Happy New Year’s Day, Survivors,
Yes, survivors are we all, who weathered the storms, the carnage, the ‘Acts of God’ that have recently laid waste to the south-east of Asia with its earthquake and subsequent tsunami. And, moreover, survivors are we through the sheer good fortune of having been asleep in our beds in geographically sound locations when that fateful Boxing Day eruption smote down more than 125,000 of our unfortunate distant neighbours. And yet, even as the so-called ‘Act of God’ that blew Mother Earth apart on December 26th was being called the greatest tragedy of the 21st century, so the wilful ‘Act of Man’ that has cast the people of Iraq into their turmoil could only temporarily be eclipsed. For which is the greater tragedy? Was it the buckling boiling bronco of water that unleashed itself upon our Asian neighbours? Or was it not that wilfully self-righteous attempt by George Bush’s administration to impose on Iraqi people, America’s so-called:
“… blessed mission to the nations of the world, which are shut out from the life-giving light of truth, [for which] has America been chosen; and her high example [which] shall smite unto death the tyranny of kings, hierarchs, and oligarchs, and carry the glad tidings of peace and good will where myriads now endure an existence scarcely more enviable than that of beasts of the field.”
No, this was not written by any 21st century American, but by the 19th-century American politician John L. Sullivan, back in 1839, when the United States occupied only the eastern seaboard of that great North American continent, and was seeking to justify its desires to expand westwards into lands of both the indigenous populations and the then-Mexican territories of Texas and California. But there are frightening parallels between the current Born Again Christian regime currently operating out of Washington DC, and the perceived ‘Manifest Destiny’ of 19th century white Americans to impose "freedom of conscience, freedom of person, freedom of trade and business pursuits’ upon ‘those people who were perceived as being incapable of self-government, such as Native American people and those of non-European origin.’
Employing a form of rhetoric frighteningly similar to America’s current ‘Liberators’, mid-19th-century American politicians justified their acts of aggression in the minds of the white population by declaring that it was the ‘Manifest Destiny’ of the United States to take away those territories from barbarians who knew not what they had. In an oft-used metaphor of the time, politicians described their neighbours as being so incapable of running their own affairs that acts of aggression would not even be necessary – indeed, that ‘these regions would ripen like fruit and fall into the lap of the United States’.
One famous contemporary illustration depicted an imaginary Goddess known as Columbia, a kind of aerial Britannia grasping a flaming torch, flying westwards into the darkness ‘bringing light and goodness’, as bears, wolves and ‘Indian people’ fled in fear from her torch of so-called enlightenment. In a chilling parallel with Bush’s current rampant expansionism beyond the precincts of the American continental landmass, I quote Professor R.D. Edmunds of the University of Dallas:
‘Another interesting symbol of Manifest Destiny shows a railroad train coming out of the east with smoke billowing out of its boiler. It is moving west, bringing technological enlightenment into the wilderness. Americans in the 19th century and ever since, have equated civilisation with technological development, no matter what the cost, particularly in terms of spirit or morality.’
At the beginning of 2005CE, vestiges of America’s belief in ‘Manifest Destiny’ are still evident in its government’s perception of the rest of the world, the ‘Outlands’ if you will. From the dismissive ‘muddy creek’ comments of American marines’ encounters with Iraq’s legendary river Euphrates, evidence is clear that many modern Americans have ‘little connection with the past history of any of them, and still less with all antiquity’, as John L. Sullivan wrote over 150 years ago. But far more chilling is the fact that Sullivan’s self-righteous words written so long ago still – for many of we Europeans and Brits at least – sum up modern American foreign policy:
‘We have no interest in the scenes of antiquity, only as lessons of avoidance of nearly all their examples. The expansive future is our arena, and for our history. We are entering on its untrodden space, with the truths of God in our minds, beneficent objects in our hearts, and with a clear conscience unsullied by the past. We are the nation of human progress, and who will, what can, set limits to our onward march? Providence is with us, and no earthly power can.’
Nuff Said, brothers and sisters. Welcome to the New World, I guess.
But whereas Colin Powell felt the need to pat his fellow Americans on the back when he referred on primetime TV to his country’s generous deliveries of aid to the stricken peoples of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India; the people of Britain – a country less than 1/10th the size of America – has just got on with it and collected £50 million. However physically large it is, no country with its eyes only on the future will be able to weather the storms that Mother Nature chooses arbitrarily to inflict upon us from time to time. Such is the reason we employ verbs like ‘to weather’ in the first place. Britain and Europe have been places of refuge and hope for millennia longer than the United States of America. And when America’s dispossessed gay people, Jewish people and liberal artistic communities run to Britain and Europe for sanctuary from the right wing’s New Theocracy, I’ve no doubt we shall happily make room for them all – and without too many smug smiles of self-congratulation.
To the human spirit that drives us ALL!
Happy New Year!
JULIAN (M’LUD YATESBURY)