The critical element that defeats the drive to create a National Slavery Museum on par with the Holocaust Museum would be a national sense of contrition (The Mail, 2/27). It is important to remember that in this country—where even the mention of a symbolic apology is so controversial—a history of hundreds of years of death and slavery in America hasn’t quite been considered so terrible.

While today the flags and symbols of the Third Reich can only be publicly worn or displayed at extreme risk to the owner, the same cannot be said for the symbols of the Confederacy. During my years of living in one of the Southern states, I could catch glimpses of that time woven into the state flags displayed in schools and other government buildings, to say nothing of clothing and house-mounted flags. Even now, in Maryland few days pass between my seeing yet another car or truck proudly displaying the Stars and Bars. I don’t wish to say that all who do make such displays aspire to be slaveholders. The formation of the Confederacy was about more than just the enslavement of Africans—and the Nazi Party was about more than just concentration camps. I spent four years in Germany and never once saw a festive re-enactment of the siege of Berlin featuring local history buffs in accurate costume trotting about a local park. An argument like “We’re not getting into the politics of what went on, only commemorating our brave German forefathers who fought and died for what they believed in” would fall on deaf ears. They would be justly encouraged to remove themselves from the sight of decent men, women, and children. That this polite society allows—even encourages in some regions—similar “Rebel worship” is proof that true repentance is very distant.

In literature, one could say the Big Story of the Second World War as relating to the Jewish holocaust was The Diary of Anne Frank—a tragic tale of a family forced into hiding until their untimely end. Here, the immortal tale of the Civil War is Gone With the Wind, where the heroes had little problem with subjugating other humans for their own purposes. Those who are enslaved seem content and docile with their station. The oppression, rapes, mutilations, murders, and other such acts characteristic of American enslavement don’t get much screen time at all. We are to feel sorry for the main characters when they lose their battles and homes. That whole lifestyle on the plantation has become the picture of the romantic ideal in this society as shown by the popularity of fiction surrounding those times.

When slavery and its traceable aftereffects on a people and society are brought up, the accepted response has become “Come on, that was 400 years ago.” Slavery in this country has not been forgotten—worse, it has been diminished. Its ugly truths have been touched up and reshot so they won’t clash so harshly with this country’s self-image. When time is not enough to distance the tragedy, the reduction of the scale, immorality, and cruelty add that extra dimension of comfy space so people can still worship Dixie. Returning to Gone With the Wind—the highest grossing movie in U.S. history when adjusted for inflation—Tara and all it symbolized burn down to great lamentation. For this country to construct a proper museum documenting the horrors of slavery, it would have to burn Tara again—an act it is obviously not prepared to do.

College Park, Md.

via the Internet