Bob Fliegel: Our historic milestones


Published: Thursday, September 5, 2013 at 4:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 5, 2013 at 4:20 p.m.

On Saturday we will have witnessed yet another reenactment of Pedro Menéndez's wading ashore to found St. Augustine on behalf of King Philip II of Spain. And once again we will hear from those fuming in stratospheric dudgeon that such events are deserving not of celebration, but of perpetual remorse and condemnation. Their self-righteous complaint has become as wearisome as it is predictable.

Like combative termites they swarm out of the woodwork when roused by the annual commemorations of our European origins, and so it is indeed no surprise that they are becoming increasingly agitated as we approach our 450th anniversary.

I'm referring to the self-anointed scolds and avocational penitents, those who don sackcloth and ashes with cyclic regularity, bloviating over mega sins they apparently don't believe could ever be forgiven short of returning America to its previous occupants. They feel repeatedly compelled to make that case with the rest of us, but to what specific ends, one wonders. However murky the objective, their self-admiration is palpable.

Googling "conquest and subsequent treatment of American Indians vs Australian aborigines" generates a slew of online hits. One is presented with numerous opinions about the similarities and differences between what may appear to have been two identical phenomena that occurred on opposite sides of the globe. Some of those opinions also question the value of unremitting guilt that extant populations are encouraged to feel about the bad behavior of their European forebears and whether nations can realistically atone for that behavior in any way that approximates closure.

The answers are predominantly "zero" for the value of eternal guilt and "no" for the possibility of satisfactory atonement. The reasons are simple: Self-flagellation is unproductive and an acceptably full redress of grievances unachievable.

That said, I certainly have no problem with those who properly insist that American history be taught and remembered with nothing left out, the warts included. I do take issue, however, with those who seem ceaselessly obsessed with the shameful side of our country's past and who appear to find few redemptive qualities in the splendid nation that emerged from the good and bad of it all.

Is there a hierarchy of heinousness in the historic record of worldwide conquests? Are some subjugations of one civilization by another less reprehensible than others? Is there a threshold of outrage below which some of them may be redeemed, at least in part, by the totality of history? When are reparations warranted, what kinds of reparations are most appropriate, and when can such reparations be deemed to have been sufficient, if ever?

I suspect more than one doctoral candidate in history, anthropology, and sociology has written his or her dissertation on such issues, these New World birthing controversies that have long festered in the collective psyche. Sadly, I don't see much of a prospect for reconciliation between those who think it both necessary and admirable to continue deploring the nation's original sins and those who would just prefer to move on without being continually hectored by the exhaustingly sanctimonious.

If these futilely engaged apologists for white guilt have an end game in mind, it remains obscure.

Bob Fliegel lives in St. Augustine.

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