Looking at our imperfect historical leaders


COMMENTARY: History is the driver of culture. It’s the story of people and how they dealt with adversity. Recently Confederate statues have been under attack, which brings up the issue of our history.

Michael Swickard

Courtesy photo

Michael Swickard

Our country is talking not only Civil War but the entire history of our nation. We search for our “authentic” history, not the propaganda of the winners. But the winners write the history.

Statues are a measure, but they only reflect the feelings of a time, and not for all time and all people. In our search for our heroes we are struck by the fact that everyone in the past was imperfect. Some were more imperfect than others, but all had blemishes.

Yet over the years this country has been a beacon to the rest of the world when it comes to liberty. Our country was instrumental in many other countries becoming free of dictators. That is our primary legacy.

But what of our heroes? We have memorials and currency and a written history about imperfect men. And we now see their blemishes. Example: George Washington perhaps was the only man who could take the Continental Army to victory. Hence, we have our freedom. But he had slaves, as did Thomas Jefferson.

When those slave holders and others who tolerated slavery set forth this nation, they started with “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

But not all humans were equal then. Women and Blacks were not equal. In the war to end slavery, President Abraham Lincoln said, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Over the last century and a half liberty has come to Americans. It wasn’t easy but it was done. Now there are political factions trying to derive power from injustice then and now. The history of our country is under attack.


Rather than taking down statues and screaming about justice, perhaps we need to really understand our history, with the blemishes. We cannot find any leaders without blemishes — then or now. But we can see that Americans are free and they inspire freedom in other countries.

Our country has brought liberty directly and indirectly to most of the world. No, there is still slavery and injustice over much of the world, but people all over the world know that liberty is possible because we broke away from England in 1776.

Dennis Prager said several years ago, “Our danger now is that we are not teaching our children what it means to be an American.” I believe it is the core of this problem of American identity also.

We must resolve that the dead in our wars of freedom must not have died in vain. As Lincoln said, “…that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” Only if we focus on our history will that happen.

Michael Swickard is a former radio talk show host and has been a columnist for 30 years in a number of New Mexico newspapers. Swickard’s new novel, Hideaway Hills, is now available at Amazon.com. Agree with his opinion? Disagree? We welcome your views. Learn about submitting your own commentary here.

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