People are important. Every person lives in a mini-world of loves, pains, accomplishments and failures. The path we follow constantly changes us. As individuals we are capable of great good and great evil – but generally we just try to keep-on keeping-on: but we constantly change.
Solzhenitsyn said it best (Gulag Archipelago,) “One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being.”
I have empathy for human beings. Most of the people I know struggle just to get by. There are women raising children, men working long hours, kids in school, old people facing the reality of their passing; everyone wants that little bit of happiness, or at least contentment.
The individual’s great down fall is when he loses concern for the feelings of other human beings. We are egocentric by nature, but we have the ability for compassion. It is only when we organize ourselves as group that we tend to lose our personality and our individual compassion. That is when we are capable of the greatest evil.
Humans are heard animals and we have an imprinted nature to organize and identify ourselves as a group. There are good groups, destructive groups, and necessary groups; and when we become a member of a particular group we willingly hand over our individualism and identity to the group. We have club affiliations; church affiliations; local, state and federal affiliations: political parties, law enforcement, military, clubs and gangs etc. As a member of a group the needs of the group become paramount over the needs of the individual – and as a member we loose our individual empathy and concern for people outside our group.
What is it good for?
We make a mistake when we show blind allegiance to our government. Our founding fathers came from a monarchy in which the individual’s purpose was to serve the needs of the government. Our country was founded on the premise that the government be organized to serve the needs of the individual. But, over the years our government has moved away from the principals of individual liberty and freedom guaranteed by our constitution. We now find ourselves alumni of the Bush “W” era when the government operated in secrecy; a chilling parody of George Orwell’s 1984:
We should hold our government accountable to serve our needs and our best interest.
It makes you wonder at what point in the Orwellian nightmare did Big Brother begin scaring the people with Terror Level Colors – At what point did Big Brother give immunity to the tela-coms for spying on the people – At what point was Big Brother able to convince the people that arrest and confinement without due process was acceptable – And at what point was torture warranted for the protection of the state. It took real patriots to accept the rule of Big Brother.
I don’t trust the word Patriotism, for it bespeaks blind allegiance to the heard. I am fortunate to be born in this country, but I am not blind to the fact that there have always been factions in our government that do not, and have not served the needs of the individual. Just as we must have a realistic view of religions we need to take off the rose colored glasses and have a realistic and informed view of our country.
When I taught History in high schools I always begin by making the point that U.S. history is a record of wars and the lulls in-between the wars - as written from the perspective of the winner. In the United States our heritage is war. War has defined us:
• 1620-1754: Scrimmages with the Indians, Dutch, French and Spanish
• 1754-1763: French and Indian War
• 1770: Boston Massacre
• 1773: Boston Tea Party
• 1775-1783: Revolutionary War
• 1786: Shays Rebellion
• 1812-1814: War of 1812
• 1846-1848: Mexican War
• 1861-1865: Civil War
• 1898: Spanish American War
• 1914-1918: First World War
• 1939-1945: Second World War
• 1950-1953: Korean War
• 1961: Cuban Standoff
• 1964-1973: Viet Nam War
• 1982: U.S. invades Grenada
• 1991: Persian Gulf War
• 2001 The war on Al Qaeda
• 2003: U.S. invades Iraq
• 2003: Iraq war
• 2004 :Troops sent into Pakistan
Each war has brought on social and political changes. We could paraphrase Solzhenitsyn and say: One and the same country is, at various times, under various circumstances, a totally different country. As wars and weaponry have become more and more dangerous to humanity, war should be viewed less and less as the means of settling disputes and controlling natural resources.
The specter of war rallies many of our people to blind patriotism, which allows our leaders to maneuver our Nation into dangerous and destructive situations.
I have told my students that the history they are taught has been written and edited here in America – with an American perspective – and an American spin.
Let’s take a realistic look at the United States.
• We are 16% of the world population, yet we consume 25% of the world’s natural resources
• We have a huge disparity between the rich and the poor resulting in a decline of the middle class.
• 25% of the world’s jail population is incarcerated in the United States.
• We have a greater percentage of citizens in jail than in college.
• We have the highest infant mortality rate of any developed nation.
• We are the only major industrial nation that still has a death penalty.
• Our students perform poorly on standardized test.
• Industries are leaving the United States at an alarming rate because they can not compete using American workers.
• We have a decaying infrastructure: roads, railways, bridges, sewer and water
• We have a government willing to spend billions of dollars a month on the unnecessary invasion of Iraq while we have thousands of families that can’t afford health care, and thousands of children that go to bed hungry.
On the positive side: we live in a country where an intelligent boy from a poor family, raised by a single mother can become President of the United States. (Bill Clinton and Barack Obama)
On the flip side: we must also be aware that a boy from a rich family, with a mediocre education, a background of drug addiction and a history of irresponsibility and business failures, because of his connections, can be appointed President of the United States. (George W.)
Nothing is black and white. People with initiative can succeed here. Good, hard working people can also fall through the cracks. We have many opportunities in this country yet many of our people are disenfranchised.
We have our proud times: On September 11th twenty-three religious fanatics took the lives of 3000 innocent civilians, and our people rallied. This attack will go down in our history books as an atrocity against humanity.
But we also have our darker side that you will not fine detailed in the high school history books as an atrocity against humanity:
The date was August 6, 1945. It was eight fifteen in the morning. The sun was coming up in the east and the city was coming to life. The people of a major metropolitan city were starting their daily routine. Mothers were feeding their children breakfast and preparing them for school; fathers were leaving for their jobs; while somewhere overhead an American bomber was releasing the first nuclear bomb.
The explosion took place 1900 feet above the city. The ground zero area was disintegrated and two thirds of the city leveled instantly. Of the three hundred and fifty thousand civilians in the city of Hiroshima, one hundred and forty thousand died.
Five days later a second nuclear bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. Of the two hundred and seventy thousand civilian inhabitants, seventy thousand died: men, women, children, old people, pregnant women, unborn babies…and no birds sang.
The men who released the bombs were American patriots. We are the only country to have ever use nuclear weapons: and we dropped two of them – on civilian cities.
Are we bad? No, we are human. Men have always been willing to kill other humans, we had just learned to do it more effectively – and we did it first. We write the history, so we will justify this killing.
Am I proud to be an American? Sometimes.
I live a pretty good life. I have a cabin in the north Maine woods, a beautiful wife, a fat cat, a four-wheel drive truck, and enough income to keep the wolf away from the door (barely.) There is no place else I would care to be.
Am I disillusioned with America? No. I am disillusioned with Americans. The American people on the whole are poorly educated, uninformed and apathetic. They do not make it their business to hold their government accountable. A small percentage of our people vote and of those that do, many blindly follow a party allegiance.
A large percentage of the American people believe they live in a fairytale utopian city/state ordained and overseen by a Christian God. They believe that to question actions of the government is blasphemy and they are willing to blindly line up with flags and placards in hand – and even give their lives – when the political/ industrial puppeteers invoke the cry of patriotism.
Samuel Johnson defined patriotism as the last refuge of scoundrels. Actually, patriotism is the autonomic response of the heard to the scoundrels who invoke patriotism as a means of control and manipulation.