Monday, March 15, 2010

Reagan on the $50 bill?!

Noted historian Sean Wilentz writes in Sunday's NY Times to oppose the proposed replacing of Ulysses Grant's face on the US $50 bill with that of Ronald Reagan.  Wilentz ought to know whereof he speaks: he's just published a history of the Reagan era.  And he also notes how Grant has recently enjoyed a revival of sorts.

Revival or no - Grant's achievements as Civil War general and president far outshine those of Reagan, IMO.  And even if Grant's presidency was marked by corruption, Reagan's was hugely flawed by (1) his dealing with Saddam Hussein  during the Iran-Iraq war, as part of which he essentially winked at Saddam's genocidal treatment of the Kurds of northern Iraq (in particular, his chemical-gas bombing of Halabja); and (2) the Iran-Contra scandal, which marked Reagan as an asleep-at-the-switch leader (and, some would say, liar) who was curiously forgetful of some major misdeeds taking place under his nose. 

Too many Americans are already clueless about the history of their country.  Let's not make it worse by allowing all the insipid hagiography surrounding Reagan to disrespect a 19th-century president of greater achievement.

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