Damnatio Memoriae is the latin phrase meaning “condemnation of memory,” in the sense of a judgment that a person must not be remembered. It was a form of dishonor that could be passed by the Roman Senate upon traitors or others who brought discredit to the Roman State. The intent was to erase someone from history, a task somewhat easier in ancient times, when documentation was much sparser.
Georgia’s former disgraced governor, Nathan Deal, removed Confederate Memorial Day and Robert E. Lee’s birthday from the state calendar. This, of course, followed in the wake of the decision to remove the Confederate Battle Standard from the South Carolina Statehouse. As this “political bandwagon” has gained steam over the years, every weak-minded and spineless politician, regardless if they are from the South or not, has been more than eager to jump on and demonize all things Southern and Confederate in an attempt to strike them from American history forever.
Erasing history that certain controlling elements of a nation finds offensive, stubborn, or worse yet, “politically incorrect,” is nothing new. In fact, it has been practiced for thousand of years. Xerxes, a Persian ruler from the 5th century B.C., is said to have threatened the Spartan King Leonidas with, “Erasing Sparta from the very histories…” if they did not submit and take their place as yet another proxy Persian slave state. Many early cultures had some form or another of this practice, but, of course, it was the heavyweight champion of tyranny and political corruption, the Romans, who perfected it. The only reason that we know what little we do today about Roman misdeeds are the remains of certain records of high-profile Roman citizenry of whom Damnatio Memoriae was decreed.
It is interesting to note that when we look at the description of what specific actions were taken when Damnatio Memoriae was imposed over 1,500 years ago on an “unwanted” individual, it eerily fits what is occurring today to America’s Southern and Confederate leaders:
Striking the individual’s name from all official record books;
Seizing all possessions;
Striking anything with their likeness or picture (statues, murals, paintings); and
Their will nullified and their grave defaced.
Moving into the 20th century, it would be the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin who would show the world that not only could anyone who crossed him disappear from this world and history, but their entire families could as well. Sadly, historians can only guess at the number of people that were relegated to this despicable fate. The current estimate stands at around 11 million, but with a death toll reaching upwards of 62 million for the total number of people killed in the Second World War and through multiple Soviet purges, expulsions, and forced sentences to labor camps (gulags). These figures are hard to even comprehend.
One of the greatest examples of Stalin’s “erasing of existence” was Nikolai Yezkov, Head of the NKVD, or the Soviet Secret Police. After the Great Purge and in 1938, Yezkov fell out of favor with Stalin’s inner circle and was suspected of being a traitor. After being tortured for four days and nights, Yezkov finally admitted to being a traitor (big surprise there) and he was purged from history. Historians would later give him the nickname “The Vanishing Commissar.”
Regardless of your feelings on the South or the Confederacy, history shows us very plainly that this practice of “eliminating history,” and the people in it, has nothing to do with “morality” or “justice,” as most who support this practice claim. As a nation, we cannot pick and choose what periods, or people, of history we will remember and which ones we will not. It doesn’t work that way.
Did America have some painful periods in our history? Yeah, we did. And, I can tell you as a military historian, the Civil War period is rife with injustices, and not just regarding chattel slavery either. Look at the war crimes committed against Southern civilians (both black and white) by Sherman or the entirety of the “Reconstruction” period; a nasty piece of history indeed, but I don’t see General Sherman being erased anytime soon from the histories. In fact, I see him being glorified as a “great leader.” The historian Victor Davis Hanson even included Sherman in his book The Savior Generals: How 5 Great Commanders Saved Wars that were Lost, from Ancient Greece to Iraq. Ask any true Southerner, one who knows their history, and they’ll tell you about how their relatives suffered through “Reconstruction” and I can guarantee “great leader” and “savior” will not be the adjectives used to describe Sherman!
-By The Tactical Hermit
Please visit The Tactical Hermit.