7.04.2006

symbols

Happy Fourth of July to my US friends. Check out Cody's friend Noah.

A long time ago, I thought about my different reactions to the Stars and Stripes and the Maple Leaf. (If you go back to that post, don't miss the comments.)

Howard Zinn (ever my hero) has been thinking about this, too. This Fourth, Zinn suggests we put away our flags - and helps explain the difference between patriotism in a country like Canada and nationalism in the US.
On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism -- that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder -- one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

These ways of thinking -- cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on -- have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica and many more). But in a nation like ours -- huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction -- what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.

Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy.

That self-deception started early.

When the first English settlers moved into Indian land in Massachusetts Bay and were resisted, the violence escalated into war with the Pequot Indians. The killing of Indians was seen as approved by God, the taking of land as commanded by the Bible. The Puritans cited one of the Psalms, which says: "Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the Earth for thy possession."

When the English set fire to a Pequot village and massacred men, women and children, the Puritan theologian Cotton Mather said: "It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day."

On the eve of the Mexican War, an American journalist declared it our "Manifest Destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence." After the invasion of Mexico began, The New York Herald announced: "We believe it is a part of our destiny to civilize that beautiful country."

It was always supposedly for benign purposes that our country went to war.

We invaded Cuba in 1898 to liberate the Cubans, and went to war in the Philippines shortly after, as President McKinley put it, "to civilize and Christianize" the Filipino people.

As our armies were committing massacres in the Philippines (at least 600,000 Filipinos died in a few years of conflict), Elihu Root, our secretary of war, was saying: "The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the war began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness."

We see in Iraq that our soldiers are not different. They have, perhaps against their better nature, killed thousands of Iraq civilians. And some soldiers have shown themselves capable of brutality, of torture.

Yet they are victims, too, of our government's lies.

How many times have we heard President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tell the troops that if they die, if they return without arms or legs, or blinded, it is for "liberty," for "democracy"?

One of the effects of nationalist thinking is a loss of a sense of proportion. The killing of 2,300 people at Pearl Harbor becomes the justification for killing 240,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The killing of 3,000 people on Sept. 11 becomes the justification for killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And nationalism is given a special virulence when it is said to be blessed by Providence. Today we have a president, invading two countries in four years, who announced on the campaign trail last year that God speaks through him.

We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.

We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.

15 comments:

James said...

You'd think these oh-so-devout Christians in the US wouldn't put up with all this flag-worshiping idolatry... But then, these are the same people who come up with things like this.

There's an excellent commentary on that monstrocity here.

Lone Primate said...

Wow, what a focused pieced of clarity this article is. It's like watching the lenses drop one by one into place until at last you can see the eye chart. I wish I could muster this kind of clear, cool, eloquent logic when I'm trying to make a point. This writer bears studying.

L-girl said...

This writer bears studying.

Howard Zinn? Oh yeah! For my money, he's the best there is.

Here's his website. Or, for best results, read his People's History of the United States.

I wish I could muster this kind of clear, cool, eloquent logic when I'm trying to make a point.

He's the same way in person. Somehow he manages to say all this without anger, and always with optimism. I don't know how he does it, but I admire him no end for it.

L-girl said...

But then, these are the same people who come up with things like this.

I haven't clicked on this yet, but I can guess what it is... :)

L-girl said...

I was right. Disgraceful, isn't it?

James said...

The really bothersome aspect of this thing is that the variety of Christians who would put it up are the ones who are most opposed to the basic concept of "liberty" (it its truest sense). Sort of like those who most argue that "we have to have our guns so we can overthrow the government if it turns into a tyranny" are those most likely to impose a tyranny given the chance.

Lone Primate said...

Sort of like those who most argue that "we have to have our guns so we can overthrow the government if it turns into a tyranny"

I've always been amazed at how fat a logic bomb can slip by these people undetected...

"We need guns!"

"Why?"

"In case the government comes to take our guns!"

...It's like the old joke about the charm that keeps away tigers in places where there are no tigers.

L-girl said...

The really bothersome aspect of this thing is that the variety of Christians who would put it up are the ones who are most opposed to the basic concept of "liberty" (it its truest sense).

And... religious people should be the people most concerned with true religious freedom. Religious zealots should support separation of church and state - it's to their benefit. Some sects recognize that, but most don't.

James said...

Religious zealots should support separation of church and state - it's to their benefit. Some sects recognize that, but most don't.

But it isn't to the benefit of zealots -- it's to the benefit of moderates. Zealots don't want to be exposed to any contrary ideas, and the separation of Church and State means that they will be, because other religions will be allowed.

When the Puritans came to the Americas, it wasn't to get away from theocracy, it was to establish their own theocracy with themselves on top instead of on the bottom like they were in England.

(That's another thing that bugs me about US mythology: the Puritans were not exemplars of freedom and democracy. They were a bunch of hard-core religious misfits who'd have condemned most modern US Christians as evil.)

L-girl said...

But it isn't to the benefit of zealots -- it's to the benefit of moderates. Zealots don't want to be exposed to any contrary ideas, and the separation of Church and State means that they will be, because other religions will be allowed.

Well, I'm thinking of all the zealots who are minority and fringe religions. Jevohah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, et al. I've had a lot of personal experience with all of those, and they are (generally) ardent believers in the separation of church and state, and in religious tolerance. Yet I would describe them as zealots in their religious views.

L-girl said...

That's another thing that bugs me about US mythology: the Puritans were not exemplars of freedom and democracy.

Who ever says they were? That's not really part of US mythology. Not in the US, anyway.

lucie said...

I'll miss a lot of things from the US when I leave... but it's nothing compared with the things I won't miss!

One small question, though: were you at all scared, before you left? I know it's not like I'm moving to China or something, plus I've already changed countries a few times... but I still feel like I have stones in my stomach, these days...

James said...

Who ever says they were? That's not really part of US mythology. Not in the US, anyway.

It's the impression I've gotten up here about attitudes towards them -- lots of talk about the Puritans (and Pilgrims) coming to live free in the New World, very little talk about how their idea of "free" was rather limited...

L-girl said...

were you at all scared, before you left?

Sure I was! No one makes a big change like this without any fear. It's understandable. But you must have the confidence that you'll land on your feet, or else you couldn't do it.

Good luck, Lucie!!

L-girl said...

It's the impression I've gotten up here about attitudes towards them -- lots of talk about the Puritans (and Pilgrims) coming to live free in the New World, very little talk about how their idea of "free" was rather limited...

Hm, interesting. That's not really connected to the Puritan/Pilgrim thing in the US. It's often noted that they left England to escape religious persecution, and then immediately proceeded to persecute others. And that's how Rhode Island was born... :)