Posted on March 12, 2016


It seems we have a buzz going with the University’s recent declared mission to purge history of unlovely characters, especially John Tyler Morgan, in the past few months. Let’s consider purging a bit since the verb does have some useful meanings for us all.

Merriam-Webster’s simple definition is to “remove people from an area, country, organization, etc. often in a violent and sudden way.” The full definition includes a: “to clear of guilt,” and b: “to free from moral or ceremonial defilement.” The last meaning also is of interest to us is c: (1) “to rid (as a nation or party) by a purge (2): to get rid of <the leaders had been purged.>

It was often applied to actions by totalitarian regimes, like the old Soviet Union, and Communist China, to get rid of unwanted elements challenging their authority. In these purges, not only were scores and hundreds “purged,” but thousands and millions were killed.

The leaders of these totalitarian regimes were not satisfied with simply killing and getting rid of their critics and enemies. They also rewrote history to suit their ideology. So we have the Soviet history of what happened in the past, and the real history.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, for example, wrote of the “gulag archipelago,” the secret and not-so-secret camps where the Soviets imprisoned hundreds of thousands who did not follow the Marxist ideology as interpreted and put into action by the Communist party in the Soviet Union.

For those curious about the term “political correctness,” now bandied about in this country by proponents and opponents, it came from the Marxist dictatorships of places like Russia and China where to be politically correct was not an option, but a mandate.

And if you are too old to remember, “brain washing” also came out of this era as the KGB and other agencies sought to cleanse Solzhenitsyn of his irrational devotion to the truth. He wanted to remember and tell history as it was, not to suit current fancy or prejudice or ideology. H eventually received a Nobel Prize in Literature and came to United States where he lived in exile for many years before being allowed to return to Russia where he died.

He was an extraordinary man whose insights on both his native Russia, and the West, are often spot on. He was a victim of political purging and brain washing in a nation at the time—the old Soviet Union—determined to ensure that everyone was “politically correct.” And rewriting history to suit your purposes was a major instrument in maintaining the purity of the Marxist regime in Russia

When we purge our own history, we are basically committing a crime against ourselves. Our history, BTW, is immensely complex, driven by some very high principles but marred by some equally grievous behavior. You don’t have to be a scholar to recognize that the American Civil War was really about slavery, not states’ rights, although that point of view had some credence given the way the Constitution was created. It’s not simple.

Racism continued well past the Civil War, all the way well into the twentieth century, and it still exists today in one form or another. And you can shout your opinion from the rooftops and still walk a free man. Try that in a politically correct Marxist regime such as the one Solzhenitsyn lived under, and into the gulag you went.

The Statue of Liberty welcomed all to come to the land of the brave and the free, but we treated immigrants—the Irish, Poles, Chinese, and others—like dirt until they settled in after two or three generations and became more “American.”

Free enterprise capitalism created an immense middle class that gives us many strengths, but without some rules and guidelines established by government, free enterprise also created small pockets of immense wealth and power. Free enterprise is driven by many factors, some noble, like inventiveness, science, realizing your dream, etc. and some gross, like plain greed. It is complex.

You get the drift. And how do we know all this about our country? You are right. It is our history, just like your genealogy explains where your family came from and what they did.

History can be a harsh taskmaster. You will discover, for example, people in the history of the University of Alabama who are not spotless examples of humankind. Some were deeply flawed by racism. But you can’t change that by some symbolic act like renaming a building.

Some want to rename Morgan Hall and so satisfy our contemporary prejudices and perceived offenses. Senator John Tyler Morgan, the racist, also talked Congress into giving the University 40,000 acres of federal coal lands in the 1880s, to start the rebuilding of the modern University.

History is not simple.

Published as “Purging History is Dicey” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday Feb. 28, 2016



Posted in: History, Politics