Jewish World Review May 28, 2003 / 26 Iyar 5763

Thomas Sowell

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An appalling idiocy

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | With the passing years, it becomes ever more painful for me to read the preambles of legislation. Time and time again, the wonderful and inspiring words in those preambles have turned out to have no relationship whatsoever to the actual consequences that followed. The real issue is not what pious words you can come up with, but what incentives are you creating and what are the likely consequences of those incentives.

It is especially painful to read a proposal to create a "National Slave Memorial" on the Washington Mall. Supposedly this memorial will promote "reconciliation" and "healing," according to both the Republican and Democratic supporters of this proposal.

It is hard to imagine that any sane adult actually believes those words. You know and I know that a slave memorial will not reconcile anybody to anybody nor heal any racial divisions. Just the opposite.

A slave memorial is guaranteed to become a magnet for every race hustler from Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton down to any local demagogue who can scare up a crowd to go stand in front of the slave memorial and spew venom at American society on TV. Some reconciliation, some healing!

As for whites, when a proposal was made some years ago by Congressman Tony Hall for a Congressional apology for slavery, so much hostile mail came in that the idea was killed. If a slave memorial is going to inflame both blacks and whites, who is going to be "healed" or "reconciled"?

Anyone whose IQ is not in single digits must know that, once a slave memorial is put on the Washington Mall, it will be politically impossible to remove it. Expediency-minded politicians of both parties may think of a slavery memorial as a cheap way to "throw a bone" to the black community, as someone put it, but it is in fact just a down payment on racial polarization that can cost this country dearly for years to come.

This proposal has bipartisan support in Congress -- as so many other disastrous policies have had. If the Democrats were to propose that all Americans leap off a thousand-foot cliff, moderate Republicans would come up with a compromise proposal that three-quarters of us leap off a 500-foot cliff. The slave memorial is apparently that kind of compromise proposal -- "reparations light," as it were.

None of this is affected in the slightest by whether the sponsors of this legislation are honest and earnest, or by whether their intentions are good or they write an inspiring preamble to the legislation. We all know what road is paved with good intentions. We don't need to have it proven one more time.

This is the kind of low-budget time bomb that can easily sneak into legislation in the last days before Congress adjourns, when everyone is too busy preparing to go home to read all the provisions of the bills they vote on.

The only way to prevent this from happening, either this year or in future years, is for the voting public to inform their Senators and Representatives loud and clear that they do not want any such memorial created by the federal government, whether on the Washington Mall or anywhere else.

Among the pious cant that we are being fed by those pushing this proposal is that a memorial will serve to remind future Americans that slavery was cruel and evil. Most Americans understood that in the 19th century! What a memorial would do is perpetuate the fraud that slavery was something peculiar to the United States, when in fact it was one of the oldest and most widespread of all human institutions, existing for thousands of years on every inhabited continent, involving people of every race and color as both slaves and slaveowners. Even in the United States, there were thousands of black slaveowners, and in Africa many more.

The United States was one of many Western nations which turned against slavery in the 19th century -- while non-Western nations bitterly resisted efforts by the West to get them to abolish slavery. Only the fact that Western imperialists had more firepower enabled their revulsion against slavery to prevail.

Maybe we should have a monument to historical truth somewhere, though Washington hardly seems the place for it.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Controversial Essays." (Sales help fund JWR.)

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