Damnatio Memoriae for the 21st Century?


{Damnatio Memoriae} is the latin phrase literally 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.

In an article in Stars and Stripes, it was revealed that Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has decided to strike Confederate Memorial Day and Robert E. Lee’s Birthday from the state calendar. This of course follows in the wake of the recent decision to remove the Confederate Battle Standard from the South Carolina Statehouse. As this “political bandwagon” gains steam, it appears that every weak-minded and spineless politician, regardless if they are from the South or not, are 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 the Romans 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 1500 years ago on an “unwanted” individual, it eerily fits what is occurring today to America’s Southern and Confederate leaders:

  • Striking the Individuals Name from all official Record books

  • Seizing all Possessions

  • Striking anything with their likeness or picture (statues, murals, paintings)

  • 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 ANYBODY who crossed him or disagreed with him could literally DISAPPEAR from this world and history, but their entire families could as well. Sadly, historians can only guess at the numbers of human beings that were relegated to this despicable fate. The current estimate stand at around 11 Million, but with death toll’s reaching upwards of 62 million for the total number of people killed not in the War itself, but 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, the Soviet Secret Police . During the Great Purge of 1936, 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 and his wife and Five children were purged from history. Historians would later give him the nickname “The Vanishing Commissar”. The family however, did not get such a catchy title, only the Gulag and most likely a violent death.

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 Democratic 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. You have to take it all together as one; The Good, the Bad AND the Ugly, if you want future generations to remember America as it should be: A Truly FREE society, which is capable of making its own decisions and choices of who and how it remembers and why.

Did America have some shitty 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 against blacks using the practice of slavery either. Look at the war crimes committed against Southern civilians (black and white) by Sherman during “Reconstruction”. 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 and extorted  as a “Great Leader”. The historian Victor David 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 who knows true Civil War history because their relatives suffered through “Reconstruction” and I can guarantee “Great Leader” and “Savior” will not be the adjectives used to describe Sherman!

Slavery was an awful period in American History, there is no doubt. But erasing Southern people’s heritage and its Confederate Leaders from the school history books and State calendars does not change that fact anymore than Holocaust deniers change the History of Auschwitz. All it does in the end is further the notion and belief that we, as a racially divided nation, are trying to hide and eliminate those elements within our history that some are not proud of; and in doing so, prove that we are moving further away from the democracy we were meant to be and closer to an Authoritarian dictatorship some in government currently want us to be.

The bottom line is “history assassination” has no place in a modern democracy, and if it is true that we are indeed a freedom loving people who want to be truly unified in a common cause and loosed from all the bondages of the past, then we will not “expel” the darker parts of our history to the “gulag of forgetfulness”, but embrace and learn from them, so they are never again repeated in the future.

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10 thoughts on “Damnatio Memoriae for the 21st Century?

  1. Not only should you run this article again, but remind people that the Roman Empire crashed when it was at its peak – wiping people from history did nothing to save them or make them better.

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