The Scars of Our Nation’s Violent Birth

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tags: Fourth of July, Museum of the American Revolution



George Will is a Pulitzer Prize–winning syndicated columnist. 


Some American history museums belabor visitors with this message: You shall know the truth and it shall make you feel ashamed of, but oh-so-superior to, your wretched ancestors. The new Museum of the American Revolution is better than that. Located near Independence Hall, it celebrates the luminous ideas affirmed there 241 Julys ago, but it does not flinch from this fact: The war that began at Lexington and Concord 14 months before the Declaration of Independence was America’s first civil war. And it had all the messiness and nastiness that always accompany protracted fratricide.

Among its many interesting artifacts — weapons, uniforms, documents — the museum’s great possession is the tent George Washington used from 1778 to 1783, which on its long, winding path to the museum was owned by Robert E. Lee’s wife and was later sold to raise money for Confederate widows. The museum makes rather more than is necessary of the Oneida Indian Nation’s contributions to American independence but, then, the Oneidas are now in the casino business and contributed $10 million to the museum.

The museum has one of those “immersive” exhibits wherein visitors hear the cannon and feel the vibrations of battle. It would, however, be a more convincing experience of war if enemies were trying to impale the visitors with this war’s most lethal device, the bayonet.

Never mind. There are limits to what realities a museum can, or should try to, convey. This probably bothers those who are properly intent on making us face the worst facts. Consider, for example, Holger Hoock’s recently published Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth.

He writes in the manner of current academics, who are forever “unmasking” this and that. He offers “an unvarnished portrait” of revolutionary violence in order to purge the “popular memory” of “romanticized notions” and end the “whitewashing and selective remembering and forgetting” and — herewith the inevitable academic trope — the “privileging” of patriots’ perspectives. ...





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