Cultural Revolutions

An Obscene Carnival

The obscene carnival of digging up an American hero who died 141 years ago has come to an end. No arsenic was found in Zachary Taylor's remains, proving that he was not poisoned, which any competent and sensible historian could have told you without this grotesque and impious exercise. (Even if significant traces of arsenic had been found, it would, in fact, have meant nothing. Arsenic was an ingredient in many medicines and embalming fluids in common use in 1850, and its presence would not have proved conspiracy and poisoning.)

We did not learn anything about American history before the Civil War from this business. There was never the slightest possibility that we would do so. The affair tells us a lot, however, that will never be acknowledged, about our intellectually and ethically degraded present; more specifically, it reveals that what passes for the official view of earlier American history is not only ignorant but warped. No society has ever devoted more resources to historical study than modern America, and no society has ever so wantonly cut itself off not only from understanding but from identification with its own past.

This foolish exercise should never have been permitted by Taylor's descendants. There used to be better standards. It is little known, but in the early 19th century there was an effort to remove George Washington's remains from Mount Vernon to the Capitol. It was quietly but firmly...

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