Today is my dad’s 83rd birthday and I woke up thinking about the impact he’s had on my life.  One of the gifts he gave me was an appreciation for the importance of history.

He was taught history in what I call a romanticized fashion;  it’s how my school teachers taught history as well.  Americans were always the heroes, the good guys.  American heroes were virtuous and you learned about their virtues because the goal was not merely to learn events, but to encourage the development of good character

That George Washington or Abe Lincoln were capable of doing bad things never entered my mind.  They were brave and virtuous and fought for truth, justice, and the American way, and this was a good thing.

I think I saw things this way because I learned what these men did in light of their writings and speeches which conveyed their ideals.  So, I was taught the ideals and those aspects of their lives that reflected those ideals.  American history was interpreted in light of those ideals and taught to reinforce those ideals.

I don’t recall learning much about the Trail of Tears or Wounded Knee or the details of slavery or Jim Crow laws until I was well into young adulthood.  They were mentioned as events that happened; but we didn’t learn much detail about them because they didn’t reinforce the ideals I was supposed to learn.

That’s what I mean by “romanticized fashion”.  The good and the virtuous is glorified while the evils and vices are either glossed over or played down.

I don’t regret learning in the romanticized fashion.  We need examples and heroes to emulate so presenting their virtues first lays a good foundation.  What happens if you start with vices?

That seems to be the way history is taught now.  Revisionist history, including the critical race theory causing so much upheaval these days, is a reaction to the romanticizing of history.  It sees romanticizing as lying and aims to demonize what was once romanticized by focusing on the faults and evils of our heroes.

Vice, it seems to be concluded, cancels out any and all virtue.  For example, if a man once owned slaves, there couldn’t possibly be anything virtuous in anything he said or did.  He was evil.  All his great accomplishments and spoken ideals are dismissed as disingenuous, viewed suspiciously through the lens of his faults.

If this is how we see the world and history, there are no heroes and there is nothing to emulate because there are no perfect people.  

Good people can do terrible things and evil people can do marvelous things. 
This is true of our heroes from the past, and it is true of all of us.

All virtue is tainted by vice.  But it is still virtue and worth holding forth as an ideal to be pursued – even if our heroes and we ourselves fall short of it.