Wednesday, April 23, 2008

what i hate about america

I am patriotic and I love my country, but I hate most of what has happened to it in the last seven years. I don't drink Kool-aid and I can't stomach the rah-rah destructive crap that has passed for patriotism in this country since 9/11. I never believed in this war, not for a minute, and I was attacked for it by the gung-ho boot-in-your ass don't-fuck-with-the-yooo-esssss-aye crowd that has controlled the public discourse for far too fucking long, led on by the most incompetent, most ignorant, most destructive, most shameful president ever. Ever.

So when I came across this piece at The Agonist, it had a profound effect on me. I have never believed that we are invincible in this country or that we are special and thus deserving of special treatment, special rights, that the rules of good world citizenship don't apply to us. There's a tragic irony in the fact that we helped set up the rules of good world citizenship, yet we've shrugged off those restraints and discarded them as if they mean nothing.

I don't discount that we can be pretty kickass in a lot of ways, creative and innovative, generous and high spirited and just good fun. But our aggressive, bellicose posturing when it comes to foreign affairs has always offended me deeply, and the grotesque bullying arrogance that has passed for foreign policy since 9/11 is a horror and makes me ashamed of my country.

Because I am still a product of my raising, I have to confess that I was aware of this, of the impact of war around the world, but vaguely. To see the actual numbers was deeply disturbing. In general, in this country, we tend not to try to see things from the viewpoint of others. That's considered a weakness which we attribute to liberals, commies and misguided socialists. So when France was not on board with Iraq, we poked fun at the weaklings and we renamed our fried potatoes and I was inundated with emails from strangers chastising me for selling French antiques.

But it's true that we have little context in this country for the bloody reality of war. War is hell for everyone, but it's a special kind of hell when it's fought where you live. That's not our experience here, and so it is, perhaps, a bit easier to be somewhat cavalier about the next war and the next one. For all of our tough and hawkish posturing, we've never suffered the kinds of losses that other countries have. Not even close.

In World War I the US suffered slightly fewer than 120,000 combat deaths. For the UK, France, and Germany the figures are respectively 885,000, 1.4 million, and over 2 million. In World War II, when the US lost about 420,000 armed forces in combat, Japan lost 2.1 million, China 3.8 million, Germany 5.5 million, and the Soviet Union an estimated 10.7 million. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., records the deaths of 58,195 Americans over the course of a war lasting fifteen years: but the French army lost double that number in six weeks of fighting in May–June 1940. In the US Army's costliest engagement of the century—the Ardennes offensive of December 1944–January 1945 (the "Battle of the Bulge")—19,300 American soldiers were killed. In the first twenty-four hours of the Battle of the Somme (July 1, 1916), the British army lost more than 20,000 dead. At the Battle of Stalingrad, the Red Army lost 750,000 men and the Wehrmacht almost as many.

With the exception of the generation of men who fought in World War II, the United States thus has no modern memory of combat or loss remotely comparable to that of the armed forces of other countries. But it is civilian casualties that leave the most enduring mark on national memory and here the contrast is piquant indeed. In World War II alone the British suffered 67,000 civilian dead. In continental Europe, France lost 270,000 civilians. Yugoslavia recorded over half a million civilian deaths, Germany 1.8 million, Poland 5.5 million, and the Soviet Union an estimated 11.4 million. These aggregate figures include some 5.8 million Jewish dead. Further afield, in China, the death count exceeded 16 million. American civilian losses (excluding the merchant navy) in both world wars amounted to less than 2,000 dead.

As The Agonist's Sean-Paul Kelly writes, "We don't even begin to comprehend what suffering war causes."

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15 Comments:

Blogger Rosie said...

As a jew from London living in a part of France that was once occupied by the nazis, I see the war memorials in the smallest of Breton villages, the great long lists of names, real, carved in stone. In the UK we never experienced that occupation but I still see why the european union is so important, why those losses must never happen again. I envy america its ideals. A new allegiance independant of racial origin. At least the principle is there, even if the reality falls short!

April 23, 2008 12:12 PM  
Blogger David said...

Very interesting. Thanks.

April 23, 2008 2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh, so why do you hate america? And, lest you forget, the reason we have suffered fewer casualties is because we have stayed out of wars- because people like you demanded it- only to later realize that if we didn't get involved we'd be screwed. So, you seem to be contradicting yourself.

April 23, 2008 5:25 PM  
OpenID badamerican said...

Uh, Anonymous why are you a moron?

So we've "stayed out of wars?"

Perhaps you might want to refresh your memory with this list:

http://academic.evergreen.edu/g/grossmaz/interventions.html

"if we didn't get involved we'd get screwed"

Who the hell is this "we" you're talking about?

April 23, 2008 9:09 PM  
Blogger joe said...

Thanks for writing this. Of course, I agree with you. Keep the faith.

April 24, 2008 10:11 AM  
Blogger Doralong said...

Moving and thought provoking as always Lynette.

I think the syndrome we're looking at is "CNN Desensitization" it's no longer real in any way to us as the immediate, visceral ugliness that war is is revmoved just enough from our experience.

April 24, 2008 1:41 PM  
Anonymous Al said...

"We don't even begin to comprehend what suffering war causes."

I really wonder how many examples will be enough. Great post Lynette.

And I'm sorry I just have to say, besides being a textbook example of a poorly thought out cause and effect argument, this is telling:

"the reason we have suffered fewer casualties is because we have stayed out of wars"

To me sounds as effective as: Well if we had blown up the planet, there would be more dead. God! We are trying you know!

Therefore I think the "So, you seem to be contradicting yourself" is wrongly attributed.

April 24, 2008 1:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lynette,

Very apt post esp as here in the South Pacific it's Friday 25th April, Anzac Day. A public holiday on which we remember all those who have given their lives in both World wars.

Anzac...Australian & New Zealand Army Corps

Brion.

April 24, 2008 9:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

badamerican: reread the post and then go read some history. America stayed out of WWII until a) Pearl Harbor and b) the Europeans begged us. We stayed out of it for years because the peace movement demanded it. Could you imagine how many lives would have been saved if we had gone in early like Roosevelt wanted?

April 24, 2008 10:55 PM  
Anonymous charliebear said...

Ah Lynette--if only more Americans would travel to Europe and see all the shrines and memorials, etc., to the dead----they would both think twice and be more vigilant. American provincialism is profound---and scary---take it from one who knows and has seen it at work overseas. Hopefully it will change---we've got to make it change---hang in there, kiddo---

April 25, 2008 10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny. I've lived and travelled all over the world, including with the Peace Corps, and I can tel you: America is about the only country that;s got it right,

April 25, 2008 3:49 PM  
Blogger Jackie said...

I whole heartedly agree. I have been wondering what's happened to my country too. Not only since 9-11 and patriotism, but to our press, for example. Where are the investigative journalists who's job it is to find the truth and report it and ask the hard questions. I don't mean questions about lapel flag pins either. Geesh.

April 25, 2008 11:19 PM  
OpenID badamerican said...

Anonymous (and WHY are you anonymous)

I think it is YOU who need to read some history. That and remove the flag from your ass. And did YOU read the list I linked to?

The Europeans begged us? Cite please? Ever heard of Lend Lease? Roosevelt had the Navy and the Army on a war footing in 1940 and was trying his damnedest to goad the Japanese into an attack.

America entered the war for economic reasons and quite frankly, if the French and British had marched into the Rhineland in 1936 when Hitler violated the Treaty of Versailles it would have ended the threat without any American assistance. I don't believe this country should be the police force of the goddamn world. Why don't YOU enlist if you're such a rah rah guy for America's wars? I did my hitch and would never do it again.

Learn your goddamn history indeed. Punk.

April 26, 2008 7:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So I'm confused, did you agree withy entering WWII or not? Or were you OK with Hitler and the Nazis and their genocide? You are a confusing mess.

April 27, 2008 11:32 AM  
Anonymous Michele said...

Ms. Lynette - late to this string. This is an interesting piece - but in my opinion does not fully take into account (skirts via "in modern memory" the very real impact of the War of Northern Agression, War Between the States, Civil War (whatever you'd like to name it). Washington Post Book World (several months ago) mentioned several new works coming out on this topic - including death industry that came out of this war - and civilian impacts on the population from disease/starvation. I have a good friend who says we are in the "New Reconstruction" and that is scary indeed. Keep these posts coming hon. Your vibrant voice is needed.
Michele

May 23, 2008 3:41 PM  

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