Toward Freedom, Burlington, VT, Summer, 2004:
Note: Straight ASCII text Please check paragraph end markers before reformatting "_" marks beginning and end of italics
Travis Charbeneau 3421 Hanover Ave., Richmond, VA 23221 firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 804 358 0417 www.travischarbeneau.com
"I Didn't Own No Slaves" Travis Charbeneau slug "who-me" 839 words
PULL QUOTE: "Collective guilt is just the way history seems to work."
Collective punishment is a war crime. But punishing a whole group for the actions of a few is often applauded by conservative Americans as a reasonable response to terrorism. This is peculiar, since collective punishment implies collective guilt, and conservative Americans don't accept collective guilt. William F. Buckley, (2/1/04) writes, "... only those who engage in regrettable activity need to apologize for it. If it were otherwise, who amongst us could be free of either ethnic or racial or religious taint from one or more historical abominations?" Who amongst us gets an exemption from history? We all share collective guilt for the sins of our fathers, which, the Bible assures us, are visited upon the sons. Buckley was writing about the "Passion of Christ" debate over collective Jewish guilt for killing Jesus, a crime clearly of God's doing, making us _all_ guilty as _His_ children. Nearly all Americans hate 9/11 most for being unwarranted; its victims innocent of any guilt. I say "nearly all," since some, while thoroughly disgusted, feared that chickens were coming home to roost. A few said so, spurring much complaint about their patriotism. But the historical record is ruthlessly specific about the mischief the West generally and America in particular has wrought in the Middle East. The bad guys see collective guilt warranting collective punishment. It is undeniable that we have regularly bamboozled the Third World and Middle East in particular ever since we beat them to the draw on the Industrial Revolution. That achievement itself was due in extraordinary measure to algebra and other goodies Islamic culture invented or preserved whilst the West slumbered in medieval indifference. So long as we pay a penny of tax, American citizens and those studying or merely visiting, including Muslims, are guilty of buying the policy makers and the bullets that work all that mischief. A single example may suffice: By 1953 Iranians had deposed the hated Shah and elected their own government. But their Prime Minister Mossadegh complained about British Petroleum's oil rip-offs; even mentioned confiscation. BP called in American petroleum interests and, presto, the CIA labeled Mr. Mossadegh a communist, arranged a coup, and returned the Shah to power. Iran lived the better part of 30 years under this vicious tyrant and American stalwart, its people seething with humiliation and resentment until 1979, when they got some dubious revenge by capturing the American embassy and enslaving themselves to a theocracy. (People probably have the right to enslave themselves, but it would be helpful if they weren't driven crazy first by meddling superpowers.) The Iranian Hostage Crisis looks quaint now, but it's all cut from the same cloth, woven in the main by an American Cold War foreign policy distorted by greed and an exaggerated fear of communism. (The two are intimately related.) This made for a lot of bad history everywhere, but especially in the Middle East. "We" made the history. "We" get the guilt. Simple? Naturally not. On slavery reparations, for instance, America is rich, and there is no denying that much of our original capitalization was ripped off the backs of African kidnap victims. We paid reparations to the Japanese for a few years of racist oppression during WW2. Hundreds of years of abject slavery don't count? Compared to _genuine_ reparations, which may simply be impractical, affirmative action is peanuts, yet we kvetch endlessly about that. "I didn't own no slaves," is the Buckley-style argument; often followed by the revealing, "and my Daddy didn't own no slaves." OK. How 'bout your Daddy's Daddy? America's Daddy George Washington owned slaves, as did Jefferson, who cared more for his library than the high principles it contained, even though he was very noisy about high principles. Americans are still very noisy, and often deadly, about high principles, even as money so transparently drives so much of our conduct. Not surprisingly, the world loves our talk; hates the walk. So the Cold War made our fathers irrational. Do we and our children really have to make good on their mistakes? Can't the world forgive and forget? After all, as in personal life, one must sooner or later recover from hurt and just get on with it. Unfortunately, this assumes a maturity in international affairs that, as is so often the case in personal life, simply isn't there. Worse, the mischief continues, as per Iraq, et al. They say politics is the art of the possible. Any honest reading of any decent history book ought to provoke us to possibilities that, while we pursue terrorists, would also address some of the pain in the world that creates them, especially that portion for which "we" are responsible. At the very least, we should be cutting back on the mischief before this cycle ends in a nuclear detonation. Use your imagination. Unless we act, that horror is just a matter of time. It will make 9/11 look quaint in its turn. Collective guilt is just the way history seems to work. No one, not even Americans, are exempt.