopping. But there are things that must not be forgotten. Our ancestors struggled and fought to create the world we now enjoy, and they deserve to be remembered. The heritage of Western Civilization is some of the greatest music, art, architecture, philosophy, and literature that the world has ever seen, and it deserves to be remembered! Even the mistakes and wrongs of our past should be remembered as a warning for our future. Every person, no matter their culture or nation, should be proud of their heritage. If you are American Indian, then remember your ancestors and their traditions. If you are Chinese, then be proud of your people’s long history of greatness. If you are Vietnamese, then take pride in the fact that your people fought mighty America to a standstill. If you are Texan, then honor the memory of the men who fought and died at the Alamo. If your family has lived in South Carolina for ten generations, then wave the Palmetto Flag and honor your rebellious fathers.
On November 11, 1778, my sixth-great-grandmother Elizabeth Campbell Dickson was murdered by Mohawk Indians during the Revolutionary War. The attack on her village was ostensibly revenge for attacks on Indian villages that were aligned with the British Crown, but that did not matter to her and her neighbors. She had been born in New England to a Scots-Irish family, while her husband had left Ireland as a teenager to start a new life in the New World. He and her older sons were fighting with the militia when the massacre occurred, and surely bore the guilt for being away for the rest of their lives. Today there stands a monument to Mrs. Dickson and the other victims of the Cherry Valley Massacre. Her descendants wanted to make sure that her name and her story would never be forgotten.
No matter who you are, your heritage matters. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. This goes especially for the sons and daughters of Western Civilization, who are watching their history being erased in front of their eyes. Hold on to it. Learn the history of your people and of your family and discover your place in the great story of mankind. Be proud of your fathers for who they were. Do not condemn their names to oblivion by erasing their memory from the earth.