“Far more sinister . . . is the cult of victory that permeates every inch of American culture, from the football fields where it is practiced to the churches where it is preached. Conditioned to win at all costs, youth are reduced to passive vessels for the warrior spirit.”— David Ng
There are those moments in time when the macrocosmic global milieu, which we usually observe happening to someone else at a physical or political distance, harshly rains fire upon us as individual mortals. This often volatile merger of the macrocosm to the microcosm of our everyday lives, when the bloody and catastrophic imaginings of the mass of humanity affect us personally, is a transforming event of existential angst. Such are the times when the war, duly reported in the lazy lies of the 6 o’clock newscaster casually speaking of the dead on the far side of the planet, suddenly fires a shrapnel fragment into the brain casing of a sibling in uniform. Or whenever more frequently and frightening politicized violations of the Constitution come home to haunt as your child’s individual freedom of speech is degradingly violated and the violator is exempt.
In April of this year, Kofi Annan visited his alma mater, Macalester College in St. Paul, to inaugurate their Institute for Global Citizenship. In his remarks that day, the Secretary-General asserted, “The three freedoms which all human beings crave — freedom from want, freedom from war or large-scale violence, and freedom from arbitrary or degrading treatment — are closely interconnected.”
Macalester College has recently become one of the nation’s premier liberal arts colleges. The 2007 Newsweek/Kaplan College Guide included Macalester as one of America’s “25 New Elite Ivies.” U.S. News & World Report ranked Mac in the top 25 among the 215 national liberal arts colleges, ranking it 5th for international student presence on campus. One of the most respected guides, the 2006 Fiske Guide notes that one of Mac’s hallmarks is “an internationalist view of the world. . . Mac attracts the best and brightest. Macalester students are an open-minded, friendly bunch, more politically and socially progressive than their peers at similar institutions. The school provides an atmosphere of high-powered scholarship and success, pairing academic rigor with global perspective.” In the Students’ Guide to Colleges Macalester was listed as one of the “Top 10 Most Intellectual Schools.”
One accolade, that of a winning football team, is not on the list. Given the credentials needed to gain admission to Mac, such would not be expected. Macalester and Carleton, a similar institution in St. Paul, play their rivalry each year for the “Book of Knowledge” trophy. The Book of Knowledge is being replaced by Woody Hayes and the 100-yard War , as the Mac Weekly introduced a new head coach with the headlines: “Mac Football pushes for change from top down; New head coach . . . sets his sights on wins, recruits, respect.”
“We have a tall task here, in not just turning around the football program, but changing the culture and mentality of an entire community.” One wonders what was meant by the need to change the culture and mentality of a college community that is viewed by most as one of most intelligent, liberal college communities in the nation . . . that Mac’s football program must morph into the All-American model of anti-intellectual, Fellowship-of-Christian-Athlete, jocks-first, winning-is-everything warrior model? For my son, the actual meaning of those words, “changing the culture and mentality of an entire community,” were to become apparent within a short time.
New turf was laid (literally) and plans for a new stadium and facilities to the tune of $45 mil were unveiled. The profile of Mac’s football program changed as spring training was added, players were advised by coaching staff not to take any afternoon courses other than those required for a major that might interfere with an extended fall practice schedule, and the too-familiar image of a Woody Hayes coaching style became a regular experience for players.
Macalester’s Statement of Purpose and Belief includes the assertion, “We believe that the benefit of the educational experience at Macalester is the development of individuals who make informed judgments and interpretations of the broader world around them and choose actions or beliefs for which they are willing to be held accountable.”
On September 7 of this year, my son Jacob, a second-year student at Macalester, made an “informed judgment and interpretation of the broader world” when he refused to take off his football helmet as the national anthem was played on an adjoining soccer field, after being militarily ordered to do so by a 24-year-old assistant coach. My son refused to honor the bombs-bursting-in-air bravado of U.S. military policy over the past 3 years, and was “held accountable” for his action by being dropped from the football team the next morning. These bombs bursting in air have resulted in more than 150,000 troops disabled from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the deaths of over 3,000 U.S. military in these wars, and the recently released and rabidly denied scientific estimate from Lancet of over 655,000 Iraqi deaths.
What followed his dismissal from the team was the only too-familiar reaction we’ve experienced repeatedly from our national government in the past few years: those in charge will manipulate the event so as not to be held accountable. The next days were a blur of conversations and emails involving college officials, my son and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The head of athletics had established his position immediately in stating in an email to me and other football parents, “But most important to me, we will not use a public forum.” The Dean of Students reassured alumni that the incident had been “sensationalized.” A reporter from the press had interviewed my son and me repeatedly, set a meeting with Jacob for a “photo opportunity” (reporter’s words), ideally with “football gear.” Such was the threat to the athletic department at Macalester that the head coach first mentioned libel to the reporter if he ran a story, followed by saying Jacob’s release from the team was Jacob’s wish and finally, the coach made a call to the sports editor of the paper giving other reasons for Jacob’s dismissal, to the point of using Jacob’s neurological disability as the basis. The sports editor canned the story.
I began to understand the lies and cover-ups from our government the past few years that have formed our international reality in a more visceral manner. The tenor of these times is how easily facts are manipulated to serve the interests of the institutions, whatever those institutions might be. The public will not see the remains of U.S. soldiers arriving at air bases in flag-draped caskets as our government has banned news coverage and photography of dead soldiers’ homecomings on all military bases. A jury in Ft. Hood, Texas found Lynndie England guilty of six counts of detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison, but the memos from Gonzales and Yoo giving legal justification to her actions have survived all scrutiny.
Jessica Lynch was one of the first truly sensationalized lies, a heroine when the U.S. need one, her capture by the Iraqis and her rescue by US special forces became one of the first fantasies of the war. The truth as we later learned was that her Iraqi guards had long fled, she was being well cared for — and doctors had already tried to free her. Pat Tillman died an unnecessary death by friendly fire, the result of numerous military mistakes. In the interest of the institution his family was told only a fact or two, only after the ceremonious funeral and media hype. On and on, ad nauseum. Most recently we have lost 800 years of individual freedoms in eliminating habeas corpus and the rule of law, justified by the continued lies and manipulations. Or as St. Paul’s own Garrison Keillor wrote, “This week, we have suspended human rights in America.”
I don’t begin to compare my own experience with the above tragedies, except the last. Jacob had chosen an institution where we believed his values and beliefs would be respected, where he would be “free from arbitrary or degrading treatment.” Never did I expect his First Amendment to be so forcefully violated, or the resulting silence of all involved, including the press. When our previously-known liberal institutions no longer value our first amendment rights, the times they are a’changing, but not for the better. The facts laid bare: a football player refused to take off his helmet for the national anthem; he was scolded harshly, shamed and humiliated for that action; he was removed from the team the following day; the official story changed to blame the target — er, victim; the press was bullied away from reporting it.
In these times, when Empire’s fictions and cover-ups come to kick down your door, you just know your life is about to change.
“America as often been called the land of opportunity
But you better be careful which one you choose cuz it might come with a penalty
There’s lots of good jobs working in a factory cranking out the land mines
And you better be ready to pull the party line or you’ll end up doing real time
America has her finger on the trigger
America’s got her bullets in the gun
America’s still stringing up niggers
America eats her young . . .”
‘America Eats Her Young’ , Dayglo Abortion (2004)
Dr. TRUDY BOND is a psychologist in Toledo, Ohio. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Currently Mac’s football team is 1-6.