It is an example of repackaging history as myth, and myths such as these hold nations together by constructing a supposedly shared and honorable past. But through their inaccuracy these myths also project an understanding of who does — and does not — belong. They spin a national history for some, not all.
That is why the current battle over monuments is so heated, and I suspect that many defenders of recently toppled monuments worry about what will hold us together if we abandon the national myth that statues such as “Forward” embody. If we knock past presidents and as anodyne a notion as “progress” off their pedestals, then what are our lodestars?
Stern is assistant professor of educational policy studies and history at UW–Madison: firstname.lastname@example.org