I grew up with the Vietnam war in the background. It wasn’t the hippies, or the protests, or the myth of people spitting on returning veterans that made me doubt my country: it was the National Guard raising their guns and firing into a crowd of students at Kent State. It was a duplicitous Richard Nixon resigning in disgrace. It was Henry Kissinger committing war crimes and being rewarded for it.
The Iranian hostage crisis was the dominant news item when I went off to college. It was wrong, and Iran’s descent into theocracy was a catastrophe. But what troubled me was my country’s long support for the tyrannical Shah of Iran, which had led to this crisis, the way Ronald Reagan stole credit for its resolution, and how that administration smoothly segued into total corruption, trading arms (can we stop doing that?) to Iran to shuffle money under the table to murderous right-wing killers in Nicaragua. It was Oliver North becoming the ‘brave’ face of American policy.
I’ve read the sanitized propaganda we’re given in public schools, and at the same time read the more complex histories. I hear about courageous pioneers bringing civilization west, and I read about Jeffrey Amherst and his genocidal plans, the rabble-rousing hatred that led to the massacre at Wounded Knee — and by the way, did you know that 20 medals of ‘honor’ were awarded for the murder of men, women (excuse me, ‘squaws’: wouldn’t want to humanize them), and children in that event? I lose all respect for the concept of honor. I am instructed in the heroics of the Civil War, and no one explains that the seeds of that brutality were sown in the cowardice of our noble Founding Fathers, who could talk a good game about liberty but but shied away from doing anything that might cost them some property, the human beings they owned as slaves. I had to learn on my own that we whipped around from a war to emancipate the slaves to an era of Manifest Destiny, in which plutocrats declared that they had a right to the lands of uncivilized yellow and brown people.
All my life I’ve been watching fools, criminals, and villains wrapping themselves up in their loud patriotism and being lauded for it. Do you wonder that I find flag and country tainted? Are you surprised that I find little cause to celebrate today? Do you think it’s all the fault of godless commies and leftie lies? No. It’s because the people who most thoroughly embrace that unthinking love of country do not love it for the high-minded principles stated at its founding: liberty and justice are nothing but words. They don’t love it for its past openness to immigrants; we no longer lift the lamp beside the golden door, we’re gonna build a Wall. Our Constitution isn’t about protecting our rights or guaranteeing equality, it’s about making sure every one gets to own as many guns as they want.
This is what our independence day has become.
This should be our national day of mourning, a day we grieve at how the great has been betrayed by the petty.