Every generation in history has had its heroes. And as the morals and values of societal heroes are almost always reflective of the morals and values of the society itself, a simple examination of a society’s heroes will tell you a lot about its people.

If, for example, a culture venerates its athletes more than it honors its veterans, one can’t help but conclude that that culture prefers comfort and entertainment over sacrifice and service. Likewise, it’s odd to assume that a highly moral people would idolize any highly immoral person. Understandably, our heroes rarely, if ever, stand in blatant objection to the values that we ourselves adhere to.

Traditionally, Americans have heroized our historical forefathers, and it’s easy to see why. Between Christopher Columbus, William Bradford, Squanto, Samuel Adams, Caesar Rodney, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Abraham Lincoln, Fredrick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Thomas Edison, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, Billy Graham, Martin Luther King Jr., Neil Armstrong, Ronald Reagan, and countless others – many of whom we will never know – America has never suffered from a lack of men and women of exemplary character and outstanding courage.

Over the past several decades, however, our society has undergone an unfortunate shift in the paradigm of thought concerning our common history and its heroes.

No longer do we view our forebears through the eyes of a teachable student. Rather, we scornfully look down on them from a supposedly more enlightened, superior point of view. That’s all that we’ve been taught to do. For sixty years, Americans have been trained in the art of seeing only the failings of our largely honorable predecessors, primarily the Founding Fathers.

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To be sure, they were highly flawed men. But the obsession with which we highlight their sins, and utterly defame them for their shortcomings is akin to noticing only the litter that was left on a beach, and destroying the entire beach for it.

I don’t want to downplay the fact that America was, is, and forever will be an imperfect nation made up of imperfect people. The horrific sin of slavery, for example, is a terrible stain on our national tapestry. It was inexcusable. It deserves our total condemnation.

But if we understood slavery – and America’s flaws in general – in the context of a much bigger picture, we’d recognize the absurdity of defacing every monument erected in the honor of any white male simply because he might have done something wrong. Although criticizing their imperfections is certainly appropriate and, to some degree, necessary, doing so can easily cross over into sanctimony. Heroes are meant to inspire us to be better. They don’t need to be perfect to do that.

Why Are Heroes So Important?

One might ask why having imperfect men for national heroes is so important. After all, it’s one thing for an individual to look up to someone, but it’s another thing altogether to expect an entire nation to do so. But it’s vital nonetheless. Understanding and appreciating American heroes gives us all a sense of unity. It gives us a set of shared values to rally around.

Consequently, when our heroes, who personify these values, become the targets of high-profile libels, historical revisionism and an unrestrained cancel culture, we lose more than just the heroes themselves; we lose the distinct American identity that they give us.

Modern attacks against George Washington, the father of his country, are more than mere strikes against a slave owner; they are strikes against the very foundations of America and, more broadly, the fundamental ideals of Western Civilization – ideals that Washington embodies. The same is true of attacks against Columbus, Bradford, Jefferson and other brilliant figures whose revolutionary ideas helped shape the West into its current reality. It is the duty of present-day Americans to disavow certain bad aspects of our Founder’s lives without totally dismantling the substratum of American philosophies that these men represent.

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Again, the values of any peoples’ heroes are largely indicative of the values of the people themselves. Thus, the rampant hatred and contempt towards our Founders that seems to have reached a fever pitch as of late, suggests that we, as a nation, are beginning to stray away from the ideas that have defined us and set us apart from the rest of the world. We are witnessing more than just the vandalizing of statues. We are also witnessing a tragic deprecation of precepts such as patriotism and American Exceptionalism.

It’s time to make a change. You and I must teach our children to see the good in America and to love her for it. We must teach the rising generation to love our nation’s common heroes and to cherish the values that they exemplify. And we must remember that our heritage isn’t an irredeemable curse; it’s a great blessing from God Almighty. The duty is ours. We stand in the shadow of giants. Let’s act worthy of them.

Jakob Fay is a former intern and current SIA Coordinator for the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance.