7.04.2010

howard zinn: "we need to assert our allegiance to the human race and not to any one nation"

I don't usually acknowledge the 4th of July one way or the other, but Common Dreams is re-running a piece Howard Zinn wrote a few years back. His words still shine a guiding light.

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Put Away the Flags

by Howard Zinn

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 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 in 2004 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.

9 comments:

johngoldfine said...

Swizerland is a particularly poor example of a country where national spirit might be allowed some sway: it granted the vote to women only in 1971; it still maintains universal male conscription for its army; its neutral status allowed it to feast while others starved in two world wars; its notorious attitude toward its guest workers recently culminated in a ban on new minarets.

But even that sort of mean parochialism beats the totalizing and universalizing Howard Zinn argues for. The 20th Century (and 18th Century revolutionary France) offered many examples of what happens when benevolent ideologies take political power and determine to help people see the error of their ways.

L-girl said...

But even that sort of mean parochialism beats the totalizing and universalizing Howard Zinn argues for. The 20th Century (and 18th Century revolutionary France) offered many examples of what happens when benevolent ideologies take political power and determine to help people see the error of their ways.

You must know that Zinn is not arguing for any such thing. He is arguing for an end to "my country over all" and "I am better than you because I was born on this land, so my life is more important than yours". He is arguing against the carnage wrought by nationalism and UScentrism.

Zinn is clearly not holding up Switzerland as an example of a perfect nation. Nothing in this essay even hints at that. It is only used as an example of a place where patriotism might not lead to hatred and bloodshed.

johngoldfine said...

One thing wmtc has taught me--and it's a stretch for my temperament, but I think it's been a good lesson--is to say my piece as best I can and then, if at all possible, to shut up. Not to argue, niggle, split hairs, define and redefine, clarify, debate, rhetoricize, and so on.

I often disagree with you, as here, but admire without any qualification your writing, your blog, your activism, your courage, your determination, and your choice of enemies and friends.

L-girl said...

One thing wmtc has taught me--and it's a stretch for my temperament, but I think it's been a good lesson--is to say my piece as best I can and then, if at all possible, to shut up. Not to argue, niggle, split hairs, define and redefine, clarify, debate, rhetoricize, and so on.

Hm, interesting. I do seriously dislike the "argue, niggle, split hairs, define and redefine, clarify, debate, rhetoricize" thing. I find it exhausting and don't respond well to it, so I guess this is a comment on my tolerance (or lack of it) as much as anything.

But I very much appreciate your adaptation to my boundaries, and your very kind words about me and my blather.

If you would like to say something else on the topic of this post, please feel free to. I won't interpret it as an argument or debate, just a statement. I will happily give you the much-vaunted last word. :)

johngoldfine said...

Aha, that famous last word! Very generous of you, but I think I'm all done with flags, anthems, and so on for today.

Being "all done" reminds me of something I've been working on with my dogs--another boundary issue. In the past, training sessions sort of dribbled off with no distinct closure. Bad idea--led to their uncertainty, mugging me for attention and rewards, an undoggy looseness of structure.

So, I started using a verbal and physical signal ("All done!" plus the umpires' sign for 'safe.') It's been great! With a bit of rue, a smidgen of disgust, and a heap of resignation, they depart or at least disappear in place, as dogs are so very good at doing when they know the fun is over.

L-girl said...

I don't do the kind of intense training you do, but I do a bit of training every morning when I give out treats (with medication hidden inside). Without even noticing it, I also developed an "all done" signal, "OK, all gone!" Tala immediately changes her focus from me to her food bowl.

L-girl said...

plus the umpires' sign for 'safe.'

That is very close to a dog's play stance! Do any of them do it back to you?

johngoldfine said...

I have the play stance on command with two of them, but the signal I use is hands on my knees and a little shoulder wiggle. Brings their forehand down, back end up tail wagging, tongue out, eyes bright. Very cute and by degrees has led with one of them to the gotta-execute-you-for-excessive-cuteness trick. Over she goes when the finger fires! Amusement abounds.

BTW, I use the umpire's 'out' signal for those very rare times when I'm all dogged out. "Git out of town," I say. "Git git git." Then I signal them to head for the showers or the porch, whichever they prefer.

I guess I do have one last Zinn thought--or a repeat--something touched on in JOS a while back. If the RS can trot out that jerk (plenty controversial in my opinion) last night to sing GBA, surely they could have dialed the also-controversial Howard Zinn to toss out a ball.

L-girl said...

I couldn't agree more.

Sadly, few people see the choice of Tynan as controversial.

I think. I have no proof of that assertion, of course.

I miss Howard Zinn.