If you look closely enough at any beloved historic figure, you can probably find some flaws. With some, you don’t even need to look all that closely.
For example, let’s consider U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt. He saw the United States through the Great Depression and instituted some revolutionary programs, like Social Security. However, he also was responsible for the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
It is relatively easy to look back at injustices in history and harshly judge the people making the decisions that led to those injustices.
But is that fair? Those people were a product of their times. Prevailing public opinion changes over time, and things that are seen as acceptable at one time in history may not be in another time.
To return to Roosevelt, his decision to round up American citizens can today been seen as obviously wrong. However, at the time the decision was made, the U.S. had just suffered the attack of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, and it was determined that Japanese spies within the U.S. provided information for the attack. National security was at stake.
Or is any effort to explain negative behavior just an effort in moral relativism? Are there things that are simply right or wrong, and any human being should be able to tell the difference? Or is morality something that shifts and changes over time? Or perhaps there is a mix of some moral absolutes, and some morality that evolves.
Is it fair to judge the past with morals of today?
Thanks go out to Harold Helson, for suggesting the question.