Let’s uncover history textbooks’ omissions

Lauren Stevens, Staff Reporter

Even the heroes of history have their flaws. We tend to forget—or ignore—this fact. Take Martin Luther King, Jr, hero of the Civil Rights Movement. He furthered equality and preached non-violent protest. But he also once asked an abused wife if something about her justified this treatment. Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and The Marquis de Lafayette all owned slaves.

Franklin was a philosopher and a scientist. Washington, who admittedly released his slaves upon his death, was arguably one of the best leaders in American history. Bolivar liberated five South American countries from colonial rule. Hamilton was the architect of our financial system and Lafayette was instrumental in both the French and American revolutions. Many of these men even opposed slavery in theory.

But they weren’t perfect. All of these people did important things, but we forget that they were still products of the time they lived in. This does not excuse these actions, of course, but it does explain them. What we consider completely immoral now was perfectly normal then.

We should not revile or villainize them. We must separate our perceptions of historical figures because of what they did from who they are as people.

What they did was great, but they were just people living in times when racism, misogyny and slavery were normal.

Where we exalt some, we villainize others just as absolutely.

Some historical world leaders that we shun because of the horrible things that happened during or because of their leadership have been cast somewhat unfairly in the role of villain, because while they did terrible things, they also did some good.

For example, Joseph Stalin. He committed atrocities; he ordered millions of deaths. He was a dictator who ruled through terror and intimidation.

He also industrialized Russia and made it into a powerful military nation, a vast change from the former peasant nation.

Robespierre, in a similar style, was a leader in a time when thousands of people were killed for the mere suspicion of not being a fervent enough supporter of the French Revolution.

Yet he also created laws to protect ordinary citizens, opposed the death penalty that characterized the revolution and defended against monarchies of the time.

Neither of these men were completely evil or good. As with history’s heroes, some wrongs attributed to them were the wrongs of the time, and much of the good they did is ignored.
We tend to paint those in history in black and white, when it’s really shades of grey. Sometimes, it’s easy to amplify people’s good and ignore their bad, or vice versa. Instead, we must look at them as complete people and recognize the innate human qualities that make them neither hero nor villain.