Thursday, May 21, 2009

The American Way?

Raise one hand if you are genuinely surprised by the revelations of the torture of prisoners in US custody at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and elsewhere during the Cheney/Bush years. Raise both hands if you think that this represents a deviation from the normal way the US operates in the world.

If either one or both of your hands are up, then you probably don't know much about US history. Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor of Linguistics at MIT, teaches some things we all need to know in a just-published web article, Why We Can't See the Trees or the Forest: The Torture Memos and Historical Amnesia. In this article Chomsky leads us from the treatment of Native Americans before the founding of the republic down to the present day. In the process, we revisit Cuba and The Philippines, Haiti, Central America, Chile, Viet Nam, and we are reminded that...

...torture has been routinely practiced from the early days of the conquest of the national territory, and continued to be used as the imperial ventures of the "infant empire" -- as George Washington called the new republic -- extended to the Philippines, Haiti, and elsewhere. Keep in mind as well that torture was the least of the many crimes of aggression, terror, subversion, and economic strangulation that have darkened U.S. history, much as in the case of other great powers

And so we should not be surprised by the torture; instead, we should be surprised by

...the reactions to the release of those Justice Department memos, even by some of the most eloquent and forthright critics of Bush malfeasance: Paul Krugman, for example, writing that we used to be "a nation of moral ideals" and never before Bush "have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for." To say the least, that common view reflects a rather slanted version of American history.

If this is not depressing enough, in another web article titled Changing Obama's Mindset, historian Howard Zinn shows us how President Obama, after promising to change the American militaristic worldview, seems to be backpedaling:

Obama was talking about the war in Iraq, and he said, “It’s not just that we have to get out of Iraq.” He said “get out of Iraq,” and we mustn’t forget it. We must keep reminding him: Out of Iraq, out of Iraq, out of Iraq—not next year, not two years from now, but out of Iraq now.

But listen to the second part, too. His whole sentence was: “It’s not enough to get out of Iraq; we have to get out of the mindset that led us into Iraq.”
What is the mindset that got us into Iraq?

It’s the mindset that says force will do the trick. Violence, war, bombers—that they will bring democracy and liberty to the people.

Zinn suggests that we must hold Obama to his original words, not allow him a "blank check," but instead keep up the pressure, keep reminding him of where we as a nation want to go, as the Abolitionists did with Lincoln during the Civil War:
That’s been the story of this country. Where progress has been made, wherever any kind of injustice has been overturned, it’s been because people acted as citizens, and not as politicians. They didn’t just moan. They worked, they acted, they organized, they rioted if necessary to bring their situation to the attention of people in power. And that’s what we have to do today.
Together these two writers, Chomsky and Zinn, remind us that although the US was founded on militarism and an imperialistic worldview, we can change it, if we know our own history and also know where we want to go.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post! Thanks for having 2 of my faves - Chomsky & Zinn. By the way, Zinn now has his "Peoples' History" out in a graphic format for young people.

    Absolutely we have to hold Obama's feet to the fire. That's why we participated in yet another march on the Pentagon this past March, the theme of which was "From Afghanistan to Palestine, Occupation is a Crime". This time however, we didn't end at the Pentagon but continued on into Crystal City, VA, and marched on the war profiteers' headquarters - KBR, GE, Boeing, etc. Carboard coffins representing the victims of their business were deposited at their doorsteps (or as close as the police would allow). I carried my "War is a Racket" sign, the quote by Brigadier General Smedley Butler because that is what is really behind the militarism. It's not about bringing democracy and liberty, it's about making money for the few at the expense of the many.

    This was refered to as the first anti-war demonstration of the Obama administration. I'm sure there will be more to FDR said, "Make me do it!"


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