It’s pretty sad when a respected national institution like the Smithsonian fails to uphold the minimum scholarly standards that its reputation implies.
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery recently unveiled the portrait of George W. Bush that will hang in the museum. Accompanying the portrait will be a description of Bush’s tenure that says it was…
“…marked by a series of catastrophic events” including “the attacks on September 11, 2001, that led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Of course the catastrophic events of 9/11 had absolutely nothing to do with the war in Iraq. Well, unless you consider the fact that the Bush administration conspired to exploit the tragedy in order to justify their previously determined agenda of aggression against Iraq and other Middle East oil producers. By now everyone knows that the claims about WMDs and connections between Saddam and Al Qaeda were lies. For the Smithsonian to be so careless in their exposition of these events is an irresponsible mangling of history.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has sent a letter to the portrait gallery director, Martin Sullivan, objecting to the language. The letter says in part…
“The 9/11 attacks did not lead to the war in Iraq. What President Bush was telling us (before the war) was that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq was somehow in collusion with Al Qaeda. Those were misstatements of fact, as even President Bush has since acknowledged. [...] You can agree or disagree with the war. I simply think it’s important that history not be rewritten. Politicians spin all the time, but a wonderful national institution like the National Portrait Gallery should stick to the facts.”
The Smithsonian has not yet responded to Sen. Sanders’ letter. In the meantime, it might be useful to weigh in on the matter by letting the gallery know that people are paying attention and that accuracy in the depiction of American history is important. Particularly as it relates to matters of war and the trustworthiness of our government representatives at the highest levels.
Email the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery Exhibitions group and demand that they tell the truth: NPGExhibitions@si.edu. And please be respectful in your communications. Gallery director Sullivan has a distinguished record that includes this honorable act after the Bush administration permitted Iraq’s historical treasures to be stolen and destroyed:
“It didn’t have to happen,” Sullivan told Reuters. “In a pre-emptive war that’s the kind of thing you should have planned for.
Sullivan said that just prior to resigning in protest from his post at that time as chairman of the U.S. President’s Advisory Committee on Cultural Property. He had been appointed to that office by President Clinton. Also, as Gallery director Sullivan acquired the iconic “HOPE” poster of Barack Obama by Shepard Fairey. That’s the very same poster made internationally famous by my John McCain “NOPE” parody of it.
Victory Update: Gallery director Martin Sullivan has responded to Sen. Sanders’ letter conceding the inaccurate language and promising to revise it:
“Our label was not intended to imply that there was a causal connection between the attacks that occurred on 9/11 and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Iraq…I appreciate your concern, however, about the words ‘led to’. We will revise the label and delete the words ‘led to.’”
Much thanks go out to Mr. Sullivan and, of course, Sen. Sanders.