Thursday, November 10, 2005

America, Fuck No!

There's been a recent spat of stories in the media that suggest that the United States government has been less-than-respectful towards the human rights of individuals of the Muslim persuasion. You've got your Abu Ghraib story, still a doozy after all this time, reports of literally dozens of detainees being tortured to death in Afghanistan and Iraq, extraordinary rendition of detainees to torture-happy countries, the revelation that the CIA is running a bunch of "black sites" for off-the-books imprisonment (some located in the former Soviet Union!), the white phosporous story (following on the heels of the long-forgotten cluster bomb and depleated uranium stories), and, as a delicious cherry of evil on the sundae of monstrousness, you've got Bush threatening to veto a defense bill (which would be the first veto of his administration) if it contained a prohibition banning torture and inhumane treatment of terror-related prisoners. None of these things are particularly surprising, considering how eager so many of us were after September 11th to shed as much foreign blood as was deemed necessary to maintain an illusion of security. For a good four years, this machinery of torture and mass death has been humming along smoothly with nary a whimper from the public at large. Now, the public at large, sheep-like as it is, has started to turn on Bush and his policies, so suddenly these human rights violations are a matter of national distress. As the debate about human rights heats up, a refrain has been struck up by left-ish commentators, and is carrying into the mainstream: THIS IS NOT WHAT AMERICA STANDS FOR!

The motivation for this outrage is the underlying belief that the United States is a nation of ideals, chief among them being the idea of equal human rights for all. When I hear people talking about this mythical America, I can't help thinking: have these people actually BEEN to the United States? Cracked a book about the nation's history? Read the country's fucking newspapers at any point in their lives?

Even if you ignore the more controversial, commie-type criticisms of America's national ideals (you know, the wealth concentration/exploitation of workers at home and abroad/relentless, potentially catastrophic environmental degradation in the name of production and profit, etc, etc.), just sticking to cut-and-dried murderousness, there hasn't been a decade in the nation's history that has not featured massive, state-sanctioned, unjustified blood-letting. Everybody knows about the whole slavery/indian genocide thing, but it's usually considered by American mythologizers as some sort of hundred year long abberation. But it didn't stop there. Just as the end of slavery signalled the ramping up of Native ethnic cleansing, while the gunshots of Wounded Knee were still echoing through the plains, the Spanish American war brought with it a forty-year occupation of the Phillippines that featured the deaths of over 100,000 Filipinos and sundry massacres by American Troops. The Philippines were still being scoured with bayonets when the U.S. invaded Haiti, beginning a ten year occupation that killed tens of thousands. During World War One, thousands of Americans were imprisoned for opposing the draft. A few more Central American and Carribbean countries got saddled with trigger-happy American occupation forces during the inter-war years. Now, the U.S. gets a lot of credit for helping defeat the Nazis (although the rape-happy Red Army probably deserves that particular fruit basket the most), but we did it while imprisoning tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans due to racial hysteria. As soon as the Big One ended, we were back to killing people in foreign countries, including engineering the overthrow of the elected governments of Iran and Guatamala, acts that lead directly to political repression and hundreds of thousands of deaths. Barely enough time to catch a breath before the U.S. jumped into Vietnam with both feet: we know how that turned out; maybe three million Vietnamese killed by American troops and bombs, Cambodia illegally bombed and lethally destabilized (hello, Khmer Rouge!), over the course of a decade. Somehow, Nixon and Kissinger found time during this busy period to sanction a coup in Chile (Allende, torture chambers, Caravan of Death, etc.). The Eighties brought us proxy wars in Central America in which perhaps as many as half a million peasants were killed by American military hardware. In our own conscious lifetimes, we bombed the fuck out of Iraq twice, fitting a decade of near-genocidal economic sanctions in between, tortured the fuck out of a bunch of people and discarded the concept of habeaus corpus. Even this abbreviated list, overlooking hundreds of incidents as it does, leaves only a handful of years in which the U.S. government was not actively involved in the extreme abnegation of human rights across the globe. So, tell me again, WHAT THE FUCK DOES AMERICA STAND FOR?

We can't be so fatuous to believe that what America tells itselfs about itself means more than what the ostensibly democratic government of that nation actually does in the world. So it follows that America's ideals mean exactly squat.

Having said all that, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I do not hate America. Not because of some goofy infatuation with our hypothetical political ideals. Not because I want to cover my ass against accusations of disloyalty (like all that "I oppose the war, but I support the troops!" lameness). I don't have America because America is a meaningless term. Hating America is like hating goblins or evil spirits. America does not exist. It is a term of art used by those who wish to advance a particular agenda. The trick is easy and well-worn: simply identify "America" with something you like (be it George Bush, free speech, the war on Iraq or a belief that you shouldn't electrocute folks' genitals), and accuse those who don't like said thing to be against America. It's a dynamite rhetorical move because it's impossible to argue against: the implicit assumption regarding what America means has already framed the debate on your terms. So, no, I don't hate America. I hate the government of the United States, pretty much all of its economic, cultural and religious institutions and a good majority of its citizens, but I don't hate America.

3 Comments:

Blogger John M. said...

Your mom is fatuous.

6:22 PM  
Blogger John M. said...

I have a question for you: Sept 11th was seen as an event that would wake us up as a people. Recently in my literature class the professor mentioned that some people felt that Sept 11th would be the defining moment for the next literary movement. Personally I haven't seen much change as a result of this event, except perhaps the increase in paranoia and the easier acceptance of irrational hatred. I do think, however, that the internet has changed the way the world interacts, writes and thinks, and would be more condusive to another literary movement. Art movements often grow out of social and philosophical changes at the time, so I think that the internet could somehow be a catalyst for social change. What do you think would be the thing that makes us change? I'm being vague, but you probably know what I mean.

11:30 AM  
Blogger matthew christman said...

Good question. I am highly skeptical of any "event" of the September 11th variety (or Iraq war variety) creating any new movements, literary, bowel, or otherwise. I think that our experience of the outside world has been so fully mediated that we deal with all events, no matter how traumatic, as if they were television shows or blockbuster movies. And because we are, as a nation, so thoroughly insulated from the actual effects of things like 9/11 or wars, there is little threat that our "TV"-style processing of these events will be jostled by contact with the real thing.

However, the Internets are not a mediated, quickly passing event, but a revolution in communication technology. So, I'd definitely put my money on the Internets providing our next literary movement (it's already spawned at least one: the almighty BLOG!), rather than any transient, hollow spectacle.

12:00 PM  

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