Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Birthday, America

God bless our flag. Long may it wave.

Today we celebrate the 231st birthday of America. My, how the time flies when we're having fun! Last night it sounded as if gang warfare had broken out in my neighborhood, popping sounds like the rattle of small arms fire: Children with fireworks were doing their best to blow off fingers. On this date in 1776, the Declaration of Independence from Britain was signed by some slave-holding landowners in Philadelphia. With the help of Thomas Jefferson, who fathered children by his slaves, the new power elite wrote hopefully:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
Of course by "men" they meant "white men," and it would be over a hundred years before it would include women, and even more (yet?) before the blessings of citizenship were conferred on people of color (but not if you're an illegal immigrant). We're still wrestling with the conflicts between equality and liberty. When does your pursuit of happiness infringe on my liberty? The "Creator" given credit by the signers was the God of the Enlightenment, embraced by the largely agnostic Deists, who set his clock of creation to ticking and then left the universe to fend for itself.

I'm not a big fan of patriotism, or even a supporter of any brand of nationalism. The kind of claptrap in this web site, sent to me by an old high school friend who mistakenly thinks I share her values, makes me want to throw up. Of course, I'm a prime candidate for deportation: "America, love it or leave it!" But before they kick me out, I'll leave of my own accord. Bye, bye Miss American Pie.

Not today, though. Today I'll attend a 4th of July barbecue in the grand old American tradition (although it may be vegan), with friends and fellow peace workers. After an afternoon of good food and spirited conversation about our much maligned President who now adds "pardoner of criminals" to the Bill of Impeachment against him, we will stand on a street corner in Felton and raise our voices in protest against the many crimes that are being now committed in the name of patriotism, nationalism and the flag.

Howard Zinn says it better than I ever could. On this day of infamy, when a democracy and freedom were declared that have not yet been fulfilled, "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."

Zinn, in an article from The Progressive Magazine reprinted on Common Dreams, argues that we need to renounce the poisonous idea that our nation "is different from, morally superior to," the other nations of the world (each of which might harbor the same notion). It follows from this that we need to "assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation." Nationalism, Zinn writes, is one of the great evils of our time, along with racism and religious hatred (the three seem to fit nicely together, i.e. the U.S., Israel, apartheid South Africa, Afghanistan under the Taliban, etc.).

One of the noxious effects of nationalist thinking is the loss of a sense of proportion, Zinn points out. We think the killing of 2,300 at Pearl Harbor justifies the killing of 240,000 in Japan with atomic bombs, or the killing of 3,000 on 9/11 somehow justifies the killing of hundreds of thousands of people, most of them innocent, in Iraq and Afghanistan. The racist notion of "Manifest Destiny," which allowed the U.S. to kill 600,000 in the Philippines in the 1890's, continues in the rhetoric of George Bush who claims that the U.S. is spreading freedom and democracy to the Middle East. Claptrap!

No comments: