Monday, July 5, 2010

Editorial: Double shot of witless propaganda

As Prescott's annual cowboygasm and animal-domination festival winds down, the unnamed Courier editor favors us with yet another pious paean to truth, justice and the American Way, managing to subvert all three in his obeisance to heroic myths.

His lead graf only infers that he hasn't done much international traveling. For those of us who have, the first impression of returning to our home shores is barbed wire, armed guards, bureaucratic hassle and suspicion, neatly expressing how most Americans view the world outside as both threatening and uninteresting (encouraged, of course, by their self-centered corporate media). If you've spent any time outside the wire, you know that America is generally regarded, with good reason, as a witless, greedy, bullying, self-absorbed hegemon, so seeing that flag is a far more mixed experience than the editor's teary relief on getting back safely from his weekend in Rocky Point.

Following the standard script written by the first modern propagandists to pump the first World War, the editor hops to the blood and treasure we expend to "preserve our freedoms" in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, where the only freedoms we uphold are those of multinational corporations to continue exploiting the resources of poor people and sell them crap they don't need, and those of our favored churches to continue marketing their superstitious crusades. The wars we fought for our freedoms ended in 1815, folks. Everything since has been empire-building, resource acquisition or blowback for same.

The Courier editors danced on the sidelines waving pompoms as the second Bush administration worked assiduously to dismantle the freedoms and rights that today's editorial purports to praise. To me this demonstrates a stunning cognitive disconnect, and the editorial provides an example of how this disconnect comes about.

Looked at overall, the editorial's message is that the editor worships the flag. A flag. A thing, a symbol. His fascination with the symbol allows unscrupulous people to manipulate him by manipulating the propaganda around the symbol. So an illegal, aggressive invasion of a country that cannot threaten us, or turning innocent people and children into fine red mist to prop up a corrupt but apparently compliant puppet state, becomes a "fight for our freedom," and questioning it becomes subversive, even treasonous.

If the editor were to see the hard reality of what this 'fight for freedom' means to the people whose freedoms we steal and whose lives we destroy for it, I believe, truly, that he'd be a lot less facile about what he writes around it. But, lacking any useful experience and thrust into the pundit's chair, he falls into the trap of cracked mental shorthand -- war equals the flag equals our values -- and he mires what could be a competent mind in the sticky cotton candy of unquestioned premises and sacred falsehoods.

If you hope to honor the principles on which this country was founded and the people who fought and died to secure them, read the whole document. In particular, absorb how our founders defined tyranny:

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Is this not exactly what we're doing in Iraq and Afghanistan? Having lived under it for generations, would our founders have considered prosecuting this sort of evil for a moment? Does this shed any light on why our misguided attempts to 'help' these countries only leads to escalating resistance and blowback? The Redcoats were patriots too, remember.

By all means, honor our founders and their struggle, but not by worshiping a flag. They didn't fight for a flag, they fought for a set of principles, a foundation for freedom and human dignity. These principles, these rights and democratic practices, are they only legacy they cared about. Wrapping up in the flag while we dishonor their sacrifice by emulating their oppressor is what's truly subversive and treasonous.


David said...

Surely you cannot believe the USA entrance into WWII after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was empire building. Surely you cannot believe that the USA would not today be paying homage to the emperor of Japan if there had not been an armed response to the Japanese aggression against our shores. Well, perhaps you might believe it. And while we're at it, I'm guessing you probably believe there should have been no response to the attack upon our citizens, upon our shores, on 9/11.

Steven Ayres said...

The attack on Pearl Harbor was the culminating response to nearly a century of economic aggression against Japan by the US, starting in 1853.

On the point of overwhelming force of arms, the US opened Japan's ports, forced the Japanese into the modern world, taught them that imperialism was the modern way, and frightened them into turning too much power over to their military. They were such good students that within fifty years they beat the Chinese and Russians in territorial wars, and the race was on. Japan's fine textiles and steel became threats to US industry, and that and Japanese expansion in east Asia, bringing it within range of US-claimed territory in the Philippines, led to a US-imposed embargo on oil shipments to Japan in July 1941. This the Japanese saw as attempted economic genocide, and under the imperialist rules we taught them, the only sensible response was to attempt to disable our navy five months later.

Similarly, the attack on the World Trade Center was the culminating response to decades of aggression and oppression of Arab peoples in the Middle East. If 9-11 caught you by surprise, you weren't paying attention for over fifty years.

It's convenient to forget the context and real genesis of wars and violence, but they don't go away just because we wish to see ourselves as pure heroes.

I'm not saying that the attacks on Pearl Harbor or New York were heroic or justifiable, rather that they are understandable in the context of aggressive actions the US chose to undertake for venal reasons. Nobody's innocent, and the more we match our actions to the principles of peace and freedom we espouse, the safer and more peaceful the world will be.

Javelina 13 said...

Boy do I feel the "veneration of a piece of cloth" part of your thesis. I can't see this knee-jerk (and tear-jerk) reflex as anything different from Soviet or Nazi nationalism.

And you know what's so funny? I just walked in from a stroll around my neighborhood that took me past Ernest A. Love American Legion Post #6, where I saw Old Glory, tangled up around the flagpole and trying to flap its elbow in the breeze. In the DARK.

And how many times have I driven past the Festival of Consumerism on Bullwhacker Hill, only to see the Flag As Big As My Apartment flying bravely... in the DARK. With no spotlight focused on it. Sometimes even in the rain!

Here's what bugs me: these people move themselves to tears with their so-called patriotism (especially when testifyin' before City Council with the TV cameras on them), but they can't be bothered to follow their own silly rules about the flag!

I feel an attack of OFS (Old Fart Syndrome) coming on. In my senior year of college, my roommate closed all the curtains one sunny day, because she was going to cut up the Stars and Stripes to make her boyfriend a pair of flag pants -- the Gap hadn't gone there yet, you couldn't buy 50 bazillion different flavors of flag fabric at Jo-Ann's, she was afraid someone would turn her in for desecration. She was willing to let her guy deal with the flak himself while wearing the pants.

Now, hell, they've got flag thongs.

So, yes, I find flag-worship dumb. And inconsistency / hypocrisy even dumber.

Steven Ayres said...

Yeah, I remember when hippies were being prosecuted for wearing what flag-waving country music stars routinely wear today.