Monday, June 30, 2008
Missing the point
The Christian Century recently published an article by Benjamin Hufbauer about George W. Bush's Presidential Library, planned to be built on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. It makes for interesting reading, to say the least. Each President since Franklin Roosevelt has had a Presidential library, and these institutions play a valuable role in preserving the historical record for future generations.
As I understand it, as well as preserving the historical record, one of the missions of a library of this kind is to facilitate vigorous scholarship and intellectual enquiry. Whilst some materials cannot be made available to researchers for national security reasons, I agree with Hufbauer that as far as possible, these libraries should be allowed to ensure that the historical record and public memory of these presidencies is balanced and accurate, and not slanted.
This means not deliberately omitting or selectively withholding materials from access that portray them unfavourably, as more recent Presidents have done, or glossing over controversial events that seem to afflict each administration, such as the Vietnam War, the Iran-Contra affair, and the Iraq War, to name but a few. In a previous post, I wrote that I'm all for giving political figures the respect due to them when they leave office, but part of this comes on the condition that they humbly and willingly submit themselves to unrestricted historical scrutiny. A library should be allowed to function as a library, and not what amounts to a shrine.