"We arouse and arrange our memories to suit our psychic needs."
Michael Kammen, Columbus in History
If George W. Bush could attest to his mission from God Almighty to invade Iraq– ‘I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, "George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan." And I did, and then God would tell me, "George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq ." And I did. And now, again, I feel God’s words coming to me, "Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East." And by God I’m gonna do it’" (Nabel Shaath, BBC, 6/10/05) — then certainly President Obama, our most recent American Prophet, can attest to “America’s singular role in the course of human events.” As Obama waxed eloquently in the latter third of his address to the people of the world, and most pointedly to the American people who must remain “united” behind his determination to complete his mission for “…the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance,” he marked with great profundity that we must “learn the lessons” of this past decade, “We have learned anew the profound cost of war” listing as he did so the costs to America, leaving for another day, no doubt, the million and a half Iraqis killed and the untold millions that fled their country, and the thousands upon thousands left maimed and physically and mentally ravaged.
But neither God nor His prophets have given much consideration to the enemy, another lesson we might have learned from our past. Minister John Robinson testified to God’s intervention on behalf of His chosen when our Puritan forebears exterminated the Pequot Indians in 1637:
Thus were they now at their Wits End, who not many Hours before exalted themselves in their great Pride, threatning and resolving the utter Ruin and Destruction of all the English, Exulting and Rejoycing with Songs and Dances: But God was above them, who laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to Scorn, making them as a fiery Oven: Thus were the Stout Hearted spoiled, having slept their last Sleep, and none of their Men could find their Hands: Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling the Place with dead Bodies! (Quoted in David E. Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 136).
In 1630, John Winthrop , in his sermon to his Puritan followers, “A model of Christian Charity,” declared that they were the chosen people of “our” God , arriving in God’s chosen land, the new Zion, given to them as the new Israelites to be as a “city on a Hill” where the eyes of all the people in the world could see the covenant between their God and His people, a covenant that provided protection by God unless they were to break it, and their “security ceaseth.” Belief in that God and that covenant seems to exist to the present day since America has yet to accept any responsibility for the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people that inhabited the land we call the United States of America. Needless to say the cleansing continued well into the 1800s, and one might suggest with some reason, to the present day.
Every nation needs a mythic explanation of its purpose and a hero to exemplify its unique place “in the course of human events,” as our President remarked. But how does a nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” find such a hero? It’s difficult, if not pretentious, to promote oneself as you proclaim that all are equal. Who among our “founding fathers” could be elevated to such stature: Washington who vocally proclaimed the inferiority of the indigenous people; Jefferson who fathered yet another nation of Jeffersons with Sally Heming’s, his personal slave; Adams who declared on behalf of the pseudo-Aristoi and mocked his wife’s efforts on behalf of women; or maybe Thomas Paine who indeed declared all equal but was rejected and forgotten by the very men that led the Revolutionary forces that would not have existed had he not spoken so eloquently of the virtues of freedom and liberty?
A difficult task indeed. Yet find a hero they did, in Columbus, in the first half of the 1800s. Indeed, Columbus emerged as a myth and a symbol, a “man of vision and audacity” who defeated the “forces of entrenched tradition,” a man of hope and spirit willing to take risks even in foreign lands to accomplish his mission, a man sent by God to bring the puritas de sangre to the heathens of this very continent that they might be saved for Christ. Fortunately Americans could turn to one of their own for corroboration of these myths in Washington Irving’s Columbus. “We arouse and arrange our memories to suit our psychic needs.”
Thus from 1492, the initiation of the greatest holocaust in history against the indigenous people, before even the conception of a United States existed, the myth of God given rights to the spoils of war waged on behalf of “sacred beliefs” ordained by Christ through his ministers, became a lesson learned by the Puritans, the settlers, the pioneers, and the government of the U.S. until the whole of this nation came to heal. By 1846 our government declared its right to the land of Mexico north of the Rio Grande by initiating a war to ensure the continuation of slavery in Texas, fought against Spain in 1898 to gain control of Cuba and the Philippines in the Pacific, most notably in the eradication of the Moro Muslims in a massacre, described in caustic satire by Mark Twain. American imperialism baptized as “Manifest Destiny” or “bringing God’s word to the heathens” continues unabated.
It is a corrosive mindset indelibly branded on the American psyche. It is the underlying proclamation of Obama’s address to his people couched in words without meaning: “the tide of war is receding,” “the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance,” “These long wars will come to a responsible end.” The first implies that our President knows the certainty of God’s vision, yet the vision belies the reality of the past and the lessons to be learned from that past: the destruction of the evil Taliban in Afghanistan within three months only to have that conflagration become the longest war in American history; the 90 day war that did not materialize in Iraq although the declaration of its demise was broadcast world-wide from the deck of an aircraft carrier; the spread of the terrorists from nation to nation as America’s killing fields leap from Afghanistan to Iraq to Pakistan to Yemen to Libya as hatred for America grows geometrically as civilians die; and, perhaps most tellingly, the on-going support by America of the genocide taking place in Israel against the Palestinian people, a massacre that has no “light of secure peace” in the distance.
Consider “These long wars will come to a responsible end.” What is the “responsible end” for a war instigated and entered into on the basis of lies to the American people, to the soldiers of the United States, and to the nations United as Colin Powell testified to a platter of fabrications shoved down the throats of unknowing delegates who gave their consent on behalf of their people? What is the “responsible end” to an irresponsible war? How does this nation give recompense to the dead, to the maimed, to the refugees and to the children whose lives have been lost to the American war machine? Will the “responsible end” declare the true reasons for the war? Will it tell the Iraqi people and all of our coalition partners that our true purpose was control of oil reserves to maintain our vaunted standard of living, that it was to secure oil for Israel, that it provided America with a means of establishing 14 more air bases to effectively surround Iran, that democracy was offered as a means of electing our puppet to replace Saddam; will we act responsibly and tell the truth?
Consider that Obama knew the purpose of his statement; “… this decade of war has caused many to question the nature of America’s engagement around the world…some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security and embrace isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face.” Notice the word ‘retreat’ used negatively against those who would question his mission to be Emperor of the World; cowards all, no doubt, though he does not offer them the respect due a logical question: who declared America “anchor of global security”? When were the American people asked to vote that we should undertake such a mission? But that’s not all. Such “retreatists” are also “isolationists.” They are also “ignorant.” Ignorant of what? That they do not know why America has taken on this role; that they realize that America is awash in debt that threatens to undermine the nation; that they do not profit as a people from Pentagon investments in on-going wars; nor do they receive the million dollar salaries made by CEO’s of companies that furnish the war machine? Why are these questions not addressed by the Prophet? Americans are either with our imperial, mission driven mindset or they are “retreatists” and ignorant isolationists. How convenient.
Finally, and perhaps most audaciously, Obama ends with these cautionary words: “…we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power?it is the principles upon which our union was founded. We are a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law and respecting the rights of all our citizens.” What principles in our founding documents justify America’s blatant, on-going, calculated rejection of international law and the laws of the United States as it vetoes United Nations resolution after resolution condemning the illegal actions of the state of Israel?
The UN Security Council has passed a large number of resolutions condemning Israel for its actions in the Middle East and against the Palestinian people and surrounding nations. The General Assembly has passed over 100 resolutions condemning Israeli actions and policies. In addition, the International Court of Justice has ruled that the wall that Israel is building through the occupied Palestinian territories substantially violates the human rights of the Palestinian people and needs to be torn down immediately, and the people affected must be compensated for their losses.
Israel has ignored all of the resolutions of the Security Council, which is a violation of the Charter, and by extension, international law. And it has also ignored all of the resolutions of the General Assembly and the Advisory Opinion of the International Court.
In addition, it is important to note that in support of Israel, the United States has exercised its veto power in the Security Council to cancel out many other resolutions that were otherwise passed unanimously or by the vast majority of its members. (STUDY GUIDE : International Law & Israel).
Once again, Obama understands the audacity of this contradiction even as he utters it to the American people. He is a student of the Constitution, yet he mocks the foundational documents by justifying the decades long action of the U.S in the Security Council as it vetoes the will of the majority of nations that see Israel’s immunity a product of the United States’ decision to break its agreements with the international body. Just this February, Obama vetoed the last action taken by the UNGA and the UNSC by denying the recognition of illegality, even though 14 member states of the UNSC had declared the resolution justified.
Over the weekend, the United States vetoed a resolution before the UN Security Council condemning Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories after failing to convince the Palestinian government to withdraw it. The veto came despite support for the resolution from the 14 other members of the Security Council, including the four permanent members. The Obama administration explained its opposition: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the prospects for peace would be damaged by any action taken at the UNSC. The reaction to the U.S. veto in both Israel and in the wider region shows that the U.S. position is becoming increasingly untenable in the face of changes in the Arab world ( Feb/ 2011).
Such disdain for America’s founding documents makes a mockery of Obama’s address to the people. We are no longer a nation that abides by laws; we are a nation under the control of a foreign government that has coerced the U. S. Congress to succumb to its policies and dictates. One need only witness the ridiculous demeanor of our bobbing representatives who gave obeisance to the Prime Minister of Israel as he presented lies on top of lies, quietly smiling his approval as he virtually conducted a symphony of applause.
Our government no longer protects its citizens’ rights; it emasculates them. We do not protect our freedom and prosperity by extending it to others, we are in lock-down at airports and at home, we are in debt because we have brought military control through occupation to the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan, and imprisonment, torture and oppression to the Palestinian people by allowing the illegal actions of Israel to destroy their country. In all of this, we have not protected Americans, we have made their lives insecure and unstable.
Deception and deceit do not create a united nation, they foster only doubt, indignation, and distrust. Contrary to Obama’s assertion, “We stand not for empire, but for self-determination,” the policy of the Bush administration from September 2002 on was exactly the opposite; we stood for empire and threatened any nation that dared to oppose us. Two years into the Obama administration and not one major policy of the Bush era has been altered. Indeed, our policies on torture, privacy, cyber-control, NSA secret spying on Americans, Guantanamo imprisonment by military courts, on-going invasion of other nations without their acceptance continues.
This very speech belies the assertion; he condemns Americans who oppose his will by maligning them and that in turn negates his last statement, “We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.” In effect, Obama seeks compliance and obedience to his determination that “America’s singular role in the course of human events,” as determined by his administration, will be the only principled response to the world that questions America’s “role” and the citizens that find this myth of America repugnant, unacceptable and destructive.
William A. Cook is a Professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California. His latest book, The Plight of the Palestinians, was published by Macmillan this past August. He can be reached at www.drwilliamacook.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.