Saturday, June 09, 2007

Revisionist History

Archaeologists unearthing the remains of George Washington's presidential home have discovered a hidden passageway used by his nine slaves, raising questions about whether the ruins should be incorporated into a new exhibit at the site.
Whether the ruins should be incorporated?

Pardon me while the amateur historian in me has a small meltdown.

I have serious problems with the notion that we should ignore that George Washington had slaves.

He had slaves. At the time, many wealthy people did.

And -- get this -- the government condoned it!

The freaking Continental Congress -- our revered Founding Fathers -- could only agree to the constitution when they decided that a slave counted as three fifths of a person.

I understand the fact that people want to get all nostalgic and patriotic. I've seen the real Liberty Bell; it's an amazing feeling to be next to something with such history.

But the fact of the matter is, history is rarely uncomplicated, black-and-white, or pretty.

Trying to ignore the uncomfortable parts just aren't right.

And, honestly, to me, this seems a little...hypocritical.

If archaeologists had found, say, a previously-unknown tunnel leading to the Reichstag dating from World War II used by, say, Jewish slave labor, you can bet that it would be viewed as an important historical site -- whether it made the German people uncomfortable or not.

Why not use the passage as a way to encourage visitors to ponder the true nature of early American society; to ponder the fact that they chafed under external control (and wanted to be free) from Britain; to wonder how people who championed individual rights could hold slaves.

To ponder the inherent complications and contradictions that are American life?

Apologies if this is less than coherent (see above re: small meltdown).

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