Imagine that an item of some minor historic significance (not the Declaration of Independence, or even South Carolina’s Ordinance of Secession) has been bequeathed to a museum for “appropriate display.”
What comes to mind? Spending $5.3 million in taxpayer funds to open a whole new wing of an already-underutilized museum? Expanding the museum’s footprint by a third in order to enhance the “appropriate display”? Increasing the museum’s annual operating costs by a third?
Of course not. You think of placing the object in a display case under glass. Perhaps, depending on the medium, hanging it on a wall in a frame.
It never made any sense to me to give the white-glove treatment to the $52 off-the-rack nylon replica of a Confederate flag that happened to be the one flying at the time the Legislature agreed to remove it from the State House grounds. It never made sense to make ceremony of handing it off to South Carolina’s official keeper of things Confederate. Or to house it in a special container in a locked, alarmed, climate-controlled room while a special committee decides how to comply with the law that requires the flag that flew on the State House grounds for a total of 14 days to be given “appropriate display.”
But most of the lawmakers who have fond feelings about the flag agreed in good faith to remove it from its inappropriate place of honor on South Carolina’s front lawn in return for that special to-be-determined “appropriate display.” So those of us who did not have fond feelings about it need to act with equally good faith as we approach the time to remove the flag from its acid-free tissue paper inside its white, acid-free textile storage box and put it on display.
As an act of good faith, I think it would be appropriate for the taxpayers to buy the display case.
What is not appropriate is a $5.3 million shrine that a consultant dreamed up for the elaborate display of the flag and all sorts of other things Confederate that no one had seen any need to display up to this point. In a state that has slashed state funding for the entire State Museum by 40 percent since 2007. It’s an idea that reaches past appropriate all the way over to worship, as though this cheap piece of nylon were the Confederate Shroud of Turin.
This isn’t mission creep. It’s mission leap.
It wouldn’t be appropriate to expand the footprint of the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum by a third even if the initial cost projection dropped by half. Frankly, I’m not convinced it would be appropriate even if private donors paid the entire bill. That’s not simply, or even primarily, because the taxpayers still would have to pick up the annual $416,000 cost of operating the expanded museum. It’s because the whole idea of this mission-leaping, growing-government display is simply … tawdry.
The consultant on the public dole to design the “appropriate display” of the $52 flag envisions what The Associated Press describes as “8-foot tall panels made of hundreds of thousands if not millions” of light-emitting diodes scrolling the names of the 22,000 South Carolinians killed in the Civil War, along with “digitized photos from the museum’s collections, videos or other items.”
No mention was made of when we’ll get around to a similarly elaborate display honoring the brave South Carolinians who gave their lives to help win our freedom from Great Britain. Or who helped save our state, nation and world from totalitarianism in two world wars.
“If you go for something that has this drama, and this scale, it doesn’t come cheap,” consultant Alisdair Hinshelwood told the commission full of Confederate aficionados charged with determining the “appropriate display” of the modern Confederate flag replica, under which no South Carolinians ever fought.
Drama? For decades now, we’ve been told that displaying the defeated banner of a defeated nation was all about honoring the sacrifices of our brave ancestors, who gave their lives for what they saw as the defense of their state. Drama is not a word we usually employ in conjunction with honoring the dead. Reverence, perhaps. Not drama.
Certainly some envision using the Relic Room to attract tourists, and such efforts do benefit from drama. Some note that the Relic Room is no longer the Relic Room but the Relic Room and Military Museum, and that as such it’s perfectly positioned to attract veterans as visitors. But a military museum is hardly going to attract veterans of the United States military by beefing up its offerings honoring an army that fought against the U.S. Army. It’s hardly going to attract veterans of the U.S. military by building a massive new display around a flag that never flew in battle, that wasn’t even pulled off the assembly line for 150 years after the real flags were furled.
Beyond the flaws in the “if you build it they will come” mindset, we’re not that far removed from serious efforts to completely defund the State Museum. Spending $5.3 million on a … cultural attraction — and increasing the Relic Room’s annual operating budget from $1.2 million to $1.6 million — hardly seems like a core function of government.
If someone wants to build and operate a tourist trap dedicated to the Confederacy, that someone should be a private entity.
Cindi Ross Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State.