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What's So Great about Great? PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Wednesday, 17 January 2007 11:33
What's So Great about Great?

- ddjango - In spite of the fact that his work had rewarded him with a very comfortable upper middle class lifestyle, he also expressed deep guilt, shame, and remorse about his role. He once told me that his greatest disappointment in life was that he didn't have the courage to blow the whistle, or at least quit. But at the close of each of these conversations, he insisted that the United States was "still the greatest country in the world."



"Great" Country?
How About Creating A "Good" Country


Jan. 17, 2007

Racism is a philosophy based on a contempt for life. It is the arrogant assertion that one race is the center of value and object of devotion, before which other races must kneel in submission. It is the absurd dogma that one race is responsible for all the progress of history and alone can assure the progress of the future. Racism is total estrangement. It separates not only bodies, but minds and spirits. Inevitably it descends to inflicting spiritual and physical homicide upon the out-group
. - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is long past time to examine and redefine, as it applies to the USA, the adjective "great."

My father's brother John, in contrast to my pacifist, socialist dad, fought in the Pacific theater in WWII. At the end of the war, he went to work for the DoD in southern California, where he worked for forty-five years (with a very brief stint in the "private sector"). Toward the end of his life, we had several conversations in which he ranted against the incredible duplicity, abuses, and corruption in the military-industrial-academic complex. In spite of the fact that his work had rewarded him with a very comfortable upper middle class lifestyle, he also expressed deep guilt, shame, and remorse about his role. He once told me that his greatest disappointment in life was that he didn't have the courage to blow the whistle, or at least quit. But at the close of each of these conversations, he insisted that the United States was "still the greatest country in the world."

John was pretty conservative, so I always let that comment pass. I've wondered however, how he would have responded if I asked him to define "great". He was a Cold Warrior and I'm pretty sure he would simply compare us to the Soviet Union. He also would cite the country's technological advances and opportunities for wealth. I know he voted for Reagan, but didn't like him very much, once calling him "just another B movie actor." He did like Clinton at first, mostly for throwing everybody off welfare. But he had gained a thorough distrust of our government, politicians in general, and the integrity of the M-I-A complex.

The Answers.com dictionary gives sixteen definitions of "great":

Very large in size.
Larger in size than others of the same kind.
Large in quantity or number: A great throng awaited us. See synonyms at large.
Extensive in time or distance: a great delay.
Remarkable or outstanding in magnitude, degree, or extent: a great crisis.
Of outstanding significance or importance: a great work of art.
Chief or principal: the great house on the estate.
Superior in quality or character; noble: ?For he was great, ere fortune made him so? (John Dryden).
Powerful; influential: one of the great nations of the West.
Eminent; distinguished: a great leader.
Grand; aristocratic.
Informal. Enthusiastic: a great lover of music.
Informal. Very skillful: great at algebra.
Informal. Very good; first-rate: We had a great time at the dance.
Being one generation removed from the relative specified. Often used in combination: a great-granddaughter.
Archaic. Pregnant.

I think that most folks who use the phrase "great country" think that items #5 through #10 apply, but I adamantly dispute the applicability of #8 and have serious doubts about #10.

A reading of Zinn's A Peoples History of the United States, as well as works by Chalmers Johnson, Greg Palast, Arundathi Roy, and many others exposes our government's and people's consistent history of belligerence, bellicosity, militarism, acquisitiveness, arrogance, racism, classism, and exploitation. Even before the Revolutionary War we had begun to to subjugate and/or commit genocide against the indigenous peoples. The Monroe Doctrine established our claim to superiority over all the Americas to our south.

Our many imperialistic campaigns, especially since 1900, erase any notion that we have been or are a peaceful nation interested only in serving as a power of example to the rest of the world. Our propaganda machine makes Tokyo Rose look like a rank amateur.

We have believed the lies for two reasons. First, our military might and second our economic successes. As to the former, we were forced to a standstill in Korea, soundly defeated in and driven out of Vietnam, and will be defeated not only in Iraq, but in the rest of the Middle East and western Asia. Once perhaps admired, we are now hated and vilified throughout the world.

As to the second reason, we must look only at our history of both domestic and foreign exploitation of working peoples around the world. The United States is not a democray in practice, but is capitalist, corporatist, and fascist. It wishes, therefore, to export not democracy, but "free market" capitalism. We have paid terribly repressive dictatorships millions, perhaps billions, to keep their populations in line while we robbed them of their resources and even lives. Note well that we have supported democracy only when it clearly benefits us economically and strategically. We have undermined or overthrown democratic governments in Central and South America, Indonesia, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

The quotation which heads this piece was written by Martin Luther King forty years ago. In the same book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, he also wrote:

A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war- 'This way of settling differences is not just.' This way of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

In the earliest part of his leadership, Dr. King leaned toward thinking that racism, hatred, and discrimination against black people was a vestige of slavery and an aberration in an otherwise decent country. By 1967, however, he had become radicalized, viewing poverty, war (not just Vietnam), militarization, and racism as endemic and systemic.

In a not well-known speech in New York City in April of 1967, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence", he said:

. . . I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government . . .

If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. It will become clear that our minimal expectation is to occupy it as an American colony and men will not refrain from thinking that our maximum hope is to goad China into a war so that we may bomb her nuclear installations. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horribly clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play.

The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways . . .

There is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter the struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy- and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. Such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which now has justified the presence of U.S. military "advisors" in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Colombia and why American napalm and green beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken -- the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. n the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood . . .

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.
Forty years ago, my friends . . . nearly a half century. Simply replace "Vietnam" with "Iraq", and the speech could have been delivered today. Although his birthday is grudgingly celebrated by a holiday at the federal level and in most states, his "I Have A Dream" speech and his civil rights mission are honored. His later indictment of our system and our people as a nation is suppressed.

This beautiful man, dedicated to peace, nonviolence, selflessness, justice, and the highest values, was a Democratic Socialist when he died. Seen as a dangerous man by the establishment, he was a victim of a systematic campaign to discredit him as a philanderer and communist sympathizer, then was assassinated in what evidently was a conspiracy involving elements of the FBI.

Dr. King was recently listed as the third most popular and admired American ever, behind Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln. Reagan was a puppet and a sham, the polar opposite of Dr. King in every way, most of all in integrity and values. Lincoln was a racist who abolished slavery solely for economic and political reasons. He advocated that once freed, African-Americans should be sent back to Africa. Why he continues to be so honored by black Americans I cannot fathom.

I count only two Americans as major heroes: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Although there are others who have embodied exceptional values and backed them up with forceful action, these two men devoted their power and influence in support of all men and women, peace, justice, and equality.

The spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. must shiver and cry with sadness and rage at what we have become. I believe that if he were still alive he either would have brought us through and up or would be truly broken seeing how we have failed, how we have wasted so much wealth and influence in the names of capitalism and militarism. He would see us all as lost souls, incapable of the sacrifice necessary to truly be a nation and people of peace and freedom trying to lift all peoples to the light. He would see that we are not a "great" country.

So, if it is at all possible, which I sincerely doubt, how exactly do we become a "good" country? How, indeed, do we become the nation of Dr. King's dream? How do we turn our great wealth and power into a force of universal good rather than destruction?

The first step on the path must be the taking of individual responsibility for the whole. Margaret Thatcher once said that there is no society, only individuals and families. That, my friends, is an evil notion. The question, however, is whether the statement was meant to be a personal opinion of how things should be or an observation of how the world really works. Probably a lot of both, unfortunately.

At its core, liberalism values the rights and freedoms of the individual above everything else. Capitalist economics depend upon this notion of individual freedom with its resulting consumerism ("I've got more money and toys and power than you have, so I'm better than you are"), competition, and selfishness. But neoliberalism and the requirements of post-capitalism have taken this assumption to the extreme. Useful, perhaps, to the growth and success of the country, it has indeed dangerously eroded our society to the extent that our government feels free to limit individual rights and freedoms, nominally to protect America from "terrorism", but in reality to protect the waning capitalist system from "premature" disintegration.

In large part we are losing our individual rights and freedoms because we have abandoned the concept and action of personal responsibility for the health, even the existence, of democracy and society. Our democracy, with the rights and freedoms it "guarantees, requires constant informed and intelligent participation by the people, and not just every two years or so in the voting booth. Voting is the most basic requirement, but only between half and a third of us even show up. Of those that do, few know what the candidates are truly about - they vote more against someone than for policies. Campaign trails are littered with wisps of smoke, shards of broken mirrors, lies, and loose change. The notions of public service and integrity are smirked at. The government disregards the consent of the people with near impunity. Nobody really votes "for the good of the whole country", only for "what I will get out of it." We hire thieves and liars to do the political and economic dirty work, because we can't be bothered. We're either surprised and/or cynical when the winner pulls the same old crap, then we bitch and blame the thief and liar. We shrug our shoulders and wait another two or four or six years to make things right with a new thief and liar, somehow expecting different results.

We have begun to lose our rights and freedoms because we have taken little, if any, personal responsibility for defending and preserving them. We have turned our backs on constant political involvement because we believe it's irrelevant or distasteful or a bothersome distraction from "real life." Use it or lose it - we lost it. It's not George Bush's fault. George Bush is our fault. We weren't really paying attention. We really didn't know who he was and certainly didn't know about PNAC until it was too late - he had already bought a big piece of the election, then stole the rest. You know the rest. Here we are.

Personal responsibility demands that we not only pay attention to the government. It demands first of all that we pay attention to what we do and how we live our lives. I have a very hard time with folks who say they're "liberal" or "progressive" or "environmentalist" or "anti-war" while living in houses the size of a football field filled with stuff they don't need, children enrolled in private schools and playing violent video games, and driving fifty miles each way each day in fifty-thousand dollar SUVs to their jobs as VP Marketing Execs in consumer electronics corporations. Doesn't really matter to them whether to buy gas from Exxon or Citgo, live on Starbucks or fair price coffee, shop at Wal-Mart or the local farmers market. I mean, it's a free country, right?

Personal responsibility means sacrifice. It requires thinking and acting more selflessly, examining how you impact your community and, ultimately, the whole planet. Let me say right now that if you don't do this voluntarily, you will eventually be forced to do it by deteriorating conditions. Get rid of and refuse to consume what you don't need. Don't sell it - give it away to those in your community with lesser resources.

Insist on the development and/or improvement of mass public transit in your community and in the country and make sure corporations subsidize it - then use it. Buy locally grown food and products. Boycott exploitative companies - like Coca-Cola, Exxon-Mobil, Smithfield Foods (a North Carolina company which oppresses its workers), and Wal-Mart. Down-size your house. Divest investments in companies which endanger people, communities, and the environment, while they ignore the health and welfare of their workers. Honor and support strikes. Contribute money, goods, time, and labor to constructive community projects. Insist on adequate shelter, food, medical care, and education for the homeless, otherwise poor, and/or sick in your community. Send your children to public schools. Make peace and safety for all. Help build consensus. Make your community violence- and gun-free. Refuse to pay for war. Refuse regressive taxation. Educate, oversee, then work with public safety folks.

Finally, let other folks know what you're doing, why you're doing it, and how you feel about. Invite others to share what you know have. Organize, educate, build a movement.

At the beginning do these things in your own self-interest, a matter of survival. The resulting spiritual awakening and experience will soon fuel your quest. It may be lonely at first, but you soon will draw others to you and provide mutual help and support.

I submit that this may be the only way. Build a "good" country from the ground up. The government is lost to us. The "hard-left" will not unite. Socially, environmentally, and spiritually, the situation is badly disintegrating. Few will admit it, but we are already at war in Somalia and with Iran. The latter will have disastrous consequences, but seems inevitable. If we do not build a "good" country, we will have no country at all.

Be at peace.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 January 2007 11:33

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