Are we out of step with history?There's no simple way to commemorate morally complex historical events.
Recent controversies over the proposed Disney historic theme park, the Holocaust Museum The term Holocaust museum may refer to:
B-52 that dropped the Hiroshima A-bomb. [U.S. Hist.: WB, W:405]
See : Destruction exhibit show that we do ourselves a disservice when we reduce history to entertainment.
It sometimes seems strange that, over the past dozen years, I should have acquired a taste for both great museums and country cemeteries. I find it hard to imagine spending time "Spending Time" is the first single released by Christian artist Stellar Kart.
The lyrics describe the band members desire to spend "more time with God". "Sometimes it’s a real struggle to spend time with God. in a major city without budgeting a few hours to go to a museum, or taking a long bike trip without pausing to walk through a village cemetery.
Somehow in museums and cemeteries we have the sense to be quiet enough to listen and attend to the rich tapestry of folks who make up our past - the giants, as Isaac Newton once said, on whose shoulders we stand. This attending both nourishes and enriches us.
Frederick Turner writes in the April Harper's magazine Harper's Magazine
Monthly magazine published in New York, N.Y., U.S., one of the oldest and most prestigious literary and opinion journals in the U.S. Founded in 1850 as Harper's New Monthly Magazine by the printing and publishing firm of the Harper brothers, it was a leader that museums and other places are sacred bridges allowing us to step beyond the limits of the present and harvest the vast cultural treasures of the past. In museums and cemeteries we are reminded that we are tethered Attached to a data or power source by wire or fiber. Contrast with untethered. to a very long and rich lifeline.
This act of remembering, of attending to and being nourished by the voices of our past, is a very Catholic thing to do. After all, our great cathedrals and basilicas have not only been houses of worship but memory palaces as well, containing within their walls some of the richest museums and cemeteries of Western culture, incredible monuments to the genius of saints and artists alike.
The reason for this, as Lawrence Cunningham argues in his books The Catholic Heritage and The Catholic Experience (Crossroad, 1993 and 1985), is that "if Roman Catholicism Roman Catholicism
Largest denomination of Christianity, with more than one billion members. The Roman Catholic Church has had a profound effect on the development of Western civilization and has been responsible for introducing Christianity in many parts of the world. is anything, it is a community of memory" - a community in which the present generation is woven onto a living tradition of saints, sacraments, and stories over more than two millennia.
Not only is Catholicism grounded in God's intervention in human history but, as Father Andrew Greeley The Reverend Dr Andrew M. Greeley (born February 5, 1928 in Oak Park, Illinois to Andrew and Grace Greeley) is an Irish-American Roman Catholic priest, sociologist, journalist and best selling author. He has given numerous interviews on both radio and television. wrote in the New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of Times Magazine last July (reprinted in the March issue of U.S. CATHOLIC), our faith is fed and watered by the great tapestry of stories about sinners that we receive from our parents and teachers, celebrate in the sacraments, and pass on to our children and students.
Still, as we've seen in three recent controversies involving American museums and monuments, remembering is not always an easy or pleasant task. Sometimes the stories and voices we encounter in our museums and graveyards are quite stark and upsetting, offering painful and controversial lessons.
In the spring of 1993 the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum opened in Washington, D.C., just one block off the Mall, and generated fresh controversies about the building of such a memorial and about its placement in the heart of our nation's capital.
Then last fall and winter, the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum found itself embroiled em·broil
tr.v. em·broiled, em·broil·ing, em·broils
1. To involve in argument, contention, or hostile actions: "Avoid . . . in a nasty public debate with the American Legion American Legion, national association of male and female war veterans, founded (1919) in Paris. Membership is open to veterans of World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. and other veterans' groups regarding a proposed exhibit dealing with the bombing of Hiroshima and the end of World War II End of World War II can refer to:
Finally, last summer found Michael Eisner Michael Dammann Eisner (born March 7, 1942) was CEO of The Walt Disney Company from September 22, 1984 to September 30, 2005. Early life
Michael Eisner was born to a wealthy family in Mt. Kisco, New York, and raised on Park Avenue in Manhattan. of Disney fighting with a group of historians over a proposed theme park in Virginia four miles from Manassas Battlefield National Park, the sight o f the two battles of Bull Run.
This may seem like a lot of trouble about the musty corridors of history, but such controversies contain significant lessons about history and the art of memory, raising important, albeit uncomfortable, questions about both what we need to remember and how we should honor these memories.
Within six months of its opening, officials of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum made a public appeal for a reduction in the daily traffic of the more than 4,200 visitors overwhelming the young institution's staff and facilities.
That a new museum should have such a problem is unexpected. That a memorial museum whose permanent exhibition requires its visitors to make a three-hour pilgrimage descending into the inferno of the Holocaust is extra ordinary. As one of the museum's officials noted, "Our success sends a serious message to those who think the American public has to be entertained. Museums don't have to shy away from Verb 1. shy away from - avoid having to deal with some unpleasant task; "I shy away from this task"
avoid - stay clear from; keep away from; keep out of the way of someone or something; "Her former friends now avoid her" difficult subjects."
Still, in spite of its rather phenomenal success (by the start of this year more. than 3 1/2 million visitors had passed through its doors), the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum remains a controversial topic, with critics continuing to ask (at least) two questions.
First, why construct a memorial museum to what was arguably the worst atrocity of the modern era? Isn't there a danger that any such museum will become a macabre testimony to the Nazi killers and their final solution? Doesn't such a museum - particularly when its exhibits are so exquisitely designed and executed - risk becoming some sort of entertainment that either sensationalizes this atrocity or exploits its victims?
Second, why should a memorial museum to the Holocaust be constructed in the U.S.? Wouldn't such a memorial be better placed on European soil? And if we do need memorials to human atrocities in the U.S., shouldn't they be to that "peculiar institution "(Our) peculiar institution" was a euphemism for slavery and the economic ramifications of it in the American South. The meaning of "peculiar" in this expression is "one's own", that is, referring to something distinctive to or characteristic of a particular place or people. " of slavery or the slaughter of Native Americans This is a list of Native Americans (first nations and descendents) Cherokee
On a gray chilly Tuesday in January, I had a chance to tour the museum's permanent exhibition. Sitting in the Hall of Remembrance at the end of my visit, I found myself shaken but grateful for the experience. For me, the most persuasive reason to construct or visit a memorial museum dedicated to the Holocaust - or indeed to any grievous atrocity or brutality - is that we need to remember the human capacity for inhumanity in·hu·man·i·ty
n. pl. in·hu·man·i·ties
1. Lack of pity or compassion.
2. An inhuman or cruel act.
With all of our museums and monuments celebrating the grandeur and genius of the human spirit, we also require occasional cautionary reminders of our capacity to do evil, even unbelievable evil, to other human beings. And even if this particular museum focuses on the Nazi plan to exterminate European Jewry, Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Noun 1. Nobel Laureate - winner of a Nobel prize
laureate - someone honored for great achievements; figuratively someone crowned with a laurel wreath Elie Wiesel argues, "Once you remember, you remember everybody. Memory is not something that shrinks, but something that enriches."
Monuments to the Holocaust or other atrocities don't celebrate brutality or sensationalize sen·sa·tion·al·ize
tr.v. sen·sa·tion·al·ized, sen·sa·tion·al·iz·ing, sen·sa·tion·al·iz·es
To cast and present in a manner intended to arouse strong interest, especially through inclusion of exaggerated or lurid details: particular events. Rather, they remind us of a sickness in the human spirit from which, as recent outbreaks in Bosnia and Rwanda confirm, no people or age is immune. We remember, therefore, to remind ourselves of the need to be vigilant against our own inhumanity, whenever and wherever it occurs.
And more than this, these memorials remind us of the need to acknowledge and repent of our own tragic participation in such events, whether it be the Holocaust, slavery, or any other injustice. The permanent exhibition makes no bones about America's halfhearted half·heart·ed
Exhibiting or feeling little interest, enthusiasm, or heart; uninspired: a halfhearted attempt at writing a novel. efforts to assist Jewish refugees or emigres before the war, or about our government's unwillingness to destroy the death camps by aerial bombardment, even though we had no trouble firebombing Firebombing is a bombing technique designed to damage a target, generally an urban area, through the use of fire from a incendiary device, rather than from the blast effect of large bombs. Dresden. More than once in the museum I found myself recalling that old adage: "All that is required for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing."
Monuments such as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum or the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis are not only cautionary reminders but also invitations to repent for past sins. And repentance, as Pope John Paul II Pope John Paul II (Latin: Ioannes Paulus PP. II, Italian: Giovanni Paolo II, Polish: Jan Paweł II) born reminds us in a recent apostolic letter, is good for the soul.
"Acknowledging the weaknesses of the past," the pope argued, "is an act of honesty and courage which helps us to strengthen our faith, which alerts us to face today's temptations and challenges, and prepares us to meet them." Or as the Christian ethicist eth·i·cist also e·thi·cian
A specialist in ethics.
Noun 1. ethicist - a philosopher who specializes in ethics
philosopher - a specialist in philosophy Stanley Hauerwas argued, "To face our lives truthfully requires trust and courage, for if we are to be free we must face what we have done without illusion and deception."
Still, as the recent flap over the Smithsonian's planned exhibition of the Enola Gay made clear, it is always easier to erect a memorial to somebody else's inhumanity, or pick the splinter out of someone else's eye.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the close of World War II, the Smithsonian' s Air and Space Museum originally designed an exhibit addressing the role and impact of President Harry S. Truman's controversial decision to bomb Hiroshima. Upon learning of this, the American Legion and other veterans' groups raised a number of objections and demanded that the museum make significant changes in both the 10,000-square-foot exhibit and its accompanying 600-page text.
They argued that the exhibit offered an erroneous revisionist re·vi·sion·ism
1. Advocacy of the revision of an accepted, usually long-standing view, theory, or doctrine, especially a revision of historical events and movements.
2. interpretation of Truman's decision, one that both greatly underestimated the number of American and Japanese lives saved by shortening the war and wrongfully impugned American motives for bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The script was to be rewritten, they said, avoiding implied criticisms of Truman's decision.
The veterans also contended that the treatment of the postwar nuclear-arms race presented too negative a picture of the Cold War and should be dropped entirely. This was done. Finally, in January of this year, these groups, joined by 80 members of Congress, demanded not only that the museum cancel the vast bulk of its exhibit - reducing the amended text to a small plaque - but also that the Air and Space Museum's director be dismissed.
The Smithsonian's Board o f Regents did not agree to fire the museum's director, but they did accede to all other demands, cutting the entire exhibit back to a piece of the Enola Gay's fuselage, the recommended plaque, and a possible video of the crew. So when millions of Americans visit the Smithsonian this summer, there will be an unexplained fragment of the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb atomic bomb or A-bomb, weapon deriving its explosive force from the release of atomic energy through the fission (splitting) of heavy nuclei (see nuclear energy). The first atomic bomb was produced at the Los Alamos, N.Mex. on a population center.
There will be no discussion of the gradual erosion of moral restraint during World War II that led to the carpet bombing of civilian targets by both sides. There will be no conversation about the official justification or motives for bombing Hiroshima, though these positions are clearly disputed by reputable historians and moralists alike. And there will be no reference to the nuclear-arms race that led the planet to the brink of disaster.
This position seems all the more ironic given the museum's location just a few blocks from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, where we seem quite willing to take a long hard look at the underside of history. The Smithsonian museums line the Mall, America's front lawn where civil-rights demonstrators, antiwar an·ti·war
Opposed to war or to a particular war: antiwar protests; an antiwar candidate. protestors, and AIDS activists have proclaimed their dreams, sung their songs, and spread their quilts. If this is now not the place to examine the painful and controversial parts of American history, where should such work be done?
According to some critics, if the "imagineers" of Disney's America - Michael Eisner's $650 million proposed and then abandoned theme park in the heart of historic Virginia - had had their way, the response to that question might well have been, "What painful and controversial parts?" Last summer Disney found itself embroiled in what turned out to be a public-relations fiasco when its plans to build a theme park near Manassas National Battlefield Park Manassas National Battlefield Park: see Bull Run; national parks and monuments (table). encountered deep and widespread opposition.
While many local Virginians worried about the urban sprawl and glut that would certainly sprout up around Disney's 3,000-acre development, a group of 140 historians led by David McCullough argued that the real harm of Eisner's project was the danger it posed to our sense of history.
Concerned that Disney's high-tech entertainment park would lure tourists away from visiting a region rich in historic sites and monuments, Civil War historians such as Shelby Foote and Edwin Bearss warned of Disney's (or indeed any theme park's) tendency to sanitize To remove sensitive data from an information system, a database or an extract from a database. See sensitive. and sentimentalize sen·ti·men·tal·ize
v. sen·ti·men·tal·ized, sen·ti·men·tal·iz·ing, sen·ti·men·tal·iz·es
To imbue or regard with sentiment; be sentimental about.
v.intr. history. Likewise, C. Vann Woodward argued that Disney's America would "commercialize what should be revered, and vulgarize vul·gar·ize
tr.v. vul·gar·ized, vul·gar·iz·ing, vul·gar·iz·es
1. To make vulgar; debase: "What appalls him is the sheer cheesiness of TV iniquity. what is noble in American history." The historians did not object to Disney's theme parks, but to their displacement of real history.
Disney officials countered that most Americans were relatively ignorant of the region's rich tapestry of monuments and battlefields and that their park would help create more, not less, interest in American history. The basic point seemed to be that American history needed to be rescued from the dusty mothballs of books, museums, and battlefields, and repackaged in high-tech entertainment that would make it more accessible to contemporary Americans.
Eisner himself complained that a childhood trip to Washington had been one of the worst (i.e., boring) weekends of his life, while another Disney executive suggested that although museums and battlefields had their place, they weren't always capable of creating the thrilling re-creations of history that would be found in a theme park. Nonetheless, by September Disney had decided that its own battle of Bull Run had gotten much too bloody and signaled a hasty retreat, and I for one found myself cheering for McCullough's troops.
Though I like theme parks and thrilling rides as much as anyone I know, three things bother me about what seemed like Disney's attempt to displace history with "infotainment." First, entertainment in America - and Disney may be the best example of this - is a sucker for the sweet, sappy, and sentimental.
Such an approach may be just fine for theme parks and episodes of "The Waltons" and "Little House on the Prairie," but it's not so helpful in dealing with serious issues such as the American Revolution, slavery, or the Civil War.
Second, while I appreciate that Disney's high-tech approach offers a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine of history go down a bit easier, I was struck by the New York Times article "Packaging America's Killing Fields," in which the writer asked, "At what point does the attempt to make history accessible make it something other than history?" After all, history is more than information about the past; it is our struggle to understand the deeds and lives that formed our present. History involves the hard work of stepping outside of ourselves and looking for Looking for
In the context of general equities, this describing a buy interest in which a dealer is asked to offer stock, often involving a capital commitment. Antithesis of in touch with. the often difficult truths of our past.
Finally, in entertainment we are seeking to please or distract ourselves, whereas in history we are trying to remember and respect our dead. To paraphrase Lincoln at Gettysburg, it is the job of history to honor the brave men and women who have gone before us. For this sort of work a silent battlefield or roadside monument seems a fitter tribute than a roller coaster.
For most of us summer begins with Memorial Day weekend, a time when we might hope to pause and remember our past and honor our dead. In light of these recent controversies about history and the art of memory, let me offer a few suggestions for commemorating the past.
First, there are a number of interesting monuments or museums that might fit into summer travel plans. Such sites could include not only the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum but also the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and the Museum of Tolerance The Museum of Tolerance is a multimedia museum in Los Angeles, California, with an associated museum in New York City, designed to examine racism and prejudice in the United States and the world with a strong focus on the history of the Holocaust. in West Los Angeles
Second, there's ample reading material available for those who like to curl up with a good book. The Diary of a Young Girl, the definitive edition of Anne Frank's journal, has just been released by Doubleday, and of course the works of Elie Wiesel, including From the Kingdom of Memory: Reminiscences and the novel The Forgotten (Summit Books, 1990 and 1992), make fascinating reading.
There are a number of excellent Civil War books currently available, including works by Shelby Foote and Ken Burns. If you're interested in the history of the civil-rights movement, this could be a good time to read or reread Verb 1. reread - read anew; read again; "He re-read her letters to him"
read - interpret something that is written or printed; "read the advertisement"; "Have you read Salman Rushdie?" Martin Luther King's classic, Why We Can't Wait (NAL-Dutton, 1993), which includes his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." Also, given the silence at the Smithsonian, this might not be a bad year to pick up an old copy of John Hersey's Hiroshima (Random, 1989).
If you prefer videos, there are always movies such as "Schindler's List," "Shoah," and "Malcolm X Malcolm X, 1925–65, militant black leader in the United States, also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, b. Malcolm Little in Omaha, Neb. He was introduced to the Black Muslims while serving a prison term and became a Muslim minister upon his release in 1952. ," as well as PBS PBS
in full Public Broadcasting Service
Private, nonprofit U.S. corporation of public television stations. PBS provides its member stations, which are supported by public funds and private contributions rather than by commercials, with educational, cultural, videos such as "The Civil War" and "Eyes on the Prize Eyes on the Prize is a 14-hour documentary series about the American Civil Rights Movement that aired in two parts. Part one, six hours long, originally aired on PBS in early 1987 as Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). ." These efforts won't be as entertaining as some of the other things we'll all do this summer, but they might help us hone the art of our memory.