At the very formation of the United States, we spoke a new rhetoric. Before the French Revolution, we proposed the idea that all men deserve the opportunities of freedom and equality. Yet we’ve consistently failed to honor this commitment.
Of course, if you’re a die-hard patriot, you believe we’re a paragon of national virtue, but sticking to the facts shows us to have failed to even approach this noble goal. I’d like to open your eyes to the truth for just a bit if you’ll let me.
The Declaration of Independence expressed the idea quite well: “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.” Unfortunately, there have been many exceptions and exemptions to this idealistic declaration of fact and principle.
For one thing, women were excluded from being in their government or voting for their government until 1920. In many homes, women were expected to obey their husbands with unquestioning loyalty and were frequently and often systematically excluded from social, religious, academic, or political power. In the workplace, they were paid less than men for the same work. Traditionally, they’ve been expected to dress in ways which restrict their freedom and prevent the freedom of movement allowed men and boys. Even today, they are often harassed by men and treated as inferiors and even sexual objects; trinkets for men to tease and play with. The United States has had 44 Presidents and 48 Vice Presidents, and not a single one has been female even though there are three million more women than men in the population.
And there are other exceptions to this time-honored, but historically dishonored declaration. Before and after this declaration, the native population of the United States were systematically cheated and bullied. If they inhabited land that was deemed useful to a politically powerful person or faction, they were dispossessed despite existing laws or treaties and, if they resisted, were exterminated with the widely used slogan, “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” As late as my youth, the American Indian was almost always portrayed as stupid, bloodthirsty, and reckless in movies or TV shows.
The Louisiana Purchase transferred “ownership” of 828,000 square miles of land into the hands of the United States’ government under Thomas Jefferson, without a care for the lands, homes, lives and livelihoods of the people living there. France didn’t own what we “bought.”
The Alaska Purchase appropriated another 586,412 square miles of land from its native inhabitants with little or no thought concerning their supposedly God-given rights. Again, the people of Alaska were not treated as equals or anything close to equals.
And Thomas Jefferson, that high-minded patriot who wrote this declaration of founding principles, owned 600 slaves who worked without pay or freedom throughout his long life and were not given the opportunities afforded his “equals.” In the compromise that solidified the United States, slaves were unequal even as a population, comprising 3/5 of a person for the census.
So, we here in the United States have a long history of saying one thing and doing something else.
I’d like to widen our view still more.
When our NATO allies created the artificial nation of South Vietnam and put a selected dictator in power, we backed the Christian dictator rather than the people of Vietnam. We styled ourselves as “anti-communist,” even though the vast majority of the population was Buddhist and their beef was with a succession of colonial occupiers and foreign laws that confiscated subsistence farms through taxation.
When Fidel Castro implored the United States government to lift the trade embargo with Cuba, we refused, punishing the Cuban people economically and socially for accepting him as their leader. We were fine with Fulgencio Battista, an equally if not more despotic dictator, but Castro closed the brothels and broke the 500-year economic stranglehold of wealthy Cubans and Americans over the rest of the Cuban population. He also instituted universal health care and used radio and television to educate his people and, had we allowed trade with the Cuban people, they might have flourished and gradually gained more freedom as they have in many other Communist countries we’ve traded with. So we’ve been denying innocent Cubans their God-given right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness while doing nothing positive for the ordinary people in either country.
And as we further restrict trade with North Korea, we’re not punishing Kim Jung-Un but the poor, already powerless, North Korean people. Actually, we’re solidifying the dictator’s power by not trading with his people. And we’re disregarding their well-being and their human rights. The reason we give for bullying this small nation: their development of atomic weapons. In a supposedly “equal” relationship with people that are surrounded on three sides by three superpowers with massive numbers of city-killing bombs; the most belligerent nation on the planet (we spend as much on war as the next ten countries combined), the only nation to have used these devices on civilians, the nation that has 28,500 troops battle-ready on their southern border demands that they stop trying to create the same capabilities! And what has been more stable and reliable? Three generations of dictators or a fickle democracy that changes its foreign policy every four or eight years?
Our killing of many Arabs in Iraq and Afghanistan didn’t promote freedom or democracy, either. Again, it was a neocolonialist war and it suppressed human liberties, destroyed human lives, and stopped the pursuit of happiness on both sides. The only positive outcomes were a fierce loyalty to the American flag and the American government, a steadfast but demented belief in the efficacy of our violence in foreign countries, and a willingness, on the part of a majority of our population, to sacrifice personally, economically, and socially to further pursue unequal political and economic power over people in other lands through violence in their cities, towns, and villages.
War is murder. War is usually a robbery in progress. One party doesn’t belong there, but they’ve found some loophole that allows them to completely disregard the humanity and rights of the people they are attacking. For us, it was a consistent disdain for all other countries. It was an irrational and ignorant fear of an “ism:” savagery, colonialism, piracy, authoritarianism, communism, terrorism, and then nuclear proliferation; one excuse after another. And even these arbitrary and capricious standards were applied unequally and dishonestly to obtain prices and markets to our advantage over other populations.
If all mankind are entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” then we must consider the three million Vietnamese defending their sovereign country against foreign agents, whether “Communist” or “Christian,” as equal to our own patriots like Patrick Henry, who chose liberty or death over living under foreign rule. We must reconsider the rights of the million modern, moderate, well-educated Arabs we made homeless with our ill-considered, illegal invasion of Iraq. We must find empathy for the Afghanis who fought alongside al Quida against Communist and Christian Capitalist invasions with equal passion and tenacity.
And, most of all, we must reconsider our belief in our own superiority to the rest of the world, in our unique “greatness” which makes us unequal to the rest of the world, which gives us an unequal right to bully other nations and spend more than the next ten nations combined on a “defense” which kills and maims and robs Third World people of their happiness, liberty, and dignity as our equals.
The existence of peaceful neighbors and defensible seacoasts makes it easier to defend ourselves than most other countries, yet we have imagined ourselves imperiled at the slightest provocation and are quick to take offense at the most innoffensive moves by other nations and are selective in choosing which “freedoms” to “defend” with our inconceivably destructive military power.
If mankind is actually equal in value and all have the right to life, liberty, and happiness, we must rethink the way we treat the rest of the world. If North Koreans and Iranians have no right to nuclear weapons, then, by our own principles, we have no such right either!! Rather than abrogating the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, we must expand it so than ANY nation or people possessing such abominable weapons are considered international outlaws. WE should be sanctioned, before they are!
A re-dedication to our founding principles is long overdue. We must find empathy instead of greed and grandiosity. The world’s “superpower” doesn’t have more rights than other nations.
©David Ney Dodson, Phoenix, AZ, March, 2020