The language used by Reverend Jeremiah Wright to denounce his country is certainly “inflammatory” and has brought him wide vilification. Yet, the words of this otherwise gentle man of peace are nowhere as damnable as the actions of the man of war in the White House responsible for killing more than a million human beings in Iraq. Yet the president’s uncounted lies have never been subjected to the intense scrutiny on TV that the networks are now devoting to Rev. Wright’s comments! And why is that?
Bush and his neocon allies have loosed the dogs of war on the fiery Chicago preacher not because he represents a danger to anyone. That’s absurd. Wright, we are told, has been making remarks such as “god damn America” for years. It’s only since Senator Barack Obama has become a frontrunner that Obama’s opponents elected to use Rev. Wright against him. It’s their way of attempting to tear down the only one of the three presidential candidates that opposed Bush’s war. It is Bush that deserves censure, not the minister.
And may we have the temerity to inquire what Reverend Wright is so angry about? The answer in part is that he is ticked off at America’s imperialist foreign policy, its violations of international law, its role as a disturber of the peace. Indeed, Wright is part of a long and honorable tradition of Americans who told their government off when their government was, in fact, dead wrong, as it has been on many occasions. Such men and women loved their country enough to expect better of it. Psychologist William James, the Harvard philosopher, for example, used the same epithet as Wright in 1898 when he declared: “God damn the U.S. for its vile conduct in the Philippine Isles.”
Was James wrong? In his “A People’s History of the United States” (HarperPerennial), Howard Zinn quotes Mark Twain saying this about the U.S. takeover of the Philippines: “We have pacified some thousands of the islanders and buried them; destroyed their fields; burned their villages, and turned their widows and orphans out-of-doors.” Indeed, the Manila correspondent for the Philadelphia Ledger wrote home, “our men have been relentless, have killed to exterminate men, women, children, prisoners and captivesand suspected people from lads of ten up Our soldiers have pumped salt water in them (captives) to make them talk” Were those damnable acts or not? How many people reading these words think it’s okay to invade a foreign country and kill women and children?
So what is patriotism anyway? Does a real American patriot condone illegal wars and their horrors or isn’t the essence of patriotism, rather, to condemn them, as unworthy of the American Dream, as Reverend Wright has done?
Ask yourself, was Congressman Abraham Lincoln unpatriotic for denouncing President Polk’s invasion of Mexico? Again, quoting Zinn, “His (Lincoln’s) spot resolutions’ became famous—he challenged Polk to specify the exact spot where American blood was shed on the American soil.'” Polk couldn’t do that, of course, because the Mexicans had not invaded America. Polk had provoked the war by invading Mexico — and the U.S. eventually stole 500,000 square miles of what is now our Southwest, including California, Arizona and New Mexico. Or maybe President Grant, who had served as an officer in that war, was “un-American” when, years later, he confided to the emperor of Japan that he should have resigned his commission rather than serve in Mexico, a war that claimed 4,000 Mexican lives on the battlefield of Churubusco alone, a war that saw the U.S. bombard defenseless cities, a war in which some U.S. soldiers engaged in plunder, murder and rape.
Getting back to Reverend Wright, shortly after 9/11 he declared, “We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon never batted an eye.” Once again, we find the minister speaking truth to power, referring to the commission of two of the most horrific war crimes in history. He might have added, also, between them the U.S. and British air forces killed perhaps 800,000 German civilians in World War II and the U.S. incinerated the better part of 66 Japanese cities, massacring with napalm over 100,000 one night in Tokyo alone, and maybe 1-million Japanese civilians in all.
I don’t know if the Trinity United Church of Christ minister ever got around to damning America’s treatment of the Native Americans or the two-million civilians USA exterminated in Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia, or the tens of thousands that died when President Nixon and Henry Kissinger funded the CIA’s overthrow of the elected Allende government in Chile, etc., etc., but these are established facts. Just as the tortures and murders in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay today are facts.
We’ve heard a lot about “two Americas” in this campaign, comparing the rich and the poor. But there are two other “two Americas” that need urgently to be discussed: the America of righteousness, generosity, and peace and the America of criminality, greed and war; the America that helped create the United Nations and the America of George Bush that seeks plunder, and I don’t blame the Reverend Wright that he is incensed at the latter. So am I. While I do not believe he has his facts right concerning all his charges, and while I think it is wrong to call on god to damn any individual, and particularly to damn an entire nation, my sympathy is with him for his preference for diplomacy over military solutions, and for peace over war, typical of many humanity-driven United Church of Christ ministries around the nation. Reverend Wright is a modern-day Jeremiah warning the kings of Judah of their fate for breaking their covenant with God. Tragically, President Bush thinks nothing of breaking one international covenant after another. Yet, I do not say, God damn him. For all his crimes, tortures, and killings, I say, God help him.
SHERWOOD ROSS is a Miami, Fla.-based public relations consultant and magazine writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org