Friday, January 25, 2008

What Happened

Anyway, you couldn't use standard methods to date the doom;
might as well say Vietnam was where the Trail of Tears was headed
all along, the turnaround point where it would touch and come back
to from a containing perimeter; might just as well lay it on the Proto-Gringos
who found the New England woods too raw and empty for their peace
and filled them up with their own imported devils.

Michael Herr. Dispatches. Alfred A. Knopf. New York: 1978. p. 49

"What Happened? Where did America go?"

Merle Haggard

What happened:

I don’t follow politics closely—it seems too often to make trivial things too important and to belittle the reality of our lives, but I do comment on general trends on OPB (Other Peoples’ Blogs). Lately I hear much squabbling about whether former President Clinton was overly rude in calling Sen. Obama’s candidacy a “fairy tale.” or if Senator Clinton is too calculating, too bitchy
or too much a girl.

Part of it seems to me a question of “where did America go?” Given the Bush administration’s record, a majority of Americans are asking, in myriad ways, “What happened? How did we get in such an awful mess? When did this start?”

The Historian in me wants to refer to Captain Ralph Lane, a brutal mercenary veteran of the Reformation wars, who treated the indigenous peoples of coastal North Carolina as expendable, a nuisance or, at best, potentially slaves.

This does not deny that many found freedom and opportunity in the New World, but it recognizes the very many who did not (Italian immigrants were considered “People of Color” as recently as 1924 by Congress). Many made it to the “promised land”, but many also paid a horrendous price.

In the current debates, the time frame is more limited; may we return to Clinton to repudiate this current plague, or is it more deeply rooted? Shall we go back to examine the “Reagan Revolution”, or is that a partisan misnomer? I think a return to the controversies of the Sixties is far enough; current politics still seems to me shaped by a refusal to accept the reality of and the reasons for our defeat in Indochina. I could, of course, be wrong.

The questions that shaped the Cold War, of which Vietnam was the avatar, still shape our political discourse; they still largely determine the ways we view the world, and prepare to deal with it. We still view the rest of the world, by and large, as market or source of raw materials, though “raw materials” may be directed to other, cheaper labor areas, so long as America retains control, to maintain “a standard of living acceptable to the American people”. It is impossible to deny this convincingly with the current war in (or “on”) the Middle East. Our expanding economy, which is deemed essential to our prosperity, depends on it. Otherwise, we should be forced to a “command economy”, we are told, in which our liberties would be so curtailed as to compel us to resist it.

It’s time we called “Bullshit!” If we cannot enjoy our “standard of living” without exploiting others, it is past time to cut back. I have no idea how such questions may ever be addressed in U S politics.

Jimi Hendrix Star-Spangled Banner at 1819 hours GMT


Kirstin said...

One thing I've learned in NOLA: Don't look to the government; make the change you want, yourself. If revolution is going to trickle anywhere, it's up.

How you influence consumption, is exactly through writings like these. You know the choir comments. You don't know who else reads you.

A few good letters to your reps, etc., wouldn't hurt--but I'm the wrong person to suggest that, as it's not a habit I've ever acquired.

JohnieB, I'm really glad you're blogging.

johnieb said...

Thanks again, Kristin.

I tried to get away from sounding to religious for all my atheist/ don't care friends, and was afraid I'd gotten a little too far for peoples' interest.

The changes I want must come from the bottom up, but I would like to see better governance in the meanwhile.

Pedantic? Me? Never.

Kirstin said...

LOL, nor me. ;-)

And I agree with you, about wanting better (in some places, decent) governance.

Jennifer said...

As a fellow historian I also appreciate the past and have many theories on how we got where we are, but I fear that we are in danger of going backwards instead of forwards. But I'm also to the point that I'd like to move out into the wilderness, become a hermit, and never hear another damn word about politics. ;-)

June Butler said...

I have no idea how such questions may ever be addressed in U S politics.

Johnieb, I have no idea either, but I believe that I can safely say that it won't be in my lifetime.

As Kirstin say, we will need to do it ourselves. The neglect and abuse of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is a lesson for the whole country.

johnieb said...

Absolutely, Mimi; as if we hadn't had more than enough already.

johnieb said...


what's your area(s) of interest? Maybe we need to take this off-line? :-)

Mine is "Industrial America" AKA "Not Colonial", but I had dreams of being a Medievalist as an undergrad.

pj said...

Just an aside:

Italian immigrants were considered “People of Color” as recently as 1924 by Congress

Must. Tell. My mother-in-law. Her parents came from southern Italy, but she is such a racist.

johnieb said...

"People of color" was, of course, not the term mentioned. If memory serves, one Representative demanded of another, in a committee hearing,

"You're not sayin' those ____ are White!?"

"Of course not; they're ___."

the blanks representing different ethnic slurs specific to Italians.

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