It’s not about gold, it’s about sending a message

The Olympics have finished, and we finally have a chance for retrospection. The Olympics have finished, and we have lost.

Don’t tell me we have the most medals, list us first and pretend that matters. Don’t tell me we still got second and ought be pleased with ourselves for that. Don’t tell me the Chinese girls cheated and are younger than they claim to be and our poor 16-year-olds didn’t have a chance.

We lost, and I don’t care if it’s basketball, diving or dressage, we ought to bring home the gold. We ought to win. We’re American. That’s what we do; that’s who we are.

Continue reading It’s not about gold, it’s about sending a message

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Liberators: The truth, or some of it

I was browsing wikipedia the other day (several years ago) and happened across this picture. I don’t remember exactly how I got there, really. These things happen. Immediately, I fell in love with it.

liberators

On one level it’s not hard to see why. It’s 50-freaking-stories-tall, wields a tommy gun, and has a bomb for a foot. Suck on that Optimus Prime.

On another, on the level of my political sensibilities, it may not. I’m not a fascist, leftist radical, or even anti-American. I rather like us. But, I like the picture and what it has to say about us as a nation, at that time certainly, but very much now as well.

It is racist, Nazi (well, basically Nazi) propaganda, and like all good propaganda, tells half of one truth and none of another. In this example, the United States is destroying the good Ol’ World by bombing the crap out of it. Oh it’s true, but the other half is that Germany conquered and looted it first (and declared war on America). That completes the picture. And of course the poster says nothing at all about the Nazi regime’s treatment of Jews, Romani, and other undesirables. I think it neglects that state’s activities altogether.

By the standard of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, it does not do well, but is it a lie, except in the literal sense that America did not possess a 50-story-tall monster? No. And that’s why I’m so fond of it.

The Second World War is widely seen as “the last good war” for a lot of Americans, probably as much for the totality of our victory than the moral clarity of the situation. But what moral clarity there was! Japan bombed us, Germany immediately declared war on us, and from Abyssinia to Nanjing to Auschwitz, the Axis powers proved themselves very bad folk. The Allies were clearly the good guys. Well, except for the Soviet Union. But they were on good behavior during the war. Except for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Russo-Finnish War, mass rape of German women… Anyway, the French and the British didn’t do any of that stuff. Besides, they were democracies. Okay, yeah, they were also empires with vast colonial holdings that exploited millions kept in grinding poverty to maintain the homeland’s standard of living. But those citizens at home could vote.

America, though, didn’t have an empire then, or at least not a substantial one, anyhow. There weren’t many Hawaiians still around, and the Philippines had settled down. And hey, the vast majority of the population lived in the continental U.S., and we’d achieved universal suffrage there. Even in the South, black people could vote, they just didn’t for some reason. Or hold any elected offices. Or go to the same schools. Or drink from the same water fountains.

I don’t need to mention Dresden or Hiroshima or internment camps; those get thrown around enough, and I’ve made my point, I think. It is the same point I take from, although not intended by, that poster.

As George Orwell (I like George Orwell) said way back in 1940 and of England, “If I side with Britain and France, it is because I would sooner side with the older imperialisms — decadent, as Hitler rightly calls them — than with the new ones which are completely sure of themselves and therefore completely merciless. Only, for Heaven’s sake let us not pretend we go into this war with clean hands. It is only while we cling to the consciousness that our hands are not clean that we retain the right to defend ourselves.”

The United States then was the Klan and the gangster, the jitterbug and the banker, and the bomber and the war profiteer, and the vain woman and lecherous man, and the Zionist Jew, too. A melting pot of crime and corruption and “mongrelization” and ulterior motives. The Nazis were right to poke fun at calling a war bomber, a machine designed to rain down indiscriminate destruction on what’s below it, “a Liberator.” Sure. But that’s not all we are. We are many good and laudatory things we like to remember, and so they’re easier to remember. It’s just dangerous to forget and deceive the self. Better, better, a thousand times better to deceive yourself and believe you’re something better than what you are than to cease striving and revel in your failure, but better than both beyond compare to be honest and continue striving.

So it’s not as though the Holocaust and Jim Crow have moral equivalence or are so similar we can’t judge Germany poorly for their actions. Obviously, we must. But there is no one good, no not one, and it’s just as important to remember the concentration camps we liberated as we do the ships full of Jews fleeing the Nazis we turned away. Not because that makes us just the same as the Nazis but because by recognizing we have fallen short, rather than staying content as we are, we can be sure to get closer to the ideal.

Us and Them

I was walking through a parking lot the other day and spotted a suburban with a Nimitz football sticker in the wildshield. My first impulse was to find a rock and smash the window in.

I didn’t of course–find one–and wouldn’t have smashed anything if I had. I mean really. I’m reasonable, and I walked to my car and drove away peaceably like a reasonable person.

I haven’t gone to school at Bonham Junior High since 2002, I went to Permian with people from and even had friends from Nimitz, and where a person went to junior high hasn’t even been a meaningful thought to cross my mind in at least four years. Yet somehow those three years of conditioning have stayed with me in some form or another.

I had a friend in college who claimed he didn’t ascribe to any artificial division between people. Geographical, national, racial, whatever. Maybe he was telling the truth, well-traveled and easy going fellow that he was. Yeah, I’ll take it at face value. But if so, he’s denying himself one of the fundamental aspects, and I say joys, of the human experience.

Nimitz is a small thing, and no less or more artificial a boundary than a lot of the ones we draw between ourselves and others. But in another way, the lines are as absolute as anything gets.

“We’re playing Nimitz, and we hate those guys.”

For all our individuality, our diverse backgrounds, and adolescent sub-cliques, what we have in common is that aren’t Nimitz, and we hate those guys. What is Bonham? Owls? Blue and gray? Who can really get excited about that? We’re familiar with ourselves, and there’s not much great or special about us, but what we’re unfamiliar with, all sort of things can be attributed to them, and we aren’t THEM. We’re US.

It’s crude, but I really do think you can trace at least one strain of identity through sports loyalties. Odessa High vs. Permian. Odessa vs. Midland. West Texas vs. East Texas. Texas against all other states. The South vs. the North and West Coast. America versus the world. When our alien overlords arrive and want to play a game of basketball, humanity will hate them, too.

It’s nice to belong, to know who you are because of who you’re not. Obviously there’s more of a draw to this as an insecure 14-year-old than a hopefully mature 40-year-old, but there’s still a lot of a draw at forty. When you’re part of a group, you don’t have to succeed or contribute anything to be a success.

“America is the greatest country on earth.”

The vast majority of people who say that have never been to more than a handful of other countries, if any. Luxemborg may be a wonderful place. I don’t know. I’ve never been. But America is number one. We can’t hear you above all the freedom.

And there are those on the Left who say patriotism is irrational and ignorant. That’s probably true, but if their chests don’t swell with pride seeing an American flag raised, if something doesn’t stir in them to hear the Star Spangled Banner or God Bless America or America the Beautiful, they’re missing out on their humanity because that “something” that stirs is wonderful.

And so long as it remains private or at least doesn’t come at the detriment of someone else, who can complain?

Marxism ceased to be relevant about the time I was getting potty trained, so correct me if I’m misunderstanding something here. When Karl Marx called for workers of the world to unite, he expected them to choose class differences as their identity. If so, he was incredibly foolish in his understanding of masses of people.

In the American South, who did poor white trash have more in common with just before the Civil War, slaves or their white masters? Economically, they were closer to the slaves. Economically, they, and the slaves, would be better off if slavery didn’t exist in the South, and all labor was free and competitive. Oh, but their human interests, their human interests lay with the fact that they were white and the poorest, dumbest, ugliest, most worthless white man in the South was worth more than any black person was or could ever be. Worth more than all of them put together. The poorest white was still white, and that made him like the richest plantation owner, if only in his own mind. That is a mighty consolation prize for having to scrape around in the mud. That’s US being winners, and THEM being losers. If your situation as a loser is better than as a winner, that’s poor consolation for winning.

The relationship between myself and Nimitz is not that. I’m not a Bonhamedan anymore, for whatever it really meant that I was then. But at a time when identity was really taking shape, it meant something not to go to school at Nimitz, or Bowie, or Crockett, or Midland Lee. Any real success of my school meant I was, and I enjoyed the illusion of superiority because everyone who went to Bonham was superior to those others schools, including me. And the hostility programmed, intentionally and otherwise, hasn’t, may not ever fully dissipate.

In all the ways I break down my world into US and THEM, surely Bonham and Nimitz are the least significant. I wonder how I’m affected by those divisions that seem more important.