Americans consider my grandfather’s to be our Greatest Generation. Those who fought in World War II against the most despicable human in recent history, in Hitler, and the Japanese who had brutally attacked Pearl Harbor and deployed kamikazes.
But in doing so, we became the only humans to use an atomic bomb against civilians. And then another, proving that we could raze cities full of human beings with either plutonium or uranium. Japanese-Americans were demonized & fear-mongered to the point that we threw our own citizens into internment camps. We firebombed dozens of Japanese cities, Tokyo most devastatingly. As well as German cities, most infamously Dresden. We sent Jewish refugees back to Nazi Germany. Meanwhile back at home, a culture of perpetual terrorism against blacks.
So, if our greatest generation did some of the worst things Americans have ever done, when exactly did our actions match the rosy American Exceptionalism ideal that we’ve been conditioned to celebrate?
Columbus wasn’t American, he never even set foot here – he was just lost. We credit him with discoveringHispaniola (current Haiti/Dominican Republic), even though there were as many as 3 million natives on the island. His diaries depict a brute. He notes how the generosity & kindness of the natives would render them an easy conquest. They were wiped out (killed/enslaved) within 50 years of Columbus’ arrival. And yet, we celebrate this savage every year (though more cities are instead celebrating Indigenous People’s Day).
Speaking of natives, everyone knows that we stole the land while committing a nearly-complete genocide. We stash the few that remain on reservations, and let them sell casinos & fireworks. Especially odd is our thirst for victim-hood – portraying cowboys as prey of the natives. We nostalgize their savagery!
Our Thanksgiving myth is also an ahistorical white-washing. We were already about the genocide by the time of the first Thanksgiving, it was simply confined to a relatively small area.
This is not an attack on tradition or patriotism. After all, we were the first officially secular nation. We (eventually) fought Hitler. The Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe following years of brutal war, turning enemies into allies, and winning the battle of morality, along with hearts & minds the world over. We won race to the moon. We’ve had great innovators and artists.
Our founders were great thinkers, as evidenced by the documents & achievements they produced. But sadly, they wrote 3/5ths, and many owned slaves themselves. The best of us, and the best of times, have consistently succumbed to moral short-comings.
Try as we might, we don’t get to simply proclaim that we are the proverbial shining city on the hill. This distinction is an ongoing struggle, and determined by our actions from moment to moment. It requires generosity & restraint. It requires that we not stoop to the level of people we call the bad guys. It requires that we not be arrogant & reflexive. It requires that we make wise & moral decisions – especially when doing so is the more difficult & nuanced alternative that doesn’t fit into easy-to-consume-and-regurgitate sound bites & talking points.
Attaining, much less maintaining, such a level of thoughtfulness & maturity is difficult. But that is exactly what we demand of ourselves when we profess to be exceptional. And requires that we not be ignorant of our past mistakes, so that we begin to see beyond our biased, America-centric perspective.
Four hundred American journalists were coerced into pushing government-approved propaganda in the 1950s under Operation Mockingbird. Today, six corporations control roughly 90% of American media – from movies & television to books & magazines. Biased infotainment is packaged as news. Our government threatens actual journalists with charges of espionage, and tortures their sources/whistle-blowers. We have textbooks which refer to African slaves as migrant workers. We say the War of 1812, forgetting that (it was an off-shoot of the Napoleonic Wars, and that) we were even involved, let alone wanting to annex-us a little bit of Canada.
Women couldn’t vote until a hundred years ago, and we still haven’t elected a female leader. Despite Roe, women (especially poor women) only have a semblance of bodily autonomy in much of the country. They are slut-shamed. They are looked upon with skepticism (or outright blamed) when raped on college campuses and in the military. This while hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits gather dust. Women are paid less for the same work. Assertiveness is seen as bitchiness. Along with Papua New Guinea, we have no paid maternity leave. Yet, we have MRA alpha-males who think women are keeping them down.
Transgender individuals are berated & attacked in the streets. Though the fight for marriage equality seemed to be won fairly swiftly, generations of our gay brothers & sisters have been tortured, both physically & emotionally. The Reagan administration slow-footed funding for research and saw AIDS as a punch-line – as a gay thing. Suicide & homelessness rates are still extraordinarily high. There still are no federal protections against housing or employment discrimination. And we still have presidential candidates whose political platforms openly embrace legalized discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
My ancestors kidnapped slaves from their homes, and brutalized them on slave-ships. We beat away their (names, heritage, and) religious customs, replacing them with one that instructs slaves to bow their heads and submit, because spiritual rewards would come in another lifetime. We built this country literally on the backs of slaves (even the White House). And not historically typical slaves, who would’ve had lost in battle, or been indebted or criminal. Ours were slaves for their pigment. Dehumanized. Easy to rape & torture. Easy to rip families apart & terrorize.
Even in the text of our founding documents. Even after the country was split in two over slavery in civil war, even after Reconstruction – we had Dred Scott. Thousands of lynchings went unpunished, destruction of Black Wall Street, Jim Crow, Tuskeegee experiments, red-lining, urban flight followed by gentrification. Interracial marriage was illegal until around the time my dad was born. It took the assassination of both JFK & MLK just to get the Voting Rights Act – which is now being decimated by a supreme court which says both that racism has spread beyond the South, and is a thing of the past. We have the War on Drugs and minimum sentencing guidelines leading to mass incarceration like no other nation (5% of earth’s population, and 25% of earth’s prisoners), and which is disproportionately applied to blacks.
Despite persistent video evidence of unarmed black folks being murdered by law enforcement – who are rarely, if ever, punished. The suggestion that perhaps Black Lives Matter as well somehow demands rejoinder and derision by those who reply with All Lives Matter & Blue Lives Matter.
To the point that 58% of the country believes, counter-intuitively and despite all evidence to the contrary, that there is a war on cops. During this – literally the safest – time to have a job in law enforcement in US history. FBI Director James Comey says (as do others) that violent crime is spiking (though it’s not) because cops are too afraid to do their jobs without carte blanche to violate (dark and/or poor) people’s rights with impunity.
It’s always been this way. While blacks have been the perpetual American punching bags, we don’t discriminate in our discrimination – every single wave of immigrants & refugees are perceived as others. Ne’er-do-wells to be finger-pointed & fear-mongered, for at least a little while. ‘Murican hazing, as it were.
The Irish were seen as drunken imbeciles & gang members when they came to Ellis Island, but they eventually just became white people (see, default American). Italians were particularly violent gang members, until they eventually too were allowed into the club. There’s always a number of anti-Semites (they’re not Christians, so…). Occasionally some mouth-breathing knuckle-dragger will attack a Jewish center and accidently murder some Christians (bigots generally aren’t too bright). But most Americans consider Jews to simply be white, as well.
We used Chinese immigrants for the back-breaking work of laying our railways, while denying them basic rights, and enacting prohibition on their (real or perceived) vice. The internment of 110k Japanese-Americans (70% of whom were born here) during WWII was certainly unfortunate. The nukes & the fire-bombing during WWII were questionable, at best. While attempting to overthrow a communist North Vietnamese regime in the 1950’s, we propped up tyrants in the South. We lied about our destroyer being torpedoed in the Gulf of Tonkin as an excuse for war. We used chemical weapons on civilians (and our own) in our disastrous & despicable foray into Vietnam. Hundreds of civilians were slaughtered in the My Lai massacre. The CIA carried out numerous coups in Laos before sending in bombers, turning a quarter of Laotians into refugees. We buy iPads & dollar items from China, produced via child-labor & slave-like working conditions. And we say: Hey, tiger moms make for smart/hard-working Asian kids – at least the stereotype is positive for once, right?
We stole Texas from Mexico, along with our entire Southwest. We supported Papa Doc (and Baby Doc) Duvalier in Haiti. In the Dominican Republic & Guatemala – we were involved in assassinations, coups & attempted coups, supporting a military junta even overtly with our military. Largely for US corporate interests. Hence, Banana Republic. Our CIA was involved in coups in Ecuador, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, & Cambodia (leading to the Khmer Rouge regime). We supported dictators & tyrants in El Salvador & Nicaragua (Iran-Contra). We taught governments in Uruguay & Honduras to better & more often torture their people.
Fascists such as Donald Trump & Ann Coulter are rewarded for their hate-speech against Mexicans (and xenophobia more broadly). ‘Muricans cry about illegals (humans aren’t aliens, btw) while demanding a higher and higher wall to keep those peopleout.
Even though net migration from Mexico has been less than zero since 2010, and walls don’t stop tunnels or airplanes. (Also, walls keep seasonal workers in, who permanently bring along their families.) Politicians are talking about revoking birthright citizenship as they shout about anchor babies (see, babies, aka American citizens), undoing one of our most basic values, and reverting to pre-Margna Carta level human rights. Presidential candidates have recommended armed drones patrolling the border, and rounding up 11 million people with deportation squads.
The most intense (post-9/11) hatred in America is reserved, without question, for Arabs. Muslims specifically, but Sikhs (non-Muslim, yet turban adorned) are occasionally caught in the cross-hairs (again, bigots aren’t too bright). Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country, and there are 3 million Muslim-Americans. But we when we say Muslim, we see Arab, though they are generally interchangeable (like Hispanic/Latino) when speaking American. Britain, France (& Russia) divvied up Middle East control with Sykes-Picot, resulting in nonsensical political boundaries sans ethnic/tribal/religious considerations. We (along with the UK) overthrew the democratically elected leader of Iran in order to prop up a monarchy. We overthrew the democratically elected leader of Indonesia with a military coup, leading to the murder of up to a million suspected communists, many of whom were identified by the US. We gave weapons to Saddam Hussein, until he started using them on ethnic Kurds in Iraq, and invaded Kuwait. So we went to war with our former ally. The post-9/11 Iraqi government banned Saddam’s Baathists from government and military positions, leading to the formation of Daesh(ISIS) We funded Osama Bin Ladin & the Mujahideen in the 1980s – propping up religious fundamentalists in order to aid the demise of the godless Soviet commies.
Speaking of 9/11, we lied about WMDs in order to justify our illegal invasion of Iraq, one of numerous unprosecuted war crimes carried out in our name since the attacks. We lock people away without charge and torture them now. We kill civilians, seemingly indiscriminately & far from any battlefield, and we posthumously label them enemy combatants, or collateral damage, at best.
We unquestionably support the Israeli government -Netanyahu’s Likud party specifically – while they continue to house Palestinians the worlds’ largest out-door prison. And continue to expand their occupation, while denying statehood to the Palestinian people. We give billions annually to Egypt, who execute protesters and political prisoners, in exchange for keeping Israel’s western border secure. We support (NATO member) Turkey, whose government is killing Kurds while claiming to attack Daesh, while allowing Daesh to cross the border and sell their oil on the black market. Since they sell cheap oil and keep embargos at bay, we support Saudi Wahhabis, who not only behead people regular basis, but who fund numerous terrorist organizations, including Daesh.
We recently bombed a Medecins Sans Frontieres (DwoB) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. We initially claimed that the bombing was an accident, since the Taliban were launching attacks near-by. Then it was an accident, because our Afghan allies called in the air strike, supposedly because they are upset that DwoB refuse to take sides in conflict, and roughly 20 Taliban were being treated at the time of the attack. Then it was an accident, but it was our special ops who called it in at behest of the Afghans, who haven’t the authority. Then it was on purpose, because the Taliban were attacking from inside the hospital (which DwoB denies), but correct procedure was not followed by special ops, who were suspended. But don’t worry, nothing to see here. It’s not a war crime, because we are the good guys, and we wouldn’t do that.
Except for when we do – we bombed the Red Cross in Afghanistan in 2001. A pharmaceutical plant in Sudan in 1998. A formula plant (and an air-raid facility) in Iraq in 1991.
We’re ruthless bastards. In response to Ebola, we wanted to ban travel to/from Africa altogether, even when experts claimed doing so would be counter-productive in containing Ebola. No matter. Trump said Ebola doctors must suffer the consequences. Chris Christie is being sued by a doctor who he had quarantined.
In 1939, we refused the MS St. Louis, containing 900 Jewish refugees, and returned them to Germany, where a third of them were killed by Nazis. We protested bus-loads of refugees fleeing cartels in the south.
Now, we are again faced with refugees fleeing madmen in Syria (Assad) and Iraq. We call Daesh the most vicious murderers since the Nazis, and though they exist partly as result of our own doing, we are again proving heartless.
In response to the attacks in Paris, we are shutting out Syrian refugees via bureaucracy. Despite the fact that it’s much, much easier to get a Visa and a plane ticket than the 18-24 months already required to be approved for refugee status from Syria through the UN, and the US State Department, Dept of Homeland Security… And despite the fact that the Paris murderers were from France & Belgium, from whence even the Visa becomes unnecessary.
Worse than the irrational stupidity & ignorance in policy-making, is the fear-mongering of Muslims. Mayors & state legislators have suggested internment camps. The blatant & worsening Islamophobia slithering its way throughout the country is extremely disturbing. Presidential candidates are talking about shuttering mosques & creating religious tests, registries, & special identification for Muslims. Trump insists thousands of Muslim-Americans in New Jersey celebrated on 9/11, and that we must bring back torture since that’s why we got Bin Ladin (also untrue). We have thought-leaders talking about nuclear first-strikes, and rabid bumpkins at town-meetings threatening Muslims & saying they’re all terrorists.