There may have perhaps have been a time when America was a land of at least some brave people. although arguably a nation that celebrates as heroic a history that features lots of people with modern guns and cannons conquering and destroying another people who were living in the stone age and fighting back with bows and arrows, and that built its economy on the backs of men and women held in chains certainly has a tough case to make. What is clear though is that there is nothing brave about modern-day America.
Whatever we were, we have degenerated into a nation that finds glory in deploying the most advanced high-tech, high-explosive weaponry against some of the world’s poorest people, that justifies killing women and children, even by the dozens, even if by doing so it manages to kill one alleged “enemy” fighter. A nation that exalts remote-controlled robot drone aircraft that can attack targets in order to avoid risking soldiers’ lives, even though by doing so, it is predictable that many, many innocent people will be killed. A nation that is proud to have developed weapons of mass slaughter, from shells laden with phosphorus that burns to death, indiscriminately, those who are contacted by the splattered chemical to elaborately baroque anti-personnel fragmentation bombs that spread cute little colored objects designed to look like everything from toys to food packages, but which upon contact explode, releasing whirling metal or plastic fleschettes which shred human flesh on contact.
The Marines who battled their way up the hillsides of Iwo Jima, or the soldiers who struggled ashore under withering fire on the beaches of Normandy would be appalled at what passes for heroic behavior in today’s American military. But that’s not the worst of it.
The worst of it is back home in the USA, where millions of citizens who bitch about their taxes and who pay as little attention as possible to the fact that their nation is deeply mired in two wars, routinely refer to those who do their fighting for them as heroes, but then want nothing to do with the consequences of those wars (or for that matter the people who actually fight them).
One particularly telling consequence of those wars is that the US now has several hundred prisoners, mostly at the prison camp on the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, whom the American people don’t want to have moved to their shores. And why won’t we Americans accept the responsibility for incarcerating and trying these captives? Because we are so afraid that their comrades will strike back at us with acts of terrorism if we bring them here.
First of all, a moment of rational thought, please. Does anyone seriously think that the radical Islamic groups and independence fighters who are battling American forces in places like Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan are so symbolically obsessed that they would only attack places in America where their fellows are actually being held? Do people actually think that such people would not attack some place in the continental US right now if they could, in retaliation for people being held at the inaccessible base in Guantanamo?
Please. Let’s get real.
Moving captives from Guantanamo to prisons in the US, pending trial, would merely make the job of agencies like the FBI easier by narrowing the list of likely terrorist targets in the US from thousands to dozens. But even then, is there any reason to think that a prospective terrorist group would be more likely to bomb Leavenworth Prison or the town of Leavenworth than the White House or the Pentagon to protest the holding of people at Leavenworth? Of course not.
The goal of a terrorist action is to cause as much fear and disruption as possible, and bombing some remote commuity where a federal prison is located isn’t going to do that. You want to bomb a transportation or communications hub, or a major population center. So bringing prisoners to the US from Guantanamo doesn’t really do anything to raise the risk for anybody.
But we Americans are irrational, panicky cowards. We worry that the terrorists will come and get us.
My guess is that a lot of this is mass guilt. Whether people admit it or not, I suspect most people know on some subconscious level that we Americans have been living off the rest of the world’s misery. We know we’re stealing oil from the people of nations like Iraq and Nigeria. We know that our toys, our electronics devices and our fancy name-brand running shoes are being made by people who cannot afford to buy them themselves. We know that for decades we have been overthrowing elected governments and propping up fascist dictatorships to keep the exploitation going so that we can buy cheap goods and extract cheap resources (As Marine Medal of Honor hero Smedley Butler long ago admitted, that’s what our “heroes” in uniform are generally doing overseas).
The whole thing is sickening—a kind of nausea-inducing feeling that comes on me whenever I hear the last screeched line of the “Star-Spangled Banner”—but there is something particularly pathetic about this latest bout of collective wussiness on the part of the American people.
I mean, even if you bought all the tripe about our soldiers having to kill and occasionally die in Iraq and Afghanistan so we can “fight the terrorists there instead of here,” even the charlatans in the White House and the Pentagon are claiming that keeping captives in Guantanamo is generating hatred abroad and putting US troops at greater risk, so you’d think it would be the least that this “home of the brave” could do to close that base and accept some of the added risk—if there even were any—of bringing those prisoners here.
If we can’t even handle that, we’re simply going to have to write a new ending for the national anthem:
“…Oh say may that Star-Spangled Banner yet flap
O’er the land of the weak, and the home of the sap.”
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org