Saturday, September 18, 2010

Where is Our History? 11-9-2002

  This may be a bit late, but this is my reaction a year after 9-11 - the 9-11 that the US knows, not Latin America which is when Salvador Allede was assassinated in a US aided coup.

    I realize that the US public is still in a state of shock after experiencing the most dramatic attack on US soil.  Many people are rallying together to support each other after this event.  Although I too see a need for people to act collectively, there is something fundamentally missing: a knowledge and sense of history.  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”  (George Santayana in Lowen 1999:443).  At this time, there are many calls to return to the teaching and ethics of our founding fathers.  Intertwined with this nostalgia is a defense of the inclusion of religious sentiment in political rhetoric and prose.
    It comes as no surprise to me that people are coming forward to defend the use of “god” in the pledge of allegiance at a time when our civil liberties have come under serious assault.  The actual words “under god” were added at the height of the Cold War during one of the worst periods of civil rights abuses and repression of civil liberties in US history.  Even the content and actual history surrounding the founding documents is mythologized to the point of grievous error.
    The use of religion in the founding documents is not only sparse, the use religion is expressly forbidden in certain clauses of the Constitution.  Within the Declaration of Independence, god is only mentioned after the “Laws of Nature” and specifically as “Nature’s God.”  In the Constitution, the word “god” or “creator” is not mentioned, and the separation of church and state is more firmly established than in the initial Declaration of Independence.  “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”  Legal argument could be made that the use of the pledge of allegiance in public schools violates the actual intent of the authors of the Constitution with respect to the separation of religion and the state.
    What is included in the Constitution is a number of clauses ranging from who is included as a person to the regulation of runaway slaves.  The Constitution firmly upholds slavery and finds it important enough to include a clause spelling out the necessity for slaves to be returned to their owners, “No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.”  Native Americans, slaves and women are all denied rights to participate in the Republican form of government that was established.  Slaves were not even considered whole persons, but “three fifths” of a person.  “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”  In all, slaves, indentured servants, women, and men without property were not represented in the Constitution (Zinn 1980:90).  Despite the fact that many Native Americans lived in settled communities, they were also excluded from protection under the Constitution.  The Iroqouis confederacy has been argued to influence the organization of the US government, and the Cherokee had towns and later constructed schools, written language and a representative form of government.
    The return to the mythical past when religion and morality supposedly ruled the day is the only safe refuge for those who endeavor to bury their own past to justify their current actions.  At this time, the Bush administration is fumbling for reason after reason to escalate the military campaign against Iraq, lest we remember that we have yet to accomplish our objective in the last war.  Osama who?  Our history is replete with phony justifications for acts of war and crimes against humanity.  The war in Vietnam was escalated over the supposed “Battle of Tonkin Bay” which never occurred.  Justification for the invasion of Iraq was based on reports of Iraqi soldiers invading a hospital and destroying incubators and killing babies.  The reports turned out to be false, made by a relative of Kuwaiti leaders and disseminated by a public relations firm associated with the Bush family. 
    Each anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brings with it justifications for the bombing and the absolute falsehood that those actions saved US lives.  The Japanese were ready to surrender under the condition that the Emperor remain as a figure in Japanese government.  The US government refused this condition and demanded “unconditional” surrender (Zinn 1980:414).  The targets selected were not military targets, but cities that had remained relatively untouched by previous bombing campaigns.  They were selected in order to test the effectiveness of atomic warheads on areas uncontaminated by prior bombing runs.  After the atomic bombs had been dropped, the US agreed to the demands made by the Japanese prior to the bombing.  Hopefully, you can see the similar pattern of increasing unreasonable demands each time Hussein agrees to US ultimatums.  These are attempts to ramp up a war, for purely selfish political reasons, that has not stopped since the bombing of Iraq began in 1991.  There have even been discussions about the Bush administration’s public relations campaign to start a war with Iraq.  This summer, the media was contemplating what the Bush administration was going to do because it appeared that public sentiment against Iraq had peaked before they were ready to go to war.  In any other country under any other circumstance, this discussion would sound surreal.  War is not something that should have to be marketed like the next manifestation of the Barbie doll, but in the US, marketing for war has become a serious business.
    In the war on Afghanistan, the media and press within the US have been admonished to ensure they discuss the victims of September 11th whenever civilian casualties in Afghanistan are mentioned (  A compliant media censors itself to ensure that it provides “context” and “balance.”  This “context” and “balance” is thoroughly one-sided and without a shred of historical foundation.  Why would anyone choose the US over another country like Sweden, Canada or Denmark?  The answer lies in our own history of aggression, and this is not an attempt to “blame” the US for the attack as so assiduously argued by people attempting to sever dissent.
    Over ten years ago, one nation-the US, without UN backing and in violation of international agreements, invaded Panama to oust its CIA bankrolled leader.  In the assault on this sovereign country to retrieve this one person, close to 2,000 civilians were killed by gunfire and the deliberate fire-bombing of a civilian neighborhood.  In the US, very little outrage developed from this brutal assault mainly because the media parroted the line of the US government and focused little attention on the civilian casualties.  The loss of civilian life in this case and September 11th are comparable, but the public outcry could not have been more different.  You see, if someone attacks the US, we are sure to give “context” to the civilian deaths, but if the US kills 2,000 Panamanian civilians to remove their own CIA bankrolled drug lord gone bad, the public is denied that context.  For context, see the movie The Panama Deception.
    The bombing in Afghanistan follows a very similar pattern.  Very few people in the US could give you even the briefest of history into this besieged region.  Over time, the US has been involved in the struggles and civil war that has plagued Afghanistan.  Please do yourself a favor and dig into the ties between the US, the Mujahadeen and the eventual rise of the Taliban.  For the sake of brevity, I will mention one critical note.  Less than a year prior to the attacks of September 11, the Bush administration allocated $43 million dollars to the Taliban regime: the very same regime that would be rightly vilified for their human rights abuses, treatment of women and anti-democratic society (  If the US intelligence community was up to date on the activities of the Taliban, why develop such a cosy relationship with them?  The answer lies in the US foreign policy that has been plagued by the “blowback” from US trained and backed dictators and terrorists like Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega (See <A HREF="">this MSNBC article by Michael Moran</A>).  Our desire to control economic resources around the globe through military occupation, covert operations and political manipulations creates the very political environment for terrorist activity.  For example, we routinely fund and support other countries’ candidates, as in Nicaragua, despite the fact that such practices are illegal in the US.  In fact, many of the terrorists that we eventually have to track down have been trained by US military and government operatives.
    We pass judgement on countries and cultures every day when we live in the most powerful nation in the world, yet we lag behind nearly all industrialized nations in the most important indicators: literacy, access to health care, hours worked, level of pay, income and wealth inequality, infant mortality and education.  We have used the rhetoric of freedom to beat down any attempt to make this nation more free and prosperous for its citizens.  Because of monied interests, we are mired in a two-party system where other countries have more representative parliamentary forms of government.  We see how effective and “democratic” the Electoral College has been, time and time again.  The US is the only industrialized nation that has successfully kept affordable, accessible health care out of the reach of the vast majority of its citizens.  Prisons compete, rather well in fact, with schools for funding, and the US ranks near the top of industrialized nations in the percentage of citizens it holds in prison.  The US government and corporate leaders have used repression and passed legislation to crush labor movements for better working conditions.  European nations enjoy more time off and have higher wages than US workers could ever dream of given the present state of conditions.
    The foreign policy of the US and the suggestion that students repeat the pledge of allegiance despite their religious background, personal feelings and civil rights may seem quite unrelated, but they are both rooted in a fundamental ignorance of US and world history.  How free would you feel in a country that made your children dedicate their allegiance under Budda?  You would be incensed, outraged and decry the backwardness of a country that forces one religion on its citizens.  It is not a “right” or a “freedom” to force your will upon other citizens in order to satisfy your sense of self-righteousness.  Requiring, or even allowing, the pledge of allegiance in an attempt to bring god back into our political realm is not only a romantic mythology and historically inaccurate, it is an affront to the rights of other citizens to worship the religion of their choice or to not worship at all.  People can say that not everyone would be required to recite the pledge, but given the level of hysteria, xenophobia and racial intolerance, what “choice” does a student have?  They do not. 
    Religious freedom and the separation of church and state are but just part of the issue.  Oaths of allegiance and pledges are typically brought out by governments and organizations standing on weak moral ground during times when they need to indoctrinate people and ensure support for their unethical actions.  Because the US population does not have access to accurate information either through a solid grounding in history or an informative media, it too does not have a “choice” and blindly follows the propaganda pumped out of the White House and corporate boardrooms.  When will US citizens be shaken from their ignorance-induced trance to see the full scope of their actions?  When will the simple solution of carpet bombing no longer be the answer to the complex problems of the world economy and political landscape?  When will US citizens care about the innocent victims (and not just the innocent victims on “our” side) of conflicts between global political and economic leaders?  You can be certain it will not come before they learn their history!

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