Professor Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He recently wrote an article titled “The hypocrisy behind the student renaming craze.” Students, often with the blessing of faculty, have discovered that names for campus buildings and holidays do not always fit politically correct standards for race, class and sex.
Stanford students have demanded the renaming of buildings, malls and streets bearing the name of the recently canonized Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan priest who was often unkind to American Indians. Harvard Law School is getting rid of its seal because it bears the coat of arms of the Royalls, a slave-owning family. This renaming craze is widespread and includes dozens of colleges and universities, including Amherst, Georgetown, Princeton, Yale and the University of California, Berkeley. The students have decided that some politically incorrect people from centuries ago are bad. Other politically incorrect people are not quite so bad if they were at least sometimes liberal; their names can stay.
San Diego State University students are not demanding that the school eliminate its nickname, “Aztecs,” even though the Aztecs enslaved and slaughtered tens of thousands of people from tribes they conquered — often ripping out the hearts of living victims. Should UC Berkeley students and faculty demand the renaming of Warren Hall, named after California Attorney General Earl Warren, who instigated the wartime internment of tens of thousands of innocent Japanese-American citizens? UC Berkeley students and faculty might consider renaming their Cesar E. Chavez Student Center. Chavez sent his thug lieutenants down to California’s southern border to use violence to prevent job-seeking Mexican immigrants from entering the United States. President Woodrow Wilson was a racist who, among other racist acts, segregated civil service jobs. Should Princeton University rename its Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs plus rename its Woodrow Wilson fellowship program?
Most universities have a women’s studies program. Part of their agenda is to make sure men learn that “no” means “no” and condemn any form of sexual assault. Should campus feminists make clear that former President Bill Clinton, a womanizer and exploiter of women, is unwelcome on any campus? Should they also protest any appearance by his enabler, Hillary Clinton, who helped demonize her husband’s female accusers by cracking down on “bimbo eruptions”?
Recently, Brown University changed its Columbus Day celebration to Indigenous People’s Day. By the way, many cities are following suit. There may be a problem. According to publications such as Lawrence H. Keeley’s “War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage” and Steven A. LeBlanc and Katherine E. Register’s “Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage,” we may have to rethink just how noble and peaceful American Indians were prior to Christopher Columbus. American Indians waged brutal tribal wars long before Europeans showed up. The evidence is especially strong in the American Southwest, where archaeologists have found numerous skeletons with projectile points embedded in them and other marks of violence. Comanche Indians were responsible for some of the most brutal slaughters in the history of Western America.
Our military has a number of deadly aircraft named with what the nation’s leftist might consider racial slights, such as the Comanche, Apache, Iroquois, Kiowa, Lakota and the more peaceful Mescalero. Should they be renamed? Our military might also be seen as disrespecting the rights and dignity of animals. Should military death-dealing aircraft named after peace-loving animals — such as the Eagle, Falcon, Raptor, Cobra and Dolphin — be renamed? Renaming deadly aircraft might receive a sympathetic ear from our politically correct secretary of defense, Ashton Carter.
Victor Davis Hanson says that changing history through renaming is nothing new. Back in the Roman days, the practice was called damnatio memoriae, a Latin phrase meaning “condemnation of memory.” It was practiced when the Romans wanted to erase the memory of people they deemed dishonorable; it was as if they had never existed.
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Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.
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