A Selective Memory

17 04 2008

Richard Cohen made an interesting point today in his column today about the tragedies that America chooses to memorialize and what it says about us.

The King Center is a fine institution. But it’s a modest museum, like others scattered through the country that deal with aspects of the nation’s most divisive subject. Why, I wondered as I viewed the exhibit, does the Holocaust, a German crime, hold pride of place over U.S. lynchings in American memorialization?

Let’s be clear: I am not comparing Jim Crow with industrialized mass murder, or suggesting an exact Klan-Nazi moral equivalency. But I do think some psychological displacement is at work when a magnificent Holocaust Memorial Museum, in which the criminals are not Americans, precedes a Washington institution of equivalent stature dedicated to the saga of national violence that is slavery and segregation.

[snip]

The world is weary of the narrative of American exceptionalism. Something’s the matter with something. Guns and God, Hillary’s latest mantra, won’t set America right. Nor will 100 years in Iraq.

It’s time for the country to ask itself some hard post-jingoistic questions and allow the memorialization of its darkest chapters. To demand truth commissions of other nations, while evading them at home, is unhelpful.

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