Juxtaposition: What is America?

I meant to get this one posted sometime last week, but, well, it didn’t happen. Better late than never! About a week ago, after reading some Wodehouse, I flipped through the latest Seattle Weekly, and read this book review of Divided by God by Noah Feldman. The beginning of the review sold me on the book, which I intend to read sometime soon, but the end of the review, where the critic responds to the book, was almost appalling. I’ll quote it in full:

Feldman’s plan would be perfect—except for the fact that the Bush Evangetaliban is all about coercion and money. Its goal, as Esther Kaplan documents in With God on Their Side, “is not to engage your opponents in the public square, but to kneecap them, or send them into exile.” The imams of the right won’t stop with symbolic victories. They want gays in re-education concentration camps, teenagers in madrasas preaching Values Evangelism and Intelligent Design, All Things Considered (it could be renamed One Thing Considered) replaced by religious hate radio. They aren’t kidding, and they are winning. Feldman’s mistake is to think that Values Evangelicals value anything but brute power.

I have a different compromise to propose. Why try to be united? Americans, red and blue, have no common national vision and never will again. Feldman’s own insightful quickie history proves our belief groups have fissioned steadily for centuries. Instead, on “values” issues, permit each municipality to declare itself red or blue, on the model of dry and booze-permitting towns. If all Florida rots into an ignorant, befouled backwater run by corrupt judges and Bush oil theocrats and overrun with pregnant teenagers who remain coke-addicted drunks until discovering Jesus at 40, like George, let them have their place for that. Red America, send us your gays, your morning-after-pill doctors, your science teachers yearning to breathe free! This country’s big enough for both of us—as long as we stay divided. Meanwhile, one suspects only the blue half of America will read Feldman’s book. The red half will probably burn it.

The reviewer’s frenzied disgust for the other half of the population is palpable. His take on the American right is so far out there I think it’s a safe bet he has never really met a member of the religious right and takes his cues from moonbat left. A couple of days later I got an email from the guys who run Spirit of America containing an email forward that offered a highly informative juxtaposition with teh above passage about the identity of America. The forward claims to be written by an Australian dentist and ends like this:

An American is English, or French, or Italian, Irish, German, Spanish, Polish, Russian or Greek.

An American may also be Canadian, Mexican, African, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Australian, Iranian, Asian, or Arab, or Pakistani, or Afghan.

An American may also be a Cherokee, Osage, Blackfoot, Navaho, Apache, Seminole or one of the many other tribes known as native Americans.

An American is Christian, or he could be Jewish, or Buddhist, or Muslim.

In fact, there are more Muslims in America than in Afghanistan. The only difference is that in America they are free to worship as each of them chooses.

An American is also free to believe in no religion. For that he will answer only to God, not to the government, or to armed thugs claiming to speak for the government and for God.

An American lives in the most prosperous land in the history of the world.

The root of that prosperity can be found in the Declaration of Independence, which recognizes the God given right of each person to the pursuit of happiness.

An American is generous. Americans have helped out just about every other nation in the world in their time of need.

When the Soviet army overran Afghanistan 20 years ago, Americans came with arms and supplies to enable the people to win back their country!

As of the morning of September 11, Americans had given more than any other nation to the poor in Afghanistan.

Americans welcome the best, the best products, the best books, the best music, the best food, the best athletes. But they also welcome the least!

The national symbol of America, The Statue of Liberty, welcomes your tired and your poor, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores, the homeless, tempest tossed. These in fact are the people who built America.

Some of them were working in the Twin Towers the morning of September 11, 2001, earning a better life for their families. I’ve been told that the World Trade Center victims were from at least 30 other countries, cultures, and first languages, including those that aided and abetted the terrorists.

So you can try to kill an American if you must.

Hitler did.

So did General Tojo, and Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung, and every bloodthirsty tyrant in the history of the world.

But, in doing so you would just be killing yourself. Because Americans are not a particular people from a particular place. They are the embodiment of the human spirit of freedom. Everyone who holds to that spirit, everywhere, is an American.

I know which view I like better.

6 thoughts on “Juxtaposition: What is America?”

  1. Yikes, this must be part of Seattle Weekly’s anti-suicide program. Let their contributors vent their hateful and less than intelligent thoughts rather than slit their wrists from anguish over Bushitler. One thing’s for sure about the blue-only town: It won’t reproduce and its taxes will rise.

  2. “One thing’s for sure about the blue-only town: It won’t reproduce and its taxes will rise.”

    Look! It’s the conservative counter-part to the original reviewer!

  3. Man…I did enjoy that little reprive of objectivity. Although I would make a point that the Decl of Ind implies that man is entitled to the pursuit of happens, not the right; this said in thought of individuals respecting the social being and not be selfish in his ‘right’ to be happy at the expense of his fellow American.

  4. I only have three complaints

    “An American lives in the most prosperous land in the history of the world.”

    By what standard? Are we talking GNP? Are we talking dollar to citizen ratios? Are we talking about technology per capita? Are we talking about global dominance? I think that’s at best misguided. I can think of a lot of different countries that have mattered for longer and were more influential than the US. Consider that the United States has only been considered a true world power for a little over a century, and the world’s strongest nation for a fraction of that (given that during the Cold War it was pretty much a toss up between the USSR and the USA, so we would’ve only been top dog for 14 years so far). I would say the the Roman Empire, or the Han Dynasty or even the Egyptian civilization would have a better claim to this due to their longevity and actual importance in world affairs.

    “When the Soviet army overran Afghanistan 20 years ago, Americans came with arms and supplies to enable the people to win back their country!”

    What about the numerous countries that have needed our help in all the time the US has been able to help? Sure we pick and choose, but Americans don’t rally and defend EVERY country with injustices in it. Nor does it defend the times where we influenced a nation’s growth by shady tactics. The CIA backed assassination of Che Guevarra, the assistance to numerous dictatorships in Central and South America to repress Communism throughout the Cold War, despite the fact that the ruling government was repressive and against American standards. Or how ’bout Sadam, we freaking empowered him to fight against Iran, because they were our bigger enemy. I’m not saying America can’t do whats in its best interests as a nation, but I don’t think its because of altruism, the main motivation is selfish self-preservation, which is fine, but we should recognize it as such.

    “So you can try to kill an American if you must.

    Hitler did.

    So did General Tojo, and Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung, and every bloodthirsty tyrant in the history of the world.”

    People always fall back on WWII because it was such a justifiable war, but even then, the US only got fully involved because of a direct attack on its own. I’m not saying that its wrong to defend yourself, but the majority of Americans pre-Pearl Harbor were ready to let Europe deal with its own problems. I think that if you take a truly unbiased look at American foreign policy it has always been driven by the motive of America first. That’s a perfectly healthy position, but it has little to do with writing wrongs or being a moral nation. America makes decisions that help America: America doesn’t make decisions that help every one in the world. I also think its patently stupid to say that any tyrant in the history of the world is against Americans specifically; that’s a little elitist and ridiculous. No society is perfect, and to claim that the US has a moral superiority over all other nations, and that it claims sole right to be the antagonist to Tyranny is absurd. I think a lot of people would benefit from the class I took in College called, “The Moral Foundations of American Democracy.” It was a 4000 level poli sci class and totally engrossing. Basically, it showed that the whole basis of the American system of government was to have everyone’s greed cutting into everyone else’s greed so that no one could get further ahead of the other. The whole concept is built on the understanding that humans are selfish and want power, and if we can all be greedy equally, we’ll all get the same lot. I think that’s a sensible understanding of human behavior, but its not really all that moralistic.

    Another thing about WWII, since I’m on the subject, was that it was the last war in which the gloves were off, it was no-holds barred and it was brutal. WWII was the last war that really ever ended for all intents and purposes, because it was fought with the express purpose of total victory at any cost. One of the problems that we face in a nuclear age and an age of the idea of “clean” warfare is that its nearly impossible to break a country to the point where it is truly beaten. No one is ok with this anymore because its considered inhumane to kill non-combatants (which I agree with, but…), so we have to careful about collateral damage. While that is noble, it makes any long term military success almost impossible because the enemy is never truly cowed. Germany and Japan were destroyed from the air and mercilessly beaten until they faced a choice of annihilation or surrender, no politically saavy American would advocate fire bombing problem cities in Iraq and Afghanistan, for obvious, good reasons, but it makes it difficult to completely win a war. Think of Korea, which is technically still at war with itself, or the numerous seething conflicts that are all over the world. I don’t even have a point here, but I think its interesting the way that war is evolving in modern times to be more about insurgency and guerilla tactics and tactics to counter those. The age of total war is over, perhaps for the better, and now we can settle into elongated wars of skirmish and terrorism.

    Mostly I think its ridiculous that people from both Red and Blue camps can be so near-sighted and only embrace opinions that agree with their own. I mean, the whole point of showing us this Seattle Weekly article was to point and laugh at the absurdity of Democrats, was it not? I just feel that people on both sides are so jaded about each other that they have no way of ever coming together to accomplish anything.

    Anyway, I’m up to late and I’m not even making sense, you can flame me or whatever, but this just struck a chord with me.

  5. I would like to add, to Fluger’s comment, that the idea of honorable warfare has ‘gone out of style’ since the first world war. With the development of killing at a distance, the term honorable warfare losses any meaning it has had in history.

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