Having grown up in a small town in Central Kansas I was taught to believe that my country, the United States of America, was a land committed to justice and peace, a nation that one could count on to do the right thing, a country of civilized folks who had but one thing in mind.... that of doing the will of God. I also began to realize that there is nothing wrong with feeling ashamed for having done something wrong, that such a response is a rather natural consequence of having violated one's conscience, a voice from deep within that is no doubt a reliable guide for how a man (or woman) of true integrity ought to live his (or her) life. However, for those who seem to lack the capacity to feel ashamed, one can only wonder what must be wrong with them.
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As I began to emerge into manhood there was an ever, ongoing flow of hints, subtle suggestions that things were not as I had been told. However, it wasn't until our country vented its awful wrath upon a post 9-11 world that I began to realize that I had been misled. At that point I had no choice but to take a long, hard look at the history of our country, a thorough examination of what turned out to be a past drenched in the blood of our foes, foreign lands raped of their natural resources, democratically elected governments overthrown, an outrageous succession of egregious arrangements with tyrants and dictators from around the world, along with the fact that our nation is the only developed country in the world that utilizes the death penalty to kill its own people, and that we imprison more of our own people than any other nation in the world.. all of such having enabled me to gain a better understanding of why there are so many folks around the world who have become upset by our nation's apparent willingness to abuse and exploit our fellow man.
As a result of what I found, I have come to the conclusion that the vast majority of the American public is out of touch with reality, that such folks have unwittingly allowed themselves to have become mercilessly entangled in a world of fabrication and make-believe, a nation dominated by sheepish yes-men unwilling to face the fact that we, as a nation, are, and for some time have been, caught in a downward spiral of moral decline.
I have found it rather common for folks to become a bit upset with people like myself who occasionally pass judgment upon our country. In fact some have even told me that if I don't like my country then perhaps I ought to consider leaving it. Such folks seem to believe that criticizing one's country (one that has attained such a high standard of living.. as if such a thing should make a difference) is somehow unpatriotic.
However, the last time I checked there seemed to be no relationship whatsoever between a nation's quality of life and that of its moral standards. I have also found that individuals that tend to equate criticism of one's country with that of being unpatriotic either do not understand the postulates upon which democracy is based or that their identity is so terribly intertwined with that of their nation that they have seemingly lost the capacity to reason in an objective manner. Finally, based upon my experience of having debated with such folks, it has become rather clear to me that most of these quislings have little or no education as well as being relatively uninformed as to what is going on in the world.
Now, if you don't mind, allow me to take a look at a few things that tend to bother me regarding the country in which I just happen to have been born... the United States of America.
I never cease to be amazed at how terribly ethnocentric the typical American tends to be. It is almost as if having been born in the United States confers upon one the right to think of himself as a privileged person, a contrived sense of status that no doubt lies at the very heart of everything that I will discuss in this paper. For example, consider religion.. the fact that the majority of Americans look upon Christianity as the one and only road that leads to salvation, every other faith a blind alley leading to the unending fires of Hell. Next is that of capitalism, a system having apparently received the blessing of God as the universally correct way of doing business. And then democracy, a political system that apparently no one in their right mind has a right to question.
Of course there can be no doubt that democracy is certainly a stellar way of running a country, but must everyone in the world agree? Besides if the religious right (just as Moslems in Iraq) were to seize control, don't you think that they (as fundamentalists) might be tempted to set up Christianity as the official religion in our country rather than that of running a democracy based upon the separation of church and state? Think about it... fundamentalists are no doubt fundamentalists regardless of the color of "their stripes!" On the other hand, one must ask what right we (as citizens of a nation that is a mere 231 years from its own inception) have to tell folks living in countries not more than a hop, skip, and a jump from the "Garden of Eden" how they ought to live their lives. Ethnocentrism yes, but perhaps even worse than this is that which such narrow-mindedness almost always brings to pass; an unreasoning sense of arrogance generally referred to as that of the arrogance of ignorance!
Due to what appears to have been a rather serious lapse of judgment on the part of tens of millions of Americans, the voters, for whatever reason (perhaps it was a matter of fear), chose to place into power a President (a presidential administration) that: may well have laid the groundwork for 9-11 (the "new Pearl Harbor") that, according to PNAC (Project for the New American Century) was needed in order to pave the way for our country's military/economic takeover of the world; is in the preparatory stages of going to war with Iran (a conflict that will no doubt reign havoc upon our nation as well as that of the world); lied to the American people in regards to why we went to war with Iraq; lied to citizens in that our government has no intention of leaving Iraq given the fact that it is in the process of building as many as fourteen "Enduring Military Bases" (enough to house at least 100,000 soldiers) along with that of having built the world's largest Foreign Embassy located in Baghdad (a 592 million dollar, 104-acre, 21-building complex); committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, as well as high crimes and misdemeanors for which several of our leaders should be impeached; condoned the systematic use of torture against prisoners; violated the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution by intentionally choosing to interfere with the free flow of information to the American people; enacted laws (such as that of the Patriot Act) that are seriously eroding our freedoms; through the use of the Military Commissions Act, granted the President the right to arbitrarily detain, imprison, and torture U.S. citizens at that of his own discretion (and without the right of Habeas Corpus!); allowed the President to disobey more than 750 U.S. laws through the use of so-called "signing statements"; through the passage of the Defense Authorization Act of 2007 set the stage for, essentially creating the likelihood that, our country might one day become a military dictatorship; allowed the United State's military to develop an extremely sophisticated, website-based video game (America's Army) to be used as a recruitment device that is teaching millions (perhaps as many as nine million) of our children to kill human beings with an increased degree of efficiency, all of such having desensitized our teenagers to kill others with little, or no, psychological pain; has enabled politicians to profit immensely from funds awarded to corporate enterprises associated with the military-industrial complex; bankrupted the nation by allowing the national debt to rise to nine trillion dollars in spite of the fact that the nation's actual debt is a little over 59 trillion dollars due to the government's use of unorthodox (essentially unethical if not illegal) accounting practices that intentionally disregard (essentially misinforming the American people with respect to) unfunded promises to reimburse (that is to repay) Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and an assortment of federal retirement programs; and has been absolutely unwilling to take responsibility for the fact that we, as a nation, have done more to destroy the ecosystem of our planet than anyone else on Earth.
For anyone who has taken the time to study the history of the human race, there can be no doubt that one of the primary, if not the primary, cause of harm is that of people taking up arms in the name of God. No one in their right mind can deny that Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammad, Confucius, or Lao Tse were men of good will. However, over the centuries the simple yet profound truths taught by these wonderfully wise men have been perverted beyond recognition. And, as far as the West is concerned, the greatest perversion has been that of the religious right's willingness to accommodate the needs of neoconservatives in Washington D.C., a well-thought-out, although no doubt surreptitious, plan to allow the Bush-Cheney presidential administration to utilize their faith (a plan of salvation that rather conveniently ignores the teachings of Jesus, the fact that we should love rather than kill others) as a theologically-based (no doubt divinely inspired) justification for a cadre of militants all to ready to go to war in order that they might one day rule the world... and all of such in exchange for political presence, an increased opportunity for the religious right to publicize a gospel of family values (a rather fabricated attempt to "sugarcoatedly-disguise" an undoubtedly well-documented ideology of out-and-out social-political conservatism). Looking back at history, there can be little doubt that much the same occurred in the 1980's when Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority decided to align itself with Ronald Reagan's tenure as President, and, before that, when Germanically-oriented Christians decided to go along with, and therefore to support, Adolph Hitler's Nazi inspired efforts to rule the world.
Concerning the education (or shall I say the mis-education) of our children it is high time that we do the right thing, that we stop lying to our kids and begin telling them the truth. The school's job is not to make "good citizens" of our children, for in doing such a thing our children end up being duped, conditioned, slowly but surely brainwashed, into becoming truckling sycophants, bootlicking followers of the status quo. As one who has taught college students for the past 41 years, the only task worthy of a teacher is that of teaching our kids how to think for themselves, critical thinking skills that might perhaps enable them to counter the outrageous mendacity of those in power, chauvinistic jingoes who would, through the use of propaganda, have our children believe a lie rather than that which is true.
Regarding our economy, a capitalistic enterprise focused upon one, and only one, thing (the enrichment of the rich euphemistically referred to as that of "the American Dream"), we, as Americans (those of us who are rather well-to-do), should be ashamed of ourselves, ashamed of having become an island of enormous wealth stationed in the midst of a poverty-ridden world (not to mention an ever-expanding proportion of our own people who are poor) in that we go to bed every night with a willingness to anesthetize ourselves to the needs of billions of folks whose lives are inextricably mired in an absolutely desperate attempt to simply survive.
And then due to what appears to be a rather natural correlate of capitalism (activities that no doubt follow capitalism wherever it goes), the American people (folks so terribly possessed by that which they possess) have developed an apparently insatiable appetite to be rich (the capacity to consume anything and everything they want), the need to be constantly entertained, a near addictive fascination with sex, drugs, gambling, pleasure, power, and violence, and all of such no doubt nullifying any legitimate interest in the "finer things of life" such as that of developing a meaningful philosophy of life, a desire to understand what it means to be a human being, and that which might perhaps be worthy of our time here on Earth.
And then based upon the laws of our nation, lobbyists (highly paid representatives of the corporate world) have been granted the right to converge upon our elected officials for no other reason than to coerce them into conducting business in a manner that more often than not benefits the rich at the expense of the poor.
We, as a people, have been led to believe that our votes count when in fact our ballots far too often elect congressmen, the majority of which, wait in hiding for a handout (a bribe) that will serve to fill their "electoral coffers," and all of such in exchange for a simple promise to use their congressional powers to expedite the needs of their benefactors who in turn are far too likely to reward their compatriots with a well-paid, "post-retirement" position the purpose of which is to use their "congressional knowledge" to bribe those who have now taken their place; a revolving door of immense corruption that is no doubt destroying the foundations of a once democratic republic!
The final, and perhaps most important, reason why I am ashamed to be an American is due to the fact that we, more than any other people, have used our accumulated wealth (part of which comes from money earned from having sold more weapons of war to the rest of the world than the rest of the world combined) along with having developed the largest, most destructive military force (larger than the accumulated defense budgets of the rest of the world combined) since the beginning of time (next year's defense budget will be nearly 700 billion dollars!), all the while realizing that if we had proven our love for God by using such funds to feed the hungry, medicate the sick, clothe the poor, house the homeless, and liberate the oppressed, we would have become a nation loved and revered by all.. rather than, as things have turned out, having become a land hated by nearly everyone in the world.
In conclusion, in order that you might understand where I am coming from, you need to realize that I do in fact have a bit of respect for my country, or at least for that which was envisioned by our forefathers, the founders of, what has turned out to be, a once great nation. However, just as we would with someone we love, we have no choice but to call attention to weakness, since in doing such a thing we give our loved ones an opportunity to address the problem. It is, and must be, the same with that of the land in which we have been born.
If we truly care about our country, if we really do want our nation to flourish, then we should realize that we have not only the right, but, much more importantly, the responsibility, perhaps even, one might say, a moral responsibility to point out its deficiencies in order that it might once again be revived. For we must remember, as our nation goes, so do we... in its flourishing we, as a people, will no doubt thrive, but in passing away, we, as a collective society, might well cease to exist.
G. Doug Soderstrom, Ph.D.