Saturday, April 23, 2005

Are We "Ugly Americans"?

By Jason Miller

Somebody please tell Karl Rove to quit holding up the applause sign. The minions he manipulates are cheering for an America that does not exist. The abstract concept of America, and its embodiment of liberties and human rights, is a fiction. Norman Rockwell's portrayal of America was an idealistic perversion of a landscape, that for many, has been littered with oppression, bigotry, greed, torture and even murder. Goya's brutal "Duel With Cudgels" would come closer to capturing the essence of the underlying mean-spiritedness of this nation that the Bush administration is working so hard to revitalize. Yes, there is a dark, brutish aspect to this self-proclaimed beacon of freedom and liberty, and I am going to delve into it. Read on if you dare to take an introspective look at the darker aspects of our national identity.

This nation's founders captured inhabitants of various nations or tribes
from the continent of Africa, brought them to the colonies against their
will, and allowed for their continued enslavement through our
Constitution. Abolitionists, like John Brown, were executed as terrorists.
A bloody Civil War and three Amendments to the Constitution still were not
enough to end the oppression of blacks in our nation. The specter of Jim
Crow arose in the south in the 1890's, and did not die out until leaders
like Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King, Jr. emerged in
the mid Twentieth Century. Even some peaceful opponents of black
oppression, like King, were slain for their beliefs. In today's world,
racism hides behind the veil of "political correctness", and those who
practice it often cower from the legal consequences of practicing their
bigotry openly. However, covert as it often is, racism is still a
pervasive part of American society.

The Native Americans have not fared so well in America either, at least
not since the Western Europeans invaded their continent. In 1830, the US
Congress passed the "Indian Removal Act", which eventually enabled the
federal government to resolve the problem of a growing population in the
state of Georgia by moving the Cherokee Nation to the state of Oklahoma,
In 1838, on the forced 1,000 mile march, 4,000 Cherokee men, women and
children died in what is now known as "The Trail of Tears".

Tecumseh, a Shawnee leader who organized opposition to forced Native
American colonization, showed his insight into the ugly aspect of America
when he spoke to the Osage tribe in 1812. In his speech, he said,
"Brothers, the white people are like poisonous serpents: when chilled,
they are feeble and harmless; but invigorate them with warmth, and they
sting their benefactors to death."

Thanks to Howard Zinn in Voices of a People's History of the United States
for uncovering a telling quote from the Saturday Pioneer, a newspaper in
Aberdeen, South Dakota. Ironically, L. Frank Baum, who also wrote The
Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was the paper's editor in 1890, when the quote
appeared. Shortly after the massacre at Wounded Knee, and the subsequent
murder of Sitting Bull, Baum's paper wrote, "The Whites, by law of
conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American
continent....and the best safety of the frontier settlers will be secured
by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians." What a
heart-warming heritage for our nation.

America continued to demonstrate its imperialistic ways in the Mexican
War. Eager to expand US territory, President James Polk annexed Texas, and
sent American troops to help this future state gain its independence from
Mexico. In less than two years, America brought Mexico to its knees, and
proudly included Texas, New Mexico, and California in its borders. Maybe
the illegal Mexican immigrants of today are simply trying to find their
ancestral homes that were seized by conquest.

William McKinley came to office in 1896 to preside over a country that
still had a ravenous appetite for expansion. "Manifest destiny" was the
order of the day. Under McKinnley, the US waged war against Spain in Cuba,
and drove the Spaniards out, leaving a power vacuum that was quickly
filled by greedy US corporations. 500,000 Filipinos were killed as America
wrested the Philippine Islands away from Spain. McKinley also arranged for
the annexation of Hawaii and Puerto Rico during his reign, or, depending
on one's perspective, presidency.

In the early Twentieth Century, Upton Sinclair and his fellow muckrakers
cast a light into the shadows where ruthless corporations victimized
workers and consumers with their avarice-driven disregard for health and
safety. Sinclair's expose' of the corrupt and dangerous practices of the
meat-packing industry (entitled The Jungle)led to the passage of The Pure
Food and Drug Act of 1906. Prior to the efforts of Populists and
Socialists, America's system of unbridled capitalism and laisez-faire
economic policy by the federal government enabled ruthless corporations to
treat their workers like cattle and market products to consumers with
little regard for health or quality.

Eugene Debs and other war protestors who violated the Sedition Act during
World War I, paid the price with their freedom. As they sat in prison for
exercising their First Amendment rights, over 100,000 Americans died in
the "war to end all wars". Our government could employ flag-waving
propaganda to lure millions of young men to face horror and death, but if
an individual protested against their use of this propaganda in the "land
of the free", that individual went to prison.

Ask the Japanese citizens during World War II for their perspective on the
"American Dream". Or would it be more appropriate to say "Nightmare"? Over
100,000 of them were displaced from their homes and businesses and herded
into camps surrounded by barb-wire. Their "crime" was "disloyalty". After
the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the federal government first employed curfews
as a means to marshal control of the "enemy within". Eventually, they made
the decision to move 110,000 people of Japanese descent into ten
"relocation centers" throughout the United States. Most of them were
American citizens born on American soil, and they were imprisoned without
a trial and without being charged with a crime. Guantanamo Bay now makes
America a repeat offender.

America is still drunk with power, arrogance, and an insatiable appetite
for the accumulation of wealth. Based on a statement of principles drafted
in 1997, and a think-tank created to formulate ways to implement the
principles, The Project for the New American Century paved the way for
George Bush and his pack of so-called "neo-cons" to launch the unprovoked
and unsubstantiated invasion of Iraq. Several of the war hungry neo-cons,
like Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney, signed the statement of principles,
and 9/11 gave them the excuse they needed to initiate their aggression.
Their imperial intentions are clearly outlined at Their
concluding paragraph states:

"Such a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity may not be
fashionable today. But it is necessary if the United States is to build on
the successes of this past century and to ensure our security and our
greatness in the next."

The Bush administration has demonstrated its commitment to making the
Twenty First Century the "American Century". However, the reality is, the
invasion of a small country like Iraq has stretched our military to its
limits, and two years later there is still strong resistance to the
American imposed government, and much chaos. The sun is setting on the
"American Empire" as Bush and his people desperately struggle to fan the
dying embers and rekindle the flames. There are multiple countries with
nuclear capabilities. China is rivalling the US both as an economic and
military power. Terrorism has proven to be the David to our Goliath. With
a $7.5 trillion deficit, America is bleeding red ink, and the effort in
Iraq is costing billions that this country does not have.

Bush has launched a war with no end in sight against the "evil
terrorists", an elusive, shadow target which cannot be definitively
beaten. Perpetual fear and hatred of the "terrorists" motivate Americans
to support a seemingly endless war, and enable Karl Rove to manipulate the
masses, leaving the neo-cons free to pursue their policy of military
proliferation of American interests to their hearts' content. However, the
waning strength of this nation, coupled with the rising strength of
nations like China, make this model unsustainable.

In 1997, with the advent of The Project for the New American Century,
America laid out a publicly available plan for global domination.
Historically, Americans have pursued a policy of aggressive global
expansionism under the guise of altruism, the "right of manifest destiny",
or under the pretext of protecting its regional interests. The United
States flaunts its lofty Constitution and Bill of Rights, yet with each
passing day continues to deny basic civil rights to homosexuals (who make
up 5% of the population), defies the UN and Geneva Convention, earns an
annual per capita income of $34,000.00 (compared to the world per capita
of $7,000.00), and consumes 25% of the world's fossil fuels (while 2
billion people in the world have no access to electricity and Bush has
elected to withdraw from the Kyoto Treaty). In 2000, the Bush regime
installed itself to rule our Executive branch by manipulating the voting
process. This regime has engaged in a consistent pattern of false
propaganda to manipulate public opinion, unilateral decision-making
without regard for relationships with allies or the UN, and has rewarded
and promoted its staff members in spite of acts of incompetence and war
crimes. The US Senate is now considering a bill, the Constitution
Restoration Act, promoted by America's own religious radicals. The CRA
would, for the purposes of judicial review, recognize "God as the
sovereign source of law, liberty, or government." And Americans thought
the Muslim theocracies were frightening?

Why were Americans surprised at the attack of 9/11? Certainly it shattered
our illusion of invulnerability. However, there are deeper psychological
forces at work. As Ward Churchill stated in "Some People Push Back",
"America's indiscriminately lethal arrogance and psychotic sense of
self-entitlement have long since given the great majority of the world's
peoples ample cause to be at war with it." It is time for America to stop
considering itself the center of the universe. America was not an innocent
victim on 9/11. The people who died that day were innocent victims, but
America as a nation was not innocent, and had been asking to be attacked
for many years. Our nation has oppressed and provoked people and other
nations since its founding, and has faced few consequences. 9/11 was a
wake up call. It is time for America to come down from its pedestal and
take its place amongst the world community, as equals, rather than as
condescending tyrants.

I will conclude by stating that I still believe in the inherent decency of
many of the people in the United States. My opinion is that the
Constitution and Bill of Rights represent a contract between citizens and
government that is unparalleled in its capacity to create a government
that represents and protects the rights and interests of its people. I
believe in an economic system based on capitalism, provided there are
reasonable government restraints on the power of businesses, and
government safety nets for the poor and under-privileged. Despite the ugly
stains on our history, we as Americans had been making great evolutionary
strides in the areas of civil rights, inclusion, justice, and toning down
our aggressive foreign policy. However, I am seeing many signs of that
progress eroding. America is a nation comprised of millions of people and
dynamics, and to expect it to live up to the idealized notions of truth,
justice, and the American way would be unrealistic. Yet, the fact that the
ideal is unattainable does not give us license to abandon the principles
of our Constitution to the extent that we have. Today, I have written
about the dark side of our nation to motivate those of us who are willing
to look at the uglier aspects of our nature to continue to work toward a
more spiritually evolved and enlightened place.