Put Away The Flags (Howard Zinn)

(via The Progressive, 4th July 2006)

US soldier holding flag that says: "There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people."On this July 4, 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.

Is not nationalism — that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder — one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

These ways of thinking — cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on — have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica and many more). But in a nation like ours — huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction — what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.

Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy.

That self-deception started early.

When the first English settlers moved into Indian land in Massachusetts Bay and were resisted, the violence escalated into war with the Pequot Indians. The killing of Indians was seen as approved by God, the taking of land as commanded by the Bible. The Puritans cited one of the Psalms, which says: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the Earth for thy possession.”

When the English set fire to a Pequot village and massacred men, women and children, the Puritan theologian Cotton Mather said: “It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day.”

On the eve of the Mexican War, an American journalist declared it our “Manifest Destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence.” After the invasion of Mexico began, The New York Herald announced: “We believe it is a part of our destiny to civilize that beautiful country.”

It was always supposedly for benign purposes that our country went to war.

We invaded Cuba in 1898 to liberate the Cubans, and went to war in the Philippines shortly after, as President McKinley put it, “to civilize and Christianize” the Filipino people.

As our armies were committing massacres in the Philippines (at least 600,000 Filipinos died in a few years of conflict), Elihu Root, our secretary of war, was saying: “The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the war began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness.”

We see in Iraq that our soldiers are not different. They have, perhaps against their better nature, killed thousands of Iraq civilians. And some soldiers have shown themselves capable of brutality, of torture.

Yet they are victims, too, of our government’s lies.

How many times have we heard President Bush tell the troops that if they die, if they return without arms or legs, or blinded, it is for “liberty,” for “democracy”?

One of the effects of nationalist thinking is a loss of a sense of proportion. The killing of 2,300 people at Pearl Harbor becomes the justification for killing 240,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The killing of 3,000 people on Sept. 11 becomes the justification for killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And nationalism is given a special virulence when it is said to be blessed by Providence. Today we have a president, invading two countries in four years, who announced on the campaign trail in 2004 that God speaks through him.

We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.

We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.

Napoleon Bonaparte: Public schooling, nationalism, and control

“Of all our institutions public education is the most important. Everything depends on it, the present and the future. It is essential that the morals and political ideas of the generation which is now growing up should no longer be dependent upon the news of the day or the circumstances of the moment. Above all we must secure unity: we must be able to cast a whole generation in the same mould.”

–Napoleon Bonaparte, on the importance of state-controlled public schooling as a form of mass indoctrination

The Holocaust as a justification for the mass murder of Palestinians in Gaza

The claim that Europeans colonized what is now known as “Israel” in response to the Holocaust is false, just like the historical myth that claims the English colonizers came to the U.S. seeking “religious freedom”. The Zionist ideology has been around since the late 1800s, and the first large waves of European Zionist settlers had already arrived in Palestine long before the Nazis came to power. The violence in Palestine is the result of racist European colonizers displacing and killing (with U.S./British military support) large numbers of (Arab) people who they think are subhuman, enslaving the survivors, and stealing their land and resources (much as the Europeans did in the Americas and Africa).

And even if the Israeli nationalist mythology were true, and Israel actually had been created because European Jews were fleeing Nazi persecution, that still doesn’t justify what they’ve done to the people of Palestine. If I’m experiencing violence in my own home, does that make it OK for me to go next door and kill all of my neighbors and take their house to “protect myself”? Of course not. … Did religious persecution in 16th/17th century England justify the colonizers coming over here and killing millions of Native Americans and stealing their land? Of course not. … Did the persecution of Jews (and Communists, disabled folks, homosexuals, Eastern Europeans) in Nazi Germany justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians during the Nakba or the current slaughter in Gaza? Of course not. … It’s horrible that so many people accept Nazi violence in the 1940s as a justification for the murder of hundreds of Palestinian children in 2014.

I think what is really causing most of the Israeli violence is not a fear of Nazis or homemade rockets; it is a toxic mix of racism, nationalism, religion and capitalism. The Israeli politicians, just like those in the U.S. are mostly corrupt puppets of the wealthy capitalist class. Their motivations are primarily to dispossess, enslave and kill off as many Palestinians as possible so their corporate cronies will get rich from the stolen land resources and slave labor. As far as the combat soldiers on the ground, though, I think that their motivations are a bit more varied (like the soldiers who are employed by the US capitalist/political class) — some are there because it’s a decent-paying job, some are there because they were conscripted, some are virulent racist religious zealots who think they’re doing God’s work by murdering “barbaric” Arabs …. The same goes for the Israeli people. Like the U.S., Israel is a thoroughly racist society, where it’s socially acceptable to express joy at the sight of dead Palestinian babies. In addition to the racism which is the norm in Israel, I think there are many other factors (economic, cultural, etc.) that lead the Israeli public to support the mass murder of Palestinians. Whatever their varied motives are for supporting the mass murder of Palestinians, I think that we all need to stop accepting their justifications and find ways to work together to end it.

Emma Goldman: Peace-loving Americans … warmongers

“We Americans claim to be a peace-loving people. We hate bloodshed; we are opposed to violence. Yet we go into spasms of joy over the possibility of projecting dynamite bombs from flying machines upon helpless citizens. We are ready to hang, electrocute, or lynch anyone, who, from economic necessity, will risk his own life in the attempt upon that of some industrial magnate. Yet our hearts swell with pride at the thought that America is becoming the most powerful nation on earth, and that she will eventually plant her iron foot on the necks of all other nations. Such is the logic of patriotism.”

— Emma Goldman

Top 10 Defense Budgets (2011), by nation -- chart

Whose Constitution?

It is widely known that the U.S. political system today is dominated by a relatively small group of extremely wealthy individuals, who further their own interests at the expense of the vast majority of the population. But I believe it is a mistake to say that this situation has arisen because the original system has been “corrupted”, and that we just need to go back to the “good old days” when the founding fathers were in charge of the country and the Constitution was the law of the land …

The Constitution was designed by rich and powerful men to serve their own minority interests

Slavers, bankers, and other rich scum at the Constitutional convention
The Constitutional Convention of 1787, where a bunch of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the Americas met together in secret and planned out a form of government that would perpetually maintain oligarchical rule in the United States.

Who were the Founding Fathers, and what did they intend to create at the Constitutional Convention? The story we’re told in our high-school history books is that this group, composed of the wealthiest and most influential men in post-Revolutionary America, had temporarily set aside their own economic interests (including their ownership of slaves and war debt) and together designed a brilliant democratic political system that guaranteed “liberty and justice for all”. This system is enshrined in the most holy of US political documents, the United States Constitution.

Of course, today, if I were to suggest that a bunch of billionaires should be allowed to call a secret meeting and design a system of government, without consulting the public, and that they could be trusted to set aside their own interests while doing so, I would be considered naive at best. Yet for some reason, people happily accept that this is what happened at the Constitutional Convention.

In reality these slave-owning aristocrats were facing a nationwide upsurge of democratic “leveling” sentiment that aimed to redistribute wealth and political power, and felt that the Articles of Confederation weren’t doing an adequate job at combating this tendency. Thus they came together to design a system that they felt would better protect their position of privilege. If you doubt that this was their intention, take a look at what the Founding Fathers themselves were saying:

Alexander Hamilton:

“All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government. Can a democratic assembly, who annually revolve in the mass of the people, be supposed steadily to pursue the public good? Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy. Their turbulent and uncontroling disposition requires checks.”

James Madison:

“The man who is possessed of wealth, who lolls on his sofa or rolls in his carriage, cannot judge the wants or feelings of the day-laborer. … In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.”

” It ought finally to occur to a people deliberating on a Government for themselves, that as different interests necessarily result from the liberty meant to be secured, the major interest might under sudden impulses be tempted to commit injustice on the minority. In all civilized Countries the people fall into different classes having a real or supposed difference of interests. There will be creditors & debtors, farmers, merchants & manufacturers. There will be particularly the distinction of rich & poor. … In framing a system which we wish to last for ages, we should not lose sight of the changes which ages will produce. An increase of population will of necessity increase the proportion of those who will labour under all the hardships of life, & secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of its blessings. These may in time outnumber those who are placed above the feelings of indigence. According to the equal laws of suffrage, the power will slide into the hands of the former. No agrarian attempts have yet been made in in this Country, but symtoms, of a leveling spirit, as we have understood, have sufficiently appeared in a certain quarters to give notice of the future danger. How is this danger to be guarded against on republican principles? How is the danger in all cases of interested coalitions to oppress the minority to be guarded against?”

Edmund Randolph:

“Our chief danger arises from the democratic parts of our constitutions. It is a maxim which I hold incontrovertible, that the powers of government exercised by the people swallows up the other branches. None of the constitutions have provided sufficient checks against the democracy.”

Or, most succinctly, John Jay:

“The people who own the country ought to govern it.”

This type of anti-democratic, oligarchic sentiment permeated the Convention. Unwilling to accept what the majority of the population wanted — democracy and economic equality — they decided instead to design a system of government which would enable the “minority of the opulent” to impose their wishes upon the people — exactly the type of system we live under today.