Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Home of the Brave - Land of the Free

A very young Abe Lincoln

Australians looking across the Pacific right now can’t believe what they’re seeing.

Our long-time ally, and a country which we always believed shared our values, is slowly but surely destroying itself.

Mind you, we've seen it all before.

I saw a similar phenomenon when serving beside Americans in Vietnam in 1970. Back then, American servicemen were killing their junior officers at an alarming rate. The preferred method was to put a hand grenade beside the sleeping victim, pull the pin, and run like hell.

Nine hundred died in this manner from 1969 to 1972. It was so common that it produced its own jargon.

The Yanks called it “fragging”.

The violence was a symptom of a deep national malaise in 1970, relating to the lack of support for the US military in Vietnam at home, and a growing understanding by those at the sharp end of the conflict of the sheer futility of it all.

In 2017, we are seeing similar violence, most recently the slaughter of 58 people at Las Vegas.

There seems to be a chilling inevitability about this, and the impotence of the US law makers to deal with it.

It is also a symptom of deep national malaise. The country should probably be renamed "the Disunited States of America", when you observe the quality of the hyper partisanship that has developed in the last decade.

That division in public opinion also reminds me of Vietnam.

When he was asked to put forward reasons why the US should continue to fight in Vietnam, in a memo dated March 24, 1965, Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton writes to his boss, Robert McNamara, that America’s end goal is “70%” to avoid humiliation.

The “dignity” of the USA held sway over everything else. It wasn't about defeating Communism, or saving the Vietnamese. It was all about the self-absorption of the body politic in the USA.

So, the prime reason was about symbolism – saving face. We saw how that worked out.

In many ways, gentle reader, this same symbolism is at the root of the current malaise. A naïve observer is prompted to enquire why the most powerful nation on earth lacks the capacity, and apparently the will, to protect its own citizens.

And, on the face of it, if you listen to the NRA, it’s all about the symbolism of the Second Amendment.

This clause is held up as an inviolable symbol of freedom, expressed as the right to self-defence.

Now forgetting about the obvious and inevitable outcome of the practical expression of this cultural symbol (a rate of mass shootings unrivaled anywhere else on the planet) it’s important to examine the historical perspective.

You need to go back a lot further in time than Vietnam or Las Vegas, to understand that this thread of the threat of self-destruction runs through American history.

The following is an extract from an 1838 address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, by a very young Abraham Lincoln. He was talking about existential risk to the Union - 

How then shall we perform it? --At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? -- Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! --All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions: As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

I’ve bolded Lincoln’s answer.

It’s pretty obvious that he saw self-destruction as the greatest threat. Twenty three years later the threat was realized.

We’re seeing this same threat now, in the context of a President who gained power by dividing his country, and surfing into office on the fear and resentment created by that division.

As for the line in the anthem – Home of the brave – land of the free.

The gun culture fostered by the NRA is not an outcome of bravery, but of fear, or more accurately paranoia.

And the country which characterizes itself as a bastion of freedom, has the highest incarceration rate in the western world.

The irony is stark and inescapable.

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