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Since the assassinations of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy (and the Vietnam War that had much to do with all three) it has been hard for historically-literate and open-minded Americans to generate much patriotic fervor on the Fourth of July. But they should have been skeptical long before those idealism-shattering events. My own seriously deficient high school education in world and American history has necessitated decades of catch-up reading and research in order to find the truth about the dark, covered-up underbelly of America.
My high school textbooks totally ignored the real histories of the conquistadores, the genocide of Native Americans and their cultures, and the truth about the actual brutality of the enslavement of Black Africans. My history books glorified America’s wars, and never mentioned the concentrated use of propaganda that have shaped police state movements world-wide. The cold realities of white racism, sexism, militarism, enforced poverty, corporate abuse, the banking system, and who are the members of the predatory global investor classes that have been gradually owning/controlling the politicians, the media and industry so successfully. Sadly, my relative ignorance about the painful and unwelcome truths about what really happened in past history is probably the norm.
I have tried to do some of the catching-up by reading the relatively hidden alternative literature, starting with books like Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States and also the writings of historically-literate truth-tellers like Martin Luther King, Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges.
Anyone who honestly reads those author’s books can’t help but become disillusioned with America’s history and the massive propaganda by which the vast majority of us Americans have been duped into sometimes very sincerely believing that the U.S. is the new shining light of the world, working courageously and endlessly for justice and peace.
The pseudo-patriotic propaganda is getting thicker and the flag-waving propaganda is getting thicker and smellier with every move that our nation’s sociopathic mega-corporations, their unelected, over-privileged ruling elites, their well-paid lobbyists, their hordes of cunning, shyster lawyers, their five right-wing bought-and-paid-for Supreme Court justices, their thousands of bribed state and federal legislators, the entrenched bureaucracy, and their corporate-controlled media – all of whom are complicit in the demise of American democracy. Anyone who is paying attention is watching their democracy wither and die while the conscienceless uber-wealthy and their corporations bloat up, heading for the next take-over.
The connections between wealth, power, violence and injustice should be obvious. Judge Louis D. Brandeis nailed that concept when he said: “We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”
With regards to American history as Zinn expressed it in his writings and speeches, all one has to do is list a few events that have contributed to the disillusionment and the reason so many find it hard to fake patriotism on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Veterans Day or Columbus Day (or to pretend that the Christian religious holidays of Christmas or Easter have much to do with the original, pacifist, unconditionally-loving, enemy-loving, compassionate teachings and actions of the original form of Christianity).
Many of the progressive thinkers of my generation were irretrievably disillusioned by the government-backed conspiracies (and the resultant cover-ups) that orchestrated the political murders of the leftist heroes (and perhaps the only hope for the American Dream) JFK, MLK, RFK and Paul Wellstone. And the pain is re-experienced every time one realizes that the hidden, still-unindicted family of conspirators behind those assassinations are still at large, and therefore remain unpunished and free to kill again.
(One could say the same thing about the hidden power elites who were behind the planting of the controlled demolitions that so dramatically brought down the three WTC towers on 9/11/01 an event that “legitimized” the start of the homicidal and suicidal wars for oil in the Mideast. And, similarly unpunished and free to exploit again, are the known financial and political elites that caused the Crash and started of the Great Recession of 2008. They not only got bailed out, but were rewarded for their crimes rather than going to jail where they belonged.
Those folks who have done the necessary catch-up research and reading that revealed what the censors had taken out of our history books have understandably become disillusioned about America’s role in the history of the world.
A few historical facts to temper one’s patriotism
Consider these events that were hailed with mesmerizing flag-waving fervor, just from the last two generations:
1) the crimes against humanity and atrocities that were done in our name in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos;
2) the quasi-fascism of the traitorous, criminal, autocratic Richard Nixon (and his unapologetic resurrection that allowed him to actually receive positive funeral eulogies from prominent U.S. politicians, all of whom ignored his treachery);
3) Ronald Reagan’s bogus “trickle-down” economic scheme that cunningly camouflaged the disastrous effects of the next six items;
4) the predatory lending schemes from Reagan acolytes that destroyed so many small family farms and businesses in the 1980s, thus enriching the already rich;
5) the predatory corporate privatization schemes that did the same;
6) the granting of huge tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy and their corporations, again starting in the Reagan era;
7) the massive Reagan-era nuclear weapons buildup during the orches-trated Cold War;
8) Reagan’s union-busting agenda, which fostered the impoverishment of America’s middle classes;
9) the unrepayable 4 trillion dollars of new debt during the Reagan years (largely thanks to the bloating of the U.S. military (which is still on-going) that some future generation won’t be able to reverse either; 10) the use of extra-judicial, foreign-based torture sites and killer drones that assassinates people who are only suspected of being enemies of the state;
11) Etc, etc. Add your own nightmarish examples of America’s many anti-democratic and military misadventures.
Any number of progressive Americans are still working, often with broken hearts, for peace and justice in our nation and also in the world, but these heroes are understandably cynical about – indeed, often disgusted with – America’s wasteful, boastful, morally bankrupt, war-mongering – predation, which is now now increasingly global in scope.
Is America only quasi-fascist – or is it worse than that?
It is true that many historically aware, intelligent people around the globe look at our national security apparatus (the NSA, the Pentagon, the CIA, the FBI, the increasingly militarized police/swat teams that suppress honest, nonviolent dissent) – and what do they see? They see the Gestapo.
Many of these citizens of the world look at the Stars and Stripes – and they see a Swastika.
Many of these same people see fascism when they look at the U.S.’s long history of supporting fascist dictators in nations like Iran, South Korea, South Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, Colombia, Brazil, etc. Friendly American fascism was institutionalized during the Cheney/Bush-era at Abu Ghraib in the prisoner abuse scandal, in the legalized torture policies at secret CIA sites and in the prolonged torturous imprisonment of “suspects” at Guantanamo who haven’t been charged with a crime and who haven’t been given a chance to prove their innocence in a trial before their peers.
Fascism in America can be understood when one acknowledges that America is ruled by corporations and the elite families that own 90 % of the wealth and resources. They are the predators and the rest of us are the prey. Recall that Mussolini, the inventor of fascism, said: “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.”
Private corporate interests are fostered and protected, not only by the most lethal and costly weapons systems ever, but by the most brutal and efficient killing force in the history of the world – both paid for by the US taxpayer. Hitler’s monster weapons and his Wehrmacht soldiers were pikers in comparison.
True Patriotism is the willingness to have a lover’s quarrel with your country
Not that us disillusioned ones don’t love our country. Many of us dissenting peace-lovers, justice-seekers and, by logical extension, whistle-blowers, think of themselves as loving America so much that they are willing to have a lover’s quarrel with it. That sounds pretty American to me.
I was once a member-supporter of the Democratic Party, even to the point of becoming a delegate to the Minnesota State DFL Convention back during the frightening, anti-regulatory Reagan era. I was – and still am - a believer in the ideals of the progressive, anti-fascist, pro-union, anti-crony capitalism, pro-environment, anti-racist, anti-militarist wing of the party that was best exemplified by the politics of Paul Wellstone. That nearly disappeared remnant of the Democratic party appears to have become totally captured by the pro-militarist and pro-corporate-ruling elite.
Many true patriots have sadly come to realize that American politics is increasingly meeting the definition of classical European fascism (although the Democratic Party is not as strongly fascist as the more intensely corporate-controlled, NeoConservative, Theocracy-aspiring, Tea Party-tolerating, racist-infiltrated, Young Earth believing, climate change denying, anti-intellectual Republican Party. Being an anti-fascist, I find it hard to support, ethically or monetarily, the agendas of either of these entities.
Most seasoned American peacemakers have seen through the propagandistic pro-war rhetoric that is dutifully repeated as valid by the corporate-controlled media (and, sadly, increasingly so even on the once honorable NPR, MPR and PBS.
War profiteers in the investor classes know that there is no ethical money to be made in a world without wars or rumors of wars. Therefore publically-traded corporations that are connected to the weapons and other war-related industries do their mercenary duty for the Pentagon’s pro-war and Cold War agendas, both of which are good for business and share-holder value.
The “Greed is Good” Captains of Industry and their Ponzi Scheme dealings on Wall Street have been selling their addictive products to the “hoping-to-get-rich-quick” crowd for as long as the stock market has existed - and the gambling addicts in the investor classes can’t get off the stuff long enough to sober up and see that they are being had.
The Ideals of Lady Liberty
The United States of America stopped being a beacon of light, truth, peace and liberty long ago. It didn’t just happen after JFK’s assassination or 9/11 (which was a cleverly – and provably - orchestrated event designed to start the highly-profitable Middle East Wars for Oil [see ae911truth.org for proof] when the Cheney/Bush administration, squandering the sympathy of the world with a series of blatant lies, led the US public into an illegal and unjust war, showing their willingness to risk igniting World War III, with the full consent of most of the servile congress-persons from each of the two major political parties.
Cynicism about Independence Day (independence from Great Britain) and the ideals behind the Statue of Lady Liberty, was prevalent in America long before France gave America the Statue. That generous gift from an appreciative nation was intended to celebrate the first 100 years of American independence but also represented the fondness that France had for the US and its role in inspiring the French Revolution.
America’s promise to be the beacon to the world has been shattered many times since the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886. America once deserved its reputation as a refuge to the oppressed people of the world – which is the America that disillusioned activists still naively hope can be revived. There was indeed a time in world history when the inscription on the Statue of Liberty represented the real aspirations of true patriots – something that is worth fighting and even dying for.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Many generations of the increasingly despised “tempest tossed” – if they ever made it across the border - found out too late that they were going to be discriminated against, chewed-up, spit out, rendered homeless or exploited by corporate America for their cheap labor. It has taken many of us a long time to understand that our multinational corporations, with the essential help of the brutal tactics of the CIA and hired local mercenary soldiers, were the ones who forced these Central Americans from their land and livelihoods in the first place, in the interest of making room for corporate plantations to raise and export sugar cane, coffee, and bananas. And then, if the unjustly dispossessed ones actually made it to “El Norte” alive, these victims were harassed, abused in America’s for-profit prison system, offered no access to health care, safe living situations, living wages, or real security for the future.
The first victims of American fascism were – and still are – non-white
The very first victims of American Fascism were the aboriginal people who could have annihilated the usurper Columbus and his sex-starved crew (who abducted and raped young native women ASAP back on board the Santa Maria). Native Americans suffered the indignity and cruelty of the European invaders and ultimately were nearly annihilated themselves via legalized, racist, genocidal policies (“the only good Indian is a dead Indian”) at the hands of the U.S. Army that then “opened up the frontier” to the undocumented and illegal immigrants from war-weary, impoverished, and exploited Europe, all white folks who had over-populated their own homelands.
Next in line for exploitation were the black African victims of the very profitable slave trade that produced a lot of the “wretched refuse”. The eventually freed slaves of the late-1800s were destined to become the easily-lynchable victims of Jim Crow segregation that persists to this very day in most of the quasi-fascist southern states - despite federal legislation that supposedly granted them civil liberties and voting rights. Note that those hard-won voting rights are now being taken away by the afore-mentioned Supreme Court – at the request of those southern racists who haven’t yet gotten over the loss of the Civil War.
These oppressed ones “yearning to be free” had often been fooled about the deceptive “American Dream.” For many it rapidly became the “American Nightmare.” Many of them were destined to be treated as virtual slaves, indentured servants, share-croppers, or otherwise victims of predatory entities that found any number of ways to exploit these “untermenschen.” They became the frequently-unemployed masses who were so desperate for work that they were willing to accept the poverty wages offered by greedy corporations and the wealthy elites, all of whom did everything possible to prevent the unionization of their industries. (It is important to understand the business principle that high unemployment, frightened, desperate-for-work workers, low wages, and union exclusion all help the profit margins and share prices of publicly-traded companies.)
The spirit of Liberty seems to have been strangled, what with the late-lamented Cheney/Bush/Rumsfeld/Rove doctrine of pre-emptive, aggressive and endless wars (which meets the definition of international war crimes and crimes against humanity). (Click on the link below and watch one of these crimes that occurred in Baghdad that was courageously and patriotically leaked by Chelsea Manning at: youtube.com/watch?v=5rXPrfnU3G0). Now, as an extension of the Cheney/Bush doctrine, America is not only victimizing Middle Eastern women and children, but it is also brutalizing Central Americans whose land was stolen from them by American industry and who only want to find dignified work somewhere in order to better themselves and to support their families.
After thinking about America’s immigration issue, some concerned citizens might actually work for the acceptance of these hard working freedom-loving immigrants and instead deport (or convert) the worst of our American fascists and racists. America might turn out to be more purely American with some variation of that plan.
One person who criticized the annual 4th of July celebrations was the emancipated black intellectual Frederick Douglass. Douglass was the pre-eminent – and obviously very courageous – mid-19th century spokesperson for the abolition of slavery. His speeches and writings remain important today because of the powerful way he articulated the case against racial discrimination.
I close this essay with excerpts from Douglass’s 4th of July speech that he delivered to a mostly white audience back in 1852, a decade before President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Declaration.
”… I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me.”
“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, is inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! I can today take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!
”… Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, … (it) would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.
“My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave’s point of view. Standing there identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting.
“America.is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery - the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse”; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.
”… What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia which, if committed by a black man (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment.
“… Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting, and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and ciphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!
”… Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? …There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.
”…Am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employment for my time and strength than such arguments would imply.
”… At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. Had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, today, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. … the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.
”What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.
”Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.
”... Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. … Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe.”