I recently heard on Karen’s blog about a story where Oliver North supposedly was barred from taking footage of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian. I wanted to check out the truth of this, so I went to the first place I usually, look: Snopes Urban Legends Reference Page. I have a hard time believeing Oliver North about anything, and of course his involvement in the Iran-Contra thing makes me completely unsympathetic to him. Still, if what he says is true in this case, it's a rather important thing to know, so I thought I'd look into it.
They didn’t have anything about the Smithsonian/Enola Gay story, but they DID have a few interesting Urban Legends about Oliver North.
1) He was said to have predicted that Osama Bin Laden was the most evil man in the world, and that we (the U.S.) should assassinate him while we had the chance. One variation of the Urban Legend asserts that Al Gore spoke against that plan, to the detriment of our entire country. It’s false, of course. The Snopes entry about this is fascinating. It is amazing how all the politically paranoid conspiracy theories (of both the right and left) all sound alike. Snopes actually has Oliver North’s statement of record denying the assertion that he had made the claims about Osama Bin Laden.
2) He criticized John Kerry for his defensiveness about his war record (which, at least Kerry had one, and at least his men who served on his swift boat could stand proudly by his side and vouch for him. That puts him miles ahead of Bush.) and for taking the final Purple Heart that allowed him an honorable discharge and thus to go home. I’m not saying anything against North’s record, where he claims he declined the Purple Hearts that would have allowed him to leave. That was his choice, and it was honorable, just as Kerry’s decision to go when he could probably have gotten out of going was honorable.
3) He is also connected with the proliferation of an urban legend where a dead animal is being shipped for burial, but is mistakenly replaced with a similar animal when the workers think that they are responsible for the death of the animal. Apparently, he uses the story in his lectures.
Along the lines of “Al Gore kept us from assassinating Osama Bin Laden”, I found an Urban legend that says that Bill Clinton intervened and convinced Israel to free Mohammad Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers. Needless to say, this was false as well.
As for North’s tiff with the Smithsonian, it appears to be a he/said/she/said sort of thing, with North saying that the Smithsonian’s decision was final, and the Smithsonian person saying that they needed to talk more to figure out how it can be done, and the rejection was for the specific plan.
This sort of thing raises the question of why does the Smithsonian feel like it needs to sell itself out for money? We should answer that question and fix the base problem. Either the Smithsonian needs more funding, or they need to be audited and have better oversight for their spending. Or maybe both.
An operation like the Smithsonian is going to be a huge sink-hole of cash, and there’s nothing to be done about that. It’s a huge operation and the maintenance alone has to be astronomical…much less funding ongoing projects, research and acquisitions.
You’re not going to find a better place to take your kids and get them all revved up about the country and its history and the coolness of learning stuff. If you want the Smithsonian museums to be glittering showcases of America, then you have to fund them generously, and there should be enough money for it. If there isn’t we should find out why, and for certain access to our heritage should not be sold off to the highest bidder.
Proprietary access isn’t in the interest of the country, or the subjects like history and culture or science where the archives are an important tool for accessing information for disseminating views of history.
The same information can be illustrative in many different ways. Allowing people with only one emphasis, or one viewpoint to have semi-exclusive use of that information is potentially damaging (just look what Conservative Libertarians do to Thomas Paine given half a chance. They totally leave out all his social programs that he wanted, and the taxes he wanted for civil works programs, and just harp on his criticism of taxes, and leave out the part where he was against taxes that went to pay for wars, and to support a parasitic upper class.)
On the other hand, not having the Smithsonian be able to continue and expand its mission is also dangerous. I think it’s pretty clear that if those for whom it is important don’t step up to the plate, and take care of things, then there will be little choice but to look elsewhere.
I certainly think that added oversight might be the best first step, as long as it is a balanced group made up of people who actually want the Smithsonian to succeed, which with this administration, I have my doubts. They can recommend cuts or reapportionment, and additional funding.
Definitely something to keep an eye on.