from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The day after .. 

WE KNOW what July 4th is. What about July 5th? After the fireworks, the music, the rhetoric of freedom -- what then? The party is over. Can we think about what, exactly, we were celebrating? Today's date puts the question of how high-flown American ideals square with the quotidian reality of what the nation is becoming.

The quote above is the beginning of an op ed in today's Boston Globe by James Carroll, entitled The day after the fireworks.  Now that we are returning to our "normal" way of being in the US, after our patriotic glorification and remiscences of yesterday, I thought this piece might be of some value to at least some readers.  As usual, (1) I urge you to go to the link and read the entire piece, and (2) I offer a few more selections, with comments, and then a reflection of my own.   Enjoy?

Carroll does not wish to rehearse the typical red-blue divides.  He accurately notes

The roster of illusions that pass for national security doctrine -- preventive war, nuclear posture, unilateralism -- has slipped beyond debate by now, with citizens and politicians alike having signed onto one slate or another.
 He then recognizes the contradiction between  people  coming to realize the Iraq war probably cannot be "won" at the same time many urge sending more troops to put down an insurgency which exists primarily to oppose the presence of US troops.  That brings us to today, the day after our annual patriotic display.

Carroll offers the following thought:

In assessing post-celebration realities of the national moment, it may help to recall that America has never been an innocent nation, which is seen in its having constantly sought to appear as one. Indeed, the planting of the flag in self-affirming virtue is how the hallowed standard comes most readily under fire. The most poignant honoring of the flag of which I know is the US Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, the magnificent bronze rendering of the famous Joe Rosenthal photograph of five weary leathernecks and a Navy medic raising the flag on Iwo Jima. That statue, not the Mussolini-like showcase of plinths, pillars, wreaths, and fountains that now despoils the Mall, should be the nation's memorial to World War II.

The following paragraph is well worth considering in its entirety.   To abide by copyright and fair use restrictions, I present it with ellipses:

The Iwo Jima image is sacred precisely because the men lifting up the fallen flag are all but unable to do so. . . . Even as the valor of what they did on one beachhead after another is properly honored, the American fighters of the Pacific War were not heroes. The desperation of island combat included exchanged barbarities of which no one would willingly speak for a generation. On the American side... foul racism, vengeful refusals to take prisoners, a generalized brutality that extended to a savage air war. To raise the flag at Iwo Jima was to lift the transcendent symbol out of the total hell that the war had become. Few if any men who survived it came home speaking of virtue.

Reflect for a moment on the sentence you have just read.  In this, which thanks to Brokaw we now label "The Good War", Few if any men who survived it came home speaking of virtue.  Having listened the other day on The News Hour to Margaret Warner's discussion with veterans of the current Iraq conflict, I would say these words are still applicable.

So does Carroll.  He addresses this in his next paragraph, also offered with ellipses:

As much as the defeat of militarized Japanese fascism was a victory, the war was also a tragedy, and the Iwo Jima image of desperate men around the flag acknowledges that, too. A new American tragedy is unfolding in Iraq. Not even its supporters pretend to see glory in this war now, and who imagines anything like ''victory" any more?. . . . What would the Rosenthal image be if the Marines had lost their arms? For each of the roughly 70 American soldiers killed in the month just past, many others are gravely maimed. What of them?

Carroll rightly notes that our use of fireworks on our national holiday, a visible representation of the "bursting in air" of Keys' words in our national anthem, are "an implicit glorification of war."  He refers to those military who will carry the wounds of the current conflict in their bodies for the rest of their lives.  He asks how we can think of those Americans and not think of the far more numerous Iraqis.

He then offers this conclusion.

What kind of nation does our flag fly over now? Not a less innocent one, because American innocence was never the truth. Not one less reluctant to go to war without a good reason, because we have foolishly credited bad reasons in the past. But now the nation lacks even that. As our president demonstrated last week, we have become a people who wage unending war -- killing and maiming our young ones and theirs -- without being remotely able to say why.

You may not agree with the conclusion.  I happen to think it is very much on target.  You may feel that we had good reasons to go to war in the past -- certainly the "Good War" of World War II is because Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war upon us.   But while true, both of those statement ignore much of the recent history to that point -  that we were aiding Britain and denying aid to Germany, that we had embargoed the Japanese on critical materials while continuing to aid Britain (also a Pacific power, rightly or wrongly so).  FDR had already signed the Atlantic Charter with Churchill, which described how the world was to be handled after a British victory (in which in theory we would participate) over Germany.  And we had declared a large area in which any German or Italian ships would be considered hostile and fired upon, even as we proclaimed our neutrality.

Carroll also talks about our brutality and racism.  Some may object to that criticism of our fighting men in a major war.  And yet if we cannot confront it there, in our "Good War," then it becomes painfully obvious why we have not yet risen up in anger at the atrocities of the current conflict:  Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, "extraordinary rendition," the total destruction of Fallujah, the apparent willingness to target journalists who are not imbedded -- and on this I remind readers that the military warned before the war they could not guarantee the safety of any journalist who would not agree to be embedded.

We have clearly in the past gone to war for less than noble or necessary reasons.  The Texas War of Independence came about because slaveholders from the Southern states flooded into Texas, where they agreed to be Catholic but then violated their pledge - more land for the Cotton Kingdom may - despite the mythology of the Alamo and San Jacinto -- been a major part of that Anglo expansion.  The Mexican war was a direct outcome of what had happened in Texas, and was a logical next step after a series of attempts at taking over what was then Mexican territory, going back as far the time of Jefferson (who organized the Lewis and Clark expedition before he made the Louisiana Purchase) and Burr,...    And after all, the fomenting of War against Spain after the incident of the USS Maine (which may well NOT have been the result of hostile action) and our subsequent expansion into the Philippines and the Caribbean is yet another example of a long war for less than noble purposes -- forget McKinley's desire to Civilize and Christianize that archipelago  -- there had been Christians there for several hundred years, and they Filipinos no more wanted American colonialism than they had wanted Spanish colonialism.   One of the great unstudied parts of American history it the conflict in those islands after we won at Manila, the same time we did in Santiago with Naval forces, Rough Riders, and Buffalo soldiers, coincidentally or not the latter battle occuring at the beginning of July, in time for patriotic celebrations of victory.  The war of resistance in the Philippines lasted until 1903, with over 4,000 Americans and more than 16,000 Filipinos dying.  By contrast, in the entire Spanish American War in all theaters the U S suffered only 385 battle deaths.

What do we "win" if we "succeed" in Iraq?  How wil we honor it?  What kind of nation are we becoming?  Is it something totally new, or is it something towards which we have been moving for much of our 229 years of independence (although since Lexington and Concord start the official fighting, I prefer to look at April 1775 as our beginning).  

I found the Carroll piece forced me to reflect in a way I did not during yesterday's justifiable patriotic ceremonies.  I suggest you read the whole article.  Then  perhaps you too will reflect.

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