Thursday, January 26, 2006

On the wrong side of history

Growing up in the USA in the 60s and 70s, I was taught that I lived in a country uniquely founded on freedom and respect for human dignity. For better or worse, my first serious intellectual passion was centered on native American cultures and their destruction by the freedom-loving Americans, so by the time I was an adolescent I was all too well-aware that this glorious mythology was a cover story meant to obscure the innocent blood and deceit in which the American dream is soaked.

But still, even within all the hypocrisy there seemed to be some remaining sense that America really was somehow different and better than other countries. When Watergate embarrassed the nation into electing Jimmy Carter, there was a brief moment of hope. I know that even then we were supporting thugs in Guatemala, the Phillipines, Iran and elsewhere, but there was something ennobling in the declaration that we held human rights inviolate -- even if our concern was demonstrably hypocritical.

In those days, the American government quoted the annual reports from organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to buttress its own critiques of oppressive governments -- those aligned with the Soviet Union anyway.

Those days are now long gone. Gone is the noble hypocrisy. No longer do we claim to be "better;" now it's enough to assert power. The latest report from Human Rights Watch spells it out:

The 2006 World Report is not easy reading for those who believe in and value human dignity.

"New evidence demonstrated in 2005 that torture and mistreatment have been a deliberate part of the Bush administration’s counter terrorism strategy, undermining the global defense of human rights.

The evidence showed that abusive interrogation cannot be reduced to the misdeeds of a few low-ranking soldiers, but was a conscious policy choice by senior U.S. government officials. The policy has hampered Washington’s ability to cajole or pressure other states into respecting international law, said the 532-page volume’s introductory essay."


E Singer said...

i'm not the first in my family to expatriate from a home country because of disillusionment. the question i keep asking myself since i left is: how do i make peace with this political heritage? it is what it is ... another heritage, about 160 years back: The Lipan Apache, voluntarily "went invisible" in response to Manifest Destiny from the East and the Inquisition from the South. Those were my people too, long before their city was renamed Monterey. We're spouting about the manifestations of a disease that's been spreading for 10K years at least. ... But now, how do we Make Peace with who we've allowed ourselves to become over generations and over 95% of all lands remaining? how do we heal at the root and remake ourselves and our world - from here?

Dude in Hammock said...

all valid questions. like many valid questions, i fear they cannot be answered. i don't really see the possibility of "making peace" with this political heritage or with what our species has become. the best i can manage is to understand how it happened and try to explain it to others. but i don't really see "peace" or remaking our world as realistic options. i suspect the world will remake itself once it cleanses itself of us and the mess we've made.

Joe Bob said...

How different might the US be had Lincoln not been shot and succeeding Presidents had imitated what would have been his post-war legacy? Maybe not all that different, but maybe...