White supremacists and Neo Nazis marched in Charlottesville to fan racist flames.
Those marchers did not care about Confederate statues. They cared about spreading fear.
Because of that moral reality, I'm troubled when the conversation about Charlottesville detours into a debate over what to do about statues. I'm especially troubled by an argument that often accompanies the detour: The charge that calling for toppling the statues is calling for erasing history.
Confederate statues have been erected in an attempt to erase the possibility of a unified future for the United States. That's why racists rally to them. Erasing the lies that the statues tell about the past is a step toward rescuing history.
When I was living and working in the Middle East, I would from time to time read an Arab commentator deny that Arabs could be anti-Semitic "because Arabs are Semites." It was a dishonest and reductionist argument that frustrated me then in the same way the "Confederate statues are history" argument frustrates me today.
That's one reason I'm glad to recommend a lucid exploration of history and truth telling in the Sept. 4 New Yorker titled "Occupational Hazards: In Israel, a hit TV show is set in the West Bank. What's left offscreen?"
David Remnick frames his New Yorker piece with a description of a 1949 novella by an Israeli veteran of the very recent war named Yizhar Smilansky. Remnick writes that Smilansky shatters "the myth that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs had all voluntarily 'abandoned' their cities and villages" to make way for Israel.
In 1978, after a battle over censorship, a film version of Smilansky's "Khirbet Khizeh" was shown on Israeli state TV. Remnick quotes Israelis as saying rescuing history on film in the way "Khirbet Khizeh" did could not happen today because the country has swerved too far right for an honest discussion of the price Arabs paid for Israeli independence in 1948.
Remnick is writing about Israelis and Palestinians. But his essay should resonate with Americans. Particularly this line: "Guilt and denial are twins."