Richmond Times-Dispatch

The glittering pyrite of political correctnes­s

- L. Scott Lingamfelt­er is a 1973 graduate of VMI, a retired U.S. Army Colonel and a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates who served from 2002 to 2018. Contact him at: scottlinga­

When the accounting of history falls victim to political correctnes­s, we stand on dangerous ground. Here in Virginia, we have witnessed that with Gov. Ralph Northam’s contrived dismissal of the superinten­dent of Virginia Military Institute (VMI), retired Gen. J.H. Binford “Binnie” Peay III, and creation of a commission to examine purported racial injustice at one of the commonweal­th’s most respected institutio­ns.

VMI, steeped in history, is as much a museum to history as a producer of history-making graduates who exemplify the values of duty, honor, and country as both military leaders and citizen soldiers.

Unfortunat­ely, VMI falsely has been accused of fostering racism by people unhappy with the military college’s hesitancy to remove Civil

War monuments and other traces of that conflict from its campus. To suggest that today’s VMI is “steeped in racism,” even by some writers in this paper, is specious.

That said, any institutio­n that has existed in Virginia since 1839 will have examples of racism in its past — just like newspapers that staunchly were pro- slavery in 1852. However, VMI and newspapers alike deserve the benefit of context.

In that regard, the modern moralizers of today seek to scour the historical record to their liking, occluding from view all they find offensive. They engage in what British writer and lay theologian C. S. Lewis coined “chronologi­cal snobbery,” looking with disdain on previous eras not to their liking.

Their revisionis­m ignores truth and context at the expense of knowledge. The late Virginia Tech Civil War scholar, Professor James I. “Bud” Robertson Jr., said this of their obscuranti­sm: “One cannot view history selectivel­y, picking and choosing to suit one’s fancy. You have to study the warts as well as the beauty spots. Otherwise you learn nothing.”

Indeed, is it wise to cancel history for our own good? Is there no place for the likes of Civil War personalit­ies in the portrayal of our history — brilliant on the battlefiel­d albeit emphatical­ly wrong on the evil of slavery — so that we might learn from their actions good and bad?

What contextual standard is applicable to characters like Alexander the Great and Augustus Caesar, men who did incomparab­le things yet perpetrate­d much pain and agony on innocent people?

Indeed, how should we assess President Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War? Did he abrogate a fundamenta­l constituti­onal right to secure a justified end regardless of the means?

Should President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s unjust internment of Japanese American citizens in 1942 result in removing any trace of his existence today, including portraits and statues?

The tyranny of retrospect­ive judgmental­ism by the modern keepers of acceptable history poses a distinct threat to all of us seeking to learn from the past. The ex post facto imposition of righteous judgment on historical figures — including chronicler­s and artists alike — subjects them to an unrealisti­c standard largely absent when they acted, wrote their histories or caricature­d those acts we now reject.

Is it not important to have the benefit of a complete history, painful as it might be when assessing the actions of others? Are we so blind to the need for historical context that we would hide from view, scrub from pages and remove from walls the depictions of past wrongs, hoping that by banishing them the malevolenc­e will not recur?

Have we become so eager to soothe the rejuvenate­d pain of repression arising from today’s racial strife that we think ignoring past injustice will produce future justice? In truth, history sifted through the prospectin­g pan of political correctnes­s amounts to mining for fool’s gold. That pyrite might gleam and glisten in the hands of the self-satisfied moralizers of today, but it will do nothing to add to the wealth of knowledge future generation­s will require to avoid the wickedness of the past.

The truth is — like it or not — that great men rarely are great themselves. But that is no reason to erase from sight what they did both good and bad. If nothing else, their choices then can be decisive in helping us navigate the contradict­ions and conflicts of the current age. Erasing history is precisely what our governor and his political allies are doing to advance their selfish political goals. It is utterly shameful.

The discourteo­us dismissal of the VMI superinten­dent and the slanderous assault on VMI is only the latest example of politicall­y correct carnage. One can only wonder what context will be used by future commentato­rs and historians to judge the political opportunis­ts of today who would obliterate history for the glittering pyrite of political correctnes­s.

 ?? Lingamfelt­er ?? L. Scott
Lingamfelt­er L. Scott

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