• mariokiefer

Deja Vu

The practice of “damnatio memoriae” has a long and storied history.


The Romans believed that erasing one’s place in history was the ultimate punishment - a fate worse than death. They routinely erased from history the names of criminals as punishment for their crimes. The Roman Senate passed edicts to erase and remove the names of “traitors” from the memorials of ancient Rome. When Sejanus, a prefect of the Praetorian Guard, plotted to overthrow Emperor Tiberius, he was met with this punishment. His name was removed from public records and any monuments that had been erected to him were destroyed. After the fall of Caligula, the Roman Senate wanted to destroy anything and everything about him, but fortunately for history, the Emperor Claudius prevented that. There were often such sentences issued when one emperor or another wanted to destroy the memory of his predecessors. Of course, a traitor could be almost anyone who was opposed to the current regime’s policies. I wonder how much history and knowledge was destroyed by this practice. I guess, we will never really know.


But the practice didn’t start with the Romans. It was performed by the ancient peoples of Mesopotamia as well as the Egyptians - including during the reign of the pharaoh Hatshepsut. I wonder how much history and knowledge was destroyed by this practice. I guess, we will never really know.


Nor did the practice end with the Romans. The Catholic Church tried the practice to erase the memory of John Wycliffe, an English scholar and reformer. I wonder how much history and knowledge was destroyed by this practice. I guess, we will never really know.


In modern times, this was done in Romania (see one of my prior essays about my trip there) and in the Soviet Union by the Communist leaders - and even after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe by those opposed to the Communist regimes. I wonder how much history and knowledge was destroyed by this practice. I guess, we will never really know.


In recent days, the Taliban and ISIS sought to destroy monuments erected by the ancients to pagan gods, because the beliefs of those ancients do not comport with modern theology. I wonder how much history and knowledge was destroyed by this practice. I guess, we will never really know.


In modern America, there are those who seek to destroy the monuments and references to figures of our past. They do not comport with modern day ideology.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t understand why so many who claim to clamor for progress look to the policies of regress as their guide. I don’t understand why some who claim to seek a bright future, embrace these practices of the past. I don’t understand why those who want to move forward, look to the rearview mirror as their map. We cannot move forward without knowing where we have been and we cannot know where we have been if we destroy the markers in the road we have passed.


I wonder how those in the future will look to the ruins of the great American Empire and wonder, how much history and knowledge was destroyed by this practice. I guess, we will never really know.

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