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The social justice warrior charge to purge the United States of all monuments relating in any way to the Confederacy has been rapidly expanding to include the scourge represented by all white people all through history. The Founding Fathers who owned slaves will undoubtedly be the next ones on the block and the list will certainly expand as other deviations from current sensibilities are elaborated. In Baltimore, the world’s oldest memorial to Christopher Columbus was vandalized and it is reported that the snowflake mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio has ordered an inquiry into whether Columbus Circle in Manhattan and its eponymous statue should remain in place. Los Angeles has renamed Columbus Day Indigenous Peoples Day.
When the Columbus statue was vandalized I posted the news story on Facebook with the comment “More sanctimonious leftists having fun, wrecking a historic monument to vent their hatred of everything and everyone that does not fit into their worldview.” It attracted some comments from the usual crowd, including these from two Brits, “So glad this disgusting monument of sick depravity is gone. It’s not ‘lefties’ it’s your white privilege that’s annoyed! I wish disgusting Churchill would get off my UK bank notes too,” and “Hmmm. Columbus was a psychopath who killed, enslaved and raped countless innocent people. He doesn’t deserve to be remembered as anything but a vile and disgusting creature, IMHO.”
Chris clearly did not know what he was getting into when he “discovered” the New World, and what should be done about fellow explorer Amerigo Vespucci, whose name was given to the two continents? What used to be called the Age of Exploration will no doubt be renamed the Age of Exploitation in the textbooks and the levelers will promote the viewpoint that everything indigenous was good and everything that came out of Europe was bad. In fact, they are already saying that at some of our leading universities.
Now, I would suggest that turnabout is fair play so if we are all agreeing that monuments must be destroyed to right historic wrongs, I am interested in making up my own little list based on the things that I disapprove of. As readers of this site are aware, I am a critic of illegal behavior by the United States government, to include torture, targeted assassinations by drone and starting wars without any reason to do so, so that would be a good place to start.
So how do you go after monuments that celebrate war crimes as such memorials don’t really exist in any unambiguous form except possibly hidden in a broom closet at CIA headquarters? Well, for starters, I would go after the presidents who authorized the misdeeds, since, as Harry Truman once put it, “the buck stops here” in the Oval Office. I would look first and foremost at Presidential Libraries and would suggest that all the recent ones be either demolished or shrouded in black tarps like the statue of good old Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville.
Recent Presidential Libraries represent an unhappy compromise where politics, personal commemoration and archival information that is presumed to be both reliable and comprehensive have to coexist. Most Americans would likely be surprised to learn that there are 13 presidential libraries, many of which are attached to museums and supporting foundations, all of which are now operated by public funding. The first such library was founded by Herbert Hoover, but a number of libraries preserving presidential papers were established privately prior to that administration for presidents Washington, the two Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln, Grant, Hayes, Wilson and Coolidge.
The libraries themselves are designed and built through private contributions. After construction, they are funded through the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955 and are managed by the National Archive and Records Administration (NARA), which provides them with much of their material and pays their actual operating costs, currently exceeding $100 million annually. Add-on institutes linked to the libraries are privately funded, normally by a foundation set up for that purpose.
Presidential libraries actually attract few visitors. The three most popular are those of JFK, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Others get by through hosting special events like book signings that might or might not be linked to the presidency or by featuring theme park like exhibits. Even the top ranked in popularity Reagan library has featured a display of Walt Disney treasures.
The older presidential libraries are essentially historical collections of presidential papers and are only to a limited extent partisan, as the contentious issues that might have divided the nation once upon a time have subsequently faded. That makes them a genuine resource for researchers, aided measurably by the declassification of many documents that were considered too sensitive when they first opened their doors.
The newer libraries have likewise been promoted as repositories for documentary evidence relating to a presidency but they are in fact much more self-absorbed, engaged in what one critic describes as “legacy polishing.” They include numerous unclassified documents that present a certain point of view, but most information that would be of interest to scholars does not begin to appear until more than a decade after the library opens, after it has been “processed.” Even then, it is reasonable to assume that many documents will take decades to be declassified or they might never appear at all on grounds of national security or even to prevent embarrassment.
I would save the taxpayer money and also send a message about the true legacies of some recent presidents by destroying their libraries after removing all the actual public records and putting them in the National Archive. We could recycle the land that the libraries stood on by turning it into parks that the public would be able to use.
The University of Chicago was chosen to become the home of the most recent library, the Barack Obama Presidential Center. Construction has started on the Center, which will include a library, museum, exhibit rooms and office space for the Barack Obama Foundation. The city of Chicago is donating the land while construction costs have been privately raised. The actual operation of the center will depend on both NARA funding and a private endowment. As hosting a presidential library is regarded as prestigious, the university has been boasting of the achievement, envisioning in the Center the creation of a “new global destination.”
Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize will no doubt be prominently on display, but one will almost certainly be unsuccessful when seeking the critical documents to explain the arguments made and the reasoning behind assassination by drone, the surge of the war in Afghanistan, the decision to keep Guantanamo open, the reasoning behind attacking Libya and the aggression against Syria. Those position papers and meeting notes would be invaluable in trying to assess what actually occurred, but the documents will not be in the library as they potentially disrupt the feel-good narrative and are considered both too recent and too sensitive for public consumption. This is one more excellent reason for not taking the “library” bit seriously.
The George W. Bush Presidential Center would also be a prime target for total destruction. It is located at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and includes a library, museum and think tank. First of all, the museum portion is essentially a celebration, offering displays on what the Administration itself saw as its positive achievements, which the George W. Bush Foundation president describes as “…a reflection of what [the Bushes] think is important about what happened in their service.”
Given recent comments made by George W. Bush on some of his most criticized policies, it is clear that there has been no serious retrospection regarding the Iraq invasion or on the use of renditions and torture by the CIA, exigencies which both he and his museum clearly view as aspects of a “war presidency.” You will not find the expression “war crime” appearing anywhere, nor “torture,” “rendition,” “assassination” and “invasion” anywhere in the library. All of those issues are dealt with indirectly, using displays and video defensively to provide explanations that amount to damage control featuring recorded speakers like Condi Rice, Andrew Card and John Bolton. For the serious student there is thin gruel, with no opportunity for rigorous inquiry. At the dedication of the Bush Library, Bill Clinton even joked about the library, which includes W’s collection of signed baseballs, as being the “latest, grandest example of former presidents to rewrite history.” Bill would certainly know all about that as he was adept at rewriting history while in office and afterwards, walking away from his killing of 500,000 Iraqi children through sanctions, his bombing Serbian civilians, and his cruise missile-ing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan and an alleged terrorist target in Afghanistan to divert attention from his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky.
So let’s get rid of both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama monstrosities pretending to be libraries. And I am also proposing that Bill Clinton should be next up. We might consider replacing them with simple obelisks commemorating the innocent victims of the U.S. foreign policy that has been a hallmark of all their administrations, an estimated 3-4 million Muslims who have perished in the so-called “War on Terror.” The memorials should specifically commemorate the more than 3,000 civilians who were killed under Obama by drones and all those who died under Clinton sanctions. And we might also want to remember the treatment of whistleblowers who have attempted to expose criminal and unconstitutional activity, including the illegal mass surveillance of U.S. citizens, only to be silenced through imprisonment as well as for the “renditioned” and tortured foreigners seeking redress in Federal courts who have been blocked through repeated invocation of the State Secrets Privilege.
If we really think we can eradicate evil in our country by destroying anything symbolic or plausibly linked to the bad old days, then let’s get those bulldozers rolling. Bill, Barack and W can kiss their libraries goodbye, though I am still wondering what to do with the associated think tanks. Just imagine what a George W. Bush think tank must look like. Good grief!