A new historical marker has gone up in Atlanta, and it is raising questions about historical “revisionism” and how events in the past– especially destructive and emotionally-fraught events, such as Sherman’s March to the Sea– how remembered and memorialized, how they are — literally– set in stone for the future.
“There’s still a strong resentment for what happened and how it happened and for Sherman himself,” Dr. James C. Cobb said. “They want to whitewash everything and make it so much nicer than it was. It wasn’t nice. War isn’t.
“You all the time run into college kids who don’t know which side Sherman was on — and their parents and certainly their grandparents would be aghast to know that. It’s not just a matter of education. It’s a matter of being the blank slate that younger generations present for revision or education that older generations don’t because they’re steeped in the mythology of their ancestors.”
An article in the New York Times a few weeks ago detailed the re-creation of a 1920s “eugenics office” from New York’s Cold Spring Laboratory
“An old stucco house stands atop a grassy hill overlooking the Long Island Sound. Less than a mile down the road, the renowned Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory bustles with more than 600 researchers and technicians, regularly producing breakthroughs in genetics, cancer and neuroscience.
But that old house, now a private residence on the outskirts of town, once held a facility whose very name evokes dark memories: the Eugenics Record Office.
In its heyday, the office was the premier scientific enterprise at Cold Spring Harbor. There, bigoted scientists applied rudimentary genetics to singling out supposedly superior races and degrading minorities. By the mid-1920s, the office had become the center of the eugenics movement in America.
Today, all that remains of it are files and photographs — reams of discredited research that once shaped anti-immigration laws, spurred forced-sterilization campaigns and barred refugees from entering Ellis Island. Now, historians and artists at New York University are bringing the eugenics office back into the public eye.”
I’m a sucker for articles like this one (and the one cited in it) — It’s kind of red-meat for political-history geeks, with all those red and blue-state maps, and the linking of the fairly distant past (the GOP as the “party of Lincoln”– Ha!) and the more recent past (Eisenhower’s Republican party), with the toxic partisan politics of today. A great example of “the usable past”! Here’s what Lincoln’s “coalition” looked like in 1860– remember, red=Republican=Lincoln.
“We’re unlikely to return to a mid-20th century situation where the white South is going to support the more liberal party in presidential politics. American politics has instead returned to what appears, historically, to be its natural state. Given that the alliance between the white South and the Republican Party has grown more firm than ever, it is hard to imagine how the party can refashion itself along Lincolnian or Rooseveltian lines.”
Obamacare has proved to be not just ideologically divisive but linguistically fertile. There’s seemingly no event or passage in American history to which it can’t be compared.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11? Check. Back when Mike Pence, Indiana’s Republican governor, was still in Congress, he summoned that day’s horror to characterize the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Affordable Care Act.
Slavery? Check. Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, has described opposition to Obamacare in terms of stands against fugitive slave laws.
The hyperbole and hysteria make any constructive debate impossible, and they insult the past, robbing important events of the specific meaning and individual detail they deserve.
Here’s perhaps the most egregious “uses of the past” yet in the ongoing insanity of the “debate” over the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare– the comparison of the Act to the 1850s Fugitive Slave Law. Read — and learn– a little history here:
In what may be the party’s lowest moment throughout this debacle, Republican State Representative William O’Brien of New Hampshire said Obamacare is every bit as bad as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. President Obama naturally scoffed at the very idea, but O’Brien defended the analogy. “Just as the Fugitive Slave Act was an overreach by the federal government,” he told the Manchester Union Leader, “so too we understand that Obamacare is an assault on the rights of individuals.” That claim explains a lot about right wing thinking, where callousness toward universal health care is exceeded only by ignorance of slavery.