Some thoughts on this tweet from astronaut Scott Kelly apologizing for using a Winston Churchill quote:

Churchill saved the West in 1940. But he also was a man of his time, and an imperialist to boot. He said racist things. Likewise, George Orwell wrote bizarrely anti-Semitic stuff at times. He also is pretty bad writing about women — some of the scenes in ‘1984’ are cringeworthy.

Conclusion: People are complex and flawed.



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Moreover, we should be wary of “presentism” — that is, judging people of another time by the standards of today. I’d hate to be judged by the standards of 200 years from now.

“Ricks never took up arms against climate change, even when it was clear that it was the top global priority. He even continued to eat meat. Let’s liquidate his books.”

In this vein, my wife, who wrote a terrific book about the largest attempted slave escape in American history, argues for a distinction between people who owned slaves (pretty much anyone with any money in the American South in the 18th and 19th centuries) and people who fought to maintain the system of slavery (for example, Robert E. Lee).

So, by her standard, it is OK to retain the name of a city named for Stephen Austin, but not to keep a road named for General Lee.