The knee on the chest of a black man; the death of an unarmed person; the lynchings and burning crosses; the pretense of righteousness and superiority – it’s nothing new. It’s nothing different.
All that’s changed is our reaction to it. All that’s changed is that we see it in real time and they can’t spin it in the media.
This is what the Black Panthers and the Watts riots were all about; what they were trying to tell us when we weren’t listening.
In Mexico City in the Summer of 1968, two talented black men stood on the podium during the national anthem of their country and raised their fists in respectful protest of the lack of human rights in our inner cities and very few news outlets in the U.S. ran their side of the story. Most of us backed Avery Brundage as he stripped these athletes of their medals and were aghast at the “disrespect” shown our flag and our “sacred honor.”
Recently, quite a few well-paid black athletes in the NFL took a knee in the same protest, in the same fight for the rights and respect their ancestors were promised but denied back in 1776 by the slaveowners who framed our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Not only have we paid our lawyers, judges, congresspersons, and lobbyists huge salaries to write and enforce unfair laws, not only are these laws grossly biased toward the wealthy versus the inner city refugee, our police departments in many cities have been led by men selected for their bias toward the wealthy and influential. Many of these brutal attacks have been supported and encouraged (subtly but persistently) by the news media, politicians, and the wealthy, greedy and selfish among us.
This problem has been around all along.
Our forefathers founded America by bullying its previous owners, by ignoring their supposedly “God-given” rights. The “New World” wasn’t new to the inhabitants of America who were utterly ignored when the Pope deeded the entire region to European monarchs to divvy up amongs their more wealthy warlords able to hire a small army, transport them across the Atlantic, and take over control of the farms and lives of the people already settled and living there.
The rights of Native Americans were not only disregarded in the original colonies, the “Louisiana Purchase” and “Seward’s Folly,” they were disregarded in our textbooks as we learned a one-sided, biased version of our history.
But the problem is much bigger than all this.
This is ALSO what the Buddhist priest was trying to tell us when he set himself ablaze on the streets of Saigon. It’s about never caring about the massive number of innocent people we’ve abused overseas in our mania to dominate the rest of the world with fear, violence and money.
This is what 9/11/01 was all about in the hearts and minds of the MODERATE, WELL-EDUCATED minds of the men who tried to get our attention by piloting planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It’s what ALL suicide terrorism is about: human rights, respect, and dignity!!
Thomas Jefferson wasn’t limiting the scope of our declaration to this continent or this country. He declared ALL men [I retroactively add “and women”] are endowed with the right to life and liberty. Like many of us, Jefferson didn’t think of those people he owned or controlled, he thought of himself and his close associates. And, like some of us still, Jefferson was a member of a society that had long-standing prejudices against women and people of color. And, like many of us today, he didn’t even consider the implications of what he said. He went on to accede to counting slaves as 3/5 of a person and to own 600 people himself, several his own children. That was the “norm” then.
What a lot of us are saying is that it can’t continue to be the norm; that this bullying both within this country and abroad has got to stop!!
It won’t be easy. For one thing, if we gang up and bully the bullies, things will just get worse.
If we pull our troops away from places they’ve been for 70 years or so, a period of lawlessness and local conflict is likely to ensue as it did when the Soviet Union withdrew from its colonies in Eastern Europe, as it did when the French withdrew from Vietnam, as it did when England withdrew from India. This must be allowed to happen and, as we did in some of those cases, the most we can do is an international peacekeeping force – and even that isn’t optimal.
What’s also clear to me is that violence and threats of violence have failed to keep us safe OR free.
True freedom is equality with everyone else’s freedom. If we consider ourselves better or “greater than” the next guy or the people halfway around the world, we’re not talking about freedom OR equality, we’re talking about special privileges.
If the people of North Korea are shunned and blackballed because they allow themselves to be governed by a brutal dicatator who’s developed a few nuclear weapons, why should not the American people be shunned and blackballed because we allowed our government to use our nukes against civilians, destroyed the crops of ordinary farmers in Southeast Asia with massive doses of carcinogenic defoliants, and bullied Afghanistan and Iraq with our advanced weaponry? What makes us more deserving of praise and less deserving of international sanctions?
This oppression of others considered less valuable, less worthy, less entitled than ourselves has been going on since civilization began. It is a game as old as history. We pick an “enemy” whom we are led to believe is a threat to us in some way. Then we bully and berate them until they react to our mistreatment. As soon as they react, we demean and blame them for causing the harm, when we perpetrated the injustice first.
You think I’m crazy?
In the last century, Germany, China and Japan wanted in on the game Europe had been playing for at least 400 years: colonies and empires. And, since the Ottoman Empire was falling apart and oil, the new gold, had been discovered there, every modern country wanted in on the action. England already controlled India, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, and the Bahamas. They weren’t going to just sit on their laurels.
When I was born, my country and its allies had just won World War II and the victorious countries split up the world among themselves. Russia, then the Soviet Union, got sole control of the land they managed to control at the end of this free-for-all: Eastern Europe, their half of Germany and Berlin, Mongolia, and possibly Korea. NATO, led by the U.S., got Western Europe, Japan, and West Germany, including half of the German capital, surrounded by East Germany. The Korean War was fought to a standstill with our former “ally,” the Soviet Union, “backing” the other side.
Seventy years later, we had 199,485 members of our armed forces in 177 other countries around the world, including 34,805 in Germany, 39,345 in Japan, and 23,468 in South Korea. American taxpayers pay over a third of the planet’s military budget, $1,700,000,000 a year, to “defend” one of the least threatened, least vulnerable countries in the world. That’s as much as the next seven countries combined!! And we have nuclear weapons in stealth submarines and vast naval fleets spread all over the oceans and seas of the world, just waiting for the “Go” from their Commander-in-Chief.
We don’t call Germany, Japan, and South Korea our colonies, but they are. We don’t call Puerto Rico a colony, but it is. And Puerto Rico has been costing us taxpayers millions every year to maintain the status quo. Even though Puerto Rico has a huge influx of U.S. money and aid since it was annexed in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American War, they STILL don’t want to be a state. The people of Puerto Rico had no say in the agreement that transferred Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines from being Spanish colonies to being American colonies.
So what do colonies provide?
They all have significant bases and logistics for our military to occupy and maintain. This allows the almost unlimited transfer of taxes into the hands of wealthy “supporters” of the military brass.
For example, while the United States occupied Iraq, a bridge restoration estimated by an expert at $300,000 was awarded to an American firm at $50,000,000, a markup of $49,700,000!
When I was in the US Army between 1966 and 1969, I saw the corruption for myself. And autobiographies by three US Generals have shown me other examples. The services aren’t entirely to blame because the rules are written by the Armed Services Committees and quite a few influential congresspersons have kept their seat (and huge campaign war chests) by favoring one or more wealthy businessmen in their district. For earlier corruption see War is a Racket written by Smedley Darlington Butler, a retired 3-star Marine Corps general twice awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
We saw this kind of thing in action when the ex-CEO of Haliburton was Vice President of the US and adviser to an oilman from Texas, Bush 43. Together, they got the United States to invade Iraq, a fairly modern and moderate country in the Middle East uniquely uninvolved in terrorism at the time!
An earlier scam by his father, Bush 41, involved getting the Iraqi ambassador, April Glaspie, to lie to Saddam Hussein by telling him we were neutral in his dispute with Kuwait over Kuwait’s stealing of Iraqi oil through massive slant drilling under the border and undercutting Iraq’s prices by selling cheaply to the United States, the country that had taken over Kuwait as a colony and making it more difficult for Iraq to repay its debts from the recent Iraq-Iran war.
Kuwait was originally an integral part of Iraq, a deep water port on the Persian Gulf which was annexed by the British Empire at the end of World War I, along with Bahrain Island and Palestine. The people of Kuwait didn’t create their country or their wealth but are dilletantes who have the highest per-capita income of any country in the world by being stooges for United States’ oil companies and, more recently, the U.S. military. Much of the work in Kuwait is done by foreign labor imported from India and Africa. Even white-collar work is often done by foreigners – including a six-month stint by my father and stepmother.
There is a lot of money to be made by having colonies and a large military. There’s a lot of dogmatic patriotism to be had by creating a foreign threat to “our way of life.” And there’s a knee-jerk positive response to adjectives like “greatest” and nouns like “superpower.” We here in “America” don’t like to think of ourselves as ordinary. We’re the only country to refuse to dip our flag to others. We’re the only country to have used nuclear weapons against civilians. We’re one of the few countries to refuse the ban on anti-personnel mines. And we’ve uniquely abrogated the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. We tout “equality” but our system of overriding ownership rights, along with a judicial system grossly unbalanced toward the wealthy, maintains and exacerbates persistent inequalities generation after generation.
Maybe it’s time we took stock of our unique place in the world. Maybe we could be a bit less greedy and thereby allow the world to prosper together rather than destroying and destabilizing the world’s bounty.
It took only ten years for greedy people to kill off the buffalo herds of the West, taking hides and leaving the meat to rot and the people the herds sustained for centuries to starve. It took only six years of taking twice the sustainable limit for the whaling industry to kill itself off. It took ten years to turn a prosperous, modern, well-educated country like Iraq into rubble, despair, and lawlessness. If we don’t get a handle on the systemic greed which pervades and perverts the United States and its close allies, we may do irreparable damage to the whole planet in the next few decades.
My motto (created before the pandemic) is: “We’re all in this together.” We need to find win-win solutions to the many problems that face us. We need to see the black men in the inner city and half a world away as our neighbors. We must grant them and their mothers, daughters and wives rights and privileges exactly equal to our own. But we cannot force this to occur in societies like ours was a little over a century ago.
We must obey the same rules we give to other countries. We must consider the equality of mankind in a larger, fully inclusive context. We must (at last) obey the Golden Rule and treat others as we would like to be treated.
It won’t be easy. But consider the consequences of continuing our bigotry and selfishness. In the end, it’s not an inordinate price at all: to share the world’s bounty and help sustain it for future generations.
©David Ney Dodson, Phoenix, AZ, July 2020