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May 18, 2009 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Not the America of my schooldays

You’re taught to love your country. Since time immemorial, schoolchildren in the United States have stood in unison—their hands over their hearts—and recited the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. The flag—displayed in every classroom—is an embodiment of our national values, a visual representation of our history, and a source of patriotism and national pride. To love your flag is to love your country, your way of life, the ways of your parents and grandparents. This is nationalism.

You learn what the icon represents. You’re taught about the Founding Fathers, who dared to venture the notion that the rule of the people, which was at the time merely the stuff of ancient Greek mythology, was possible. You’re told a story: early settlers, the fight for independence, the founding of a nation, the spanning of a continent, division, divisions mended, industrialisation, innovation, prosperity, the call to war, the saving of a distant continent, the hope of the world, the shining city on the hill, the beacon of democracy.

You learn your faults: peoples displaced, lands ill-gotten, human chattel, disunion, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, indifference. But even then you come to love your faults as virtues; in faults overcome lie dormant virtues. You learn that change for the better is always possible—in spite of everything—in spite of history’s forces, the times, justice or the lack of it, causes, religions, or kinds of government. Most importantly, you learn that this progression, this momentous drive for perfection, is the natural course of things; you learn that America will always correct itself. To quote President Clinton, “There is nothing wrong in America that can’t be fixed with what is right in America.”

I sat in school and learned these lessons well. I love my country. I love what I believe it represents. I see it as one of the greatest experiments in the history of the world. We’ve come so far in so little time. We’ve overcome so much. We have such possibility.

Then what am I doing here, you ask. I’m here because I never stopped learning. I’m here because you don’t see the world as it is, you see it as you are. I’m here to gain perspective. They say you should love her when she’s right, and right her when she’s wrong. Without perspective, wrongs remain un-righted.

In my history—being the history of the world since I humbly graced it with my presence—there have been too many disconnects between what I was taught about America, and what I see with my own lying eyes. Of course, I acknowledge that America had its fair share of wrongs before I arrived but that history has already been recorded. The history of our lifetime has yet to be written; it’s this history by which future schoolchildren will remember us.

This is the history of my journey; allow me my scrutiny.

The American scandal du jour circa my being delivered what Reagan’s Iran-Contra.

Iran: the covert sale of weapons to Iran.

Contra: those proceeds going to fund and arm anti-Communist contras in Nicaragua.

Iran-Contra was only one of the many times the United States government has lent its support and endorsement to a right-wing military dictatorship. This happened in Indonesia, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and of course Chile. The loss of life that followed in each case was a direct result of American foreign policy. In each case, a freedom-loving constitutional democracy was in cahoots with a brutal military dictatorship. Communism is just a red herring; America was furthering its economic interests, the cost of which was human life.

The first Presidential election in which I voted was in 2000, Bush vs Gore, in Palm Beach county, home of the hanging-chad. There’s also a Supreme Court case entitled Bush vs Gore, where the highest court in the land inserted itself into the state of Florida’s electoral process and ordered us to stop counting the votes. The Supreme Court—handpicked by George Bush Sr.—had handpicked our new President, George Bush Jr. This was my first real-life lesson in democracy.

The next election brought a similar brand of democracy: caging lists, black-box voting, voter suppression, a suspicious lack of voting machines found only in districts that trend to vote Democrat, people waiting in line for eight hours to vote.

We didn’t ask for more; we never wanted it in the first place.

Now we invade openly: Shock n’ Awe, a carpet of gold or a carpet of bombs. Now we torture. Now we spy on our own citizens. Now our access to facts and information is limited to those picked for us by corporate powers; now we have propaganda. Now, even after a change of government, we refuse to investigate what on Earth happened to us; we refuse to treat torture and treason as crimes. Now, we’re looking to Afghanistan, then Pakistan, then Iran. Where does it end?

I loved the America I learned about in school… but I hate the America I see today. I had hoped to help America, armed with the perspective I’ve gained outside of the fishbowl. But how can I fix all that? Where would I even start to right her when she’s so wrong? The sight of an American flag, which used to bring me hope and pride, now only brings me one thing:



About the Author ()

Andrew Mendes is an American studying International Relations and Public Policy at Victoria. He enjoys following politics and reading lots of news.

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