Karla's Kolumn: We must teach history in its entirety, and not alter it
March 7, 2019
This past weekend while perusing social media I ran across a post by an opinion writer (I won't say journalist because the piece was strictly opinion, very few facts). The post was a "poll" by Rick Roddam, radio personality for 106.3 Cowboy Country out of Cheyenne. He asks in his poll if Thermopolis should alter or remove symbols that appear in part to resemble the swastika.
The markings are on the building now housed by Four Winds Trading Post, a building, according to the Thermopolis-Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce, that was built in 1917. The National Socialist Party in Germany adopted the swastika as its symbol in 1920 and in the 1930s it became known for Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich.
Roddam writes, "To date, there has not been an organized movement to remove or cover up the emblems. In my opinion, there should be."
I grew up in Thermopolis. I worked at one of the pools and visited with many tourists, many from Germany. I specifically remember one year that most of our foreign visitors were from Germany. Never, not one time, in the years I worked there did anyone complain about the building or the markings.
Truth be told, I've seen the building many times and never associated them with Nazis or swastikas, just cool looking décor.
Mr. Roddam is wrong, albeit it is just his opinion, but there should not be an organized movement to remove them or cover them up. What there needs to be is education. He needs to be educated on what the symbols mean. Society needs to be educated that the symbols are much more than Nazism.
One only has to search the internet about the swastika symbol to find that it means much more than what Nazism stood and stands for.
According to an article posted by the Thermopolis chamber, the symbol is one of cowboy good luck.
It states, "There is no decoration on a piece of cowboy gear that attracts more attention than that swastika and with good reason. This symbol is widely misunderstood and shunned by the uninformed."
According to the article the symbol was used by the Greeks on coins, it has been used in Scandinavia and widely used as a religious symbol by Hindus and Buddhists.
Roddam himself admits that Native American tribes used the symbol.
The chamber article states, "The design was widely recognized by the westerns as Indians 'Good Luck.' The whirling log or swastika design was quickly adopted by the white settlers in the Southwest and spread across the Old West. The common wisdom was that if the whirling log design brought good luck to the Indians, then it certainly couldn't hurt the white man. Many companies incorporated the bold graphic symbol as part of their trademarks."
According to a 2014 BBC article by Mukti Jain Campion Kiev, the symbol goes back thousands of years and was used as a symbol of good fortune "in almost every culture in the world."
According to the BBC article, "in the ancient language of Sanskrit, swastika means 'well-being."
The article continues, "Peter Madsen, owner of an upmarket tattoo parlour in Copenhagen says the swastika is an element of Norse mythology that holds a strong appeal to many Scandinavians. He is one of the founders [of the 2013] Learn to Love the Swastika Day on [Nov. 13], when tattoo artists around the world offered free swastikas, to raise awareness of the symbol's long multicultural past.
"'The swastika is a symbol of love and Hitler abused it. We're not trying to reclaim the hakenkreuz. That would be impossible. Nor is it something we want people to forget, he says."
We can't change history and we should not forget history, but we can educate people about history, all of it, not just part of it. We should not get rid of everything that offends us, everything that we don't like or things that were good that have been changed into something evil. There are many words in the English language that started out as good and now have negative connotations, but they are still in the dictionary.
Philosopher George Santayana wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The quote has been changed some throughout the years including "those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it."
History has a place in our lives and our society. We can learn and grow from it. We cannot do that if we forget about it or change it or only teach half of the history.
Roddam writes, "In spite of its current controversial connotation, many locals consider the emblem to be a cultural artifact. Others are shocked when they see the building, particularly visitors who are unfamiliar with the history of the area and consider the symbols to be deeply offensive."
How does he know this? When did he visit Thermopolis? How many visitors did he talk to? How many residents did he talk to? None of this information is included in his "poll."
Many of my friends from Thermopolis, as well as the chamber, have received comments on their posts from current and former residents, none of them advocating altering the building. Many, like I have advocated here, advocate for education, because they know, like I know, eliminating history is not the answer; education is.
Roddam's poll, by the way, shows 86 percent say no, the symbols should not be removed or altered. I am one who cast a no vote on his poll.