Riley Parr: We ought not view history through contemporary lens


Not long ago, a friend of mine and I were discussing various political topics. We’re from vastly different ideological perspectives. At one point, we got onto the topic of the Betsy Ross flag, Colin Kaepernick and Nike.

I pointed out that President Obama had the Betsy Ross flag at his inauguration. She responded, in effect, that, “Liberals just didn’t know what it stood for then.” A thought, interestingly enough, that bears a striking resemblance to the method of interpreting the Constitution as a living, breathing document: It’s really been hiding in plain sight the entire time; everybody else just must have missed it.

Or, in some cases, people have become so offended by a symbol that it merits removal. So thought the powers that be at Indiana University in Bloomington who recently spent several hundred thousand dollars to remove small tiles that had swastikas on them in what’s now known as the Intramural Center. (It had been called the Wildermuth Intramural Center, in honor of former university Trustee Ora Wildermuth until last year, when the trustees changed it because of Wildermuth’s ties to racist attitudes toward African Americans.)

Except the tiles pre-dated World War II. So, the swastikas represented good luck, or in other cultures, prosperity, the footprints of Buddha, and—just for Marvel fans—Thor.

A former IU professor told me he had spoken to a WWII veteran about IU’s decision, and the veteran had said none of the thousands of GIs at IU in the late 1940s observed the malfeasant tiles, or at least they didn’t care.

This isn’t the first time IU has acted very illiberally. A mural above a large lecture hall in one of the academic buildings depicts Indiana’s past and includes the KKK. The university no longer holds classes in the room out of fear that students might feel triggered or oppressed.

The philosophy underlying these actions is frightening: It ascribes the morals of today to generations past. This mindset represents the 2019 version of Allan Bloom’s “Closing of the American Mind.” Several fiction books also come to mind.

To logically extend censorship of the Betsy Ross flag, removal of the tiles, or disavowing the historical murals illustrates the absurdity of the doctrine. With this line of thinking, in retribution for WWII, no longer should the United States allow any German, Italian or Japanese car within its borders.

Moreover, not putting the Betsy Ross flag on Nike shoes shouldn’t satisfy those who celebrate the decision. All stars on the 50-star U.S. flag that represent a state that allowed slavery should be removed. And any state flag that includes similar symbolism should be likewise altered or abolished.

While we’re at it, don’t remove just Andrew Jackson from the currency—remove George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Alexander Hamilton from all paper currency, and Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Washington from all coinage. And for the coup-de-grace, literally blast Mount Rushmore out of existence.

Under this brave new world of using contemporary standards to measure somebody whose quite literally monumental contributions laid the groundwork for the most prosperous people to inhabit the earth, nobody is safe. The irony, of course, is that society’s values will continue to change, and in the not-so-distant future, those who today chastise those in the past will then take the place as the historical figures sought to be erased from history.

It need not be this way. We can recognize that those who came before us made mistakes and were wrong about some things. But that shouldn’t diminish their accomplishments. And it shouldn’t mean that we doom all prior civilizations, thinkers and leaders as knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.•


Parr is a student at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis and is executive director of the Indiana Young Republicans and president of the IU McKinney Federalist Society. Send comments to [email protected]

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One thought on “Riley Parr: We ought not view history through contemporary lens

  1. Excellent perspective. It is important to understand the perspective of those who are labeled “liberal”. Not universally, but in general, liberals feast on a cause that stimulates great passion, emotion and outrage. There is often a lack of any consideration for a “balanced” treatment of the cause or topic under consideration. Rarely if ever is the “upside” of a historical matter presented or considered with the “downside”. Quite simply, a balanced consideration would fail to evoke the desired outrage to rally the troops in the media, Washington, state capitols, social media and universities. And in the liberals mind, no outrage produces no change or progress. Thus, the imbalanced, absurd doctrine is not only acceptable, but totally desirable. The perhaps unintended, but possibly “irrelevant to the liberal” consequence to this one-sided approach to effect change, is that people become “divided” into “polarized factions” that tear at the very fabric of the union so many from our Founding Fathers generation and every generation since, have sacrificed “all” for … for the benefit and welfare of others. Not perfect sacrifices, not without mistakes and undesirable atrocities, but more often than not, with a genuine humility to put the welfare and lives of others, regardless of race, creed, religion or origin, ahead of their own welfare and lives.

    Many injustices exist in our current culture. Violent crime, a broken criminal justice system, inequities in the workplace, needless poverty and ignorance all come to mind. As misguided as most liberals are in “the absurd doctrine of ascribing the morals of today to generations past”, they may feel justified … as to them those labeled conservative, or for that matter, the culture at large, has no motivation to seriously address the many social ills and injustices that exact a real and horrible impact on many human beings in this country and beyond. They may be right. A central question we should all answer is “How can we rally the troops to correct the many social injustices that currently harm our fellow brothers and sisters, without dividing, polarizing and alienating one another?” “How can we work together to help those that truly need help, in a manner that will make them more self-sufficient and provide them with the dignity of realizing all the human potential they possess by becoming successful in life?” And “how can we put this on the front burner?”

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