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When I was growing up in Chattanooga in the 50s, I somehow acquired the belief that the United States of America was the best country in which to be born and live. I gave thanks to my god of the day I had been born an American, and wondered at the miracle of such privilege in a world torn by war, famine, disease, and poverty, in which it seemed no group of national cults could exist in peace.
When I went to college in the Boston area at the start of the 60s I was abruptly exposed to a very different view, no less idolatrous, but couched in historical ideals and events that supported two related viewpoints on which our republic was founded—a desire for intense socialization of agrarian freedoms on the one hand, simultaneously opposed and supported by mercantilist and capitalist interests where commercial advantage could be found. In Boston, we thought all the unrighteous capitalists were slave owners in the slave states.
In the 90s I moved with my family to the National Capital Region of Virginia and, in the 00s to the District of Columbia. Virginia (and Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania) really evoke the terrible realities in the birth of a new cult of nationhood. It is impossible to visit Manassas, Antietam, or Gettysburg without recalling the thousands of lives sacrificed to fear, disunity, and greed, where the soil is soaked with yet more thousands of liters of blood. And, having grown up in Chattanooga, I already knew the horrors of Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, and Chickamauga. I remembered the words of that hideously false, yet weirdly inspiring line from The Battle Hymn of the Republic which says “…as he died to make men holy, we shall die to make men free.” Can mass emotional insanity built on ignorance reliably serve the cause of love and truth? We now know it cannot, does not, and never has. Today we are heir to the results of living with such foolish ideas.
Once we moved to the District, I saw how Jefferson’s forced decision to have the national capital at its present location initially captured, within one city-to-be, the national vision of union based on unity without uniformity, avoiding New York in favor of a fresh start where Georgetown and Alexandria competed for economic favor, based on different social models. I contemplated the Rosicrucian geomancy that L’Enfant drew on in planning the city, as well as the artistic ideals inspired by Paris and other great cities of Europe in that day. I understood how the desires for balanced and fair peace had inspired this most occult design, as if the greatness to be of the city and the republic for which it stands could be invoked and established within an urban architecture designed to be a subliminal parable of truth.
The National Mall, designed by the McMillan Commission at the start of the 20th century, ripped the ramshackle and decrepit commercial heart out of the original, unplanned collection of businesses, services, and residences that occupied the swampy flats west of Capitol Hill, moved the city plan closer to its Masonic origins, yet made me feel I had entered a Federal Disneyland recreation of the Roman Forum on a much grander scale, where everything was brand new classical revival and beaux-arts architecture, a gleaming alabaster city “undimmed by human tears.” Unfortunately, to me the brilliance of this parklike setting for our Federal buildings and monuments was drenched in the human blood spilled to achieve the triumphalist vision of a newborn world empire. This especially came home to me when the World War II memorial was completed. Emperor Trajan, the prolific builder of second-century Rome, would have been proud.
Those who walk the streets of this city patrol the paths of destiny. When we marched for equality in October 2009, the light of truth on which this city was founded and designed broke through the ocean of clotted blood and stinking death wrought by foolish greed, showing us the glorious rainbow of a better age, unconquerable and soon to be all there is.
Can the future learn from the past? Or must the future be imprisoned by the limited wisdom of the past? How can our nation escape the prison of literalistic and untruthful government and triumphalist imperial ambitions in which it seems trapped? Today, Lincoln’s words continue to apply, “…a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great war, testing whether that nation…can long endure…” Now as we realize and expose how cruelly our nation continues to fail to build on the ideals for which so much life was sacrificed to the worship of greed, from the Revolution through the Civil War, we more clearly see the roots of oppression that prevent human freedom and social progress. In answer to the implied question, we now know this new nation has not endured, and has finally been destroyed by a bunch of ignorant humans flying a false flag of Supreme authority. Will yet another war be needed to achieve liberty, freedom, justice, and equality for all?
See how far we have lost our way as a national cult of freedom. Colonial sentiment was strongly anti-slavery, but the political power of slaveholders could not be denied, even as the extraction and financial industries cannot be denied today. Jefferson wrote of the King, in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence:
“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, capturing and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur a miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to drestrain this execrable commerce.”
Does our nation live up to this standard today? Or have we actually become suborners of true freedom to serve delusions of historical and religious mythology? Or were we ever willing to put the interests of the powerless who depend on us for survival behind our personal greed and national desire for empire. For example, our national myth ignores the intentional genocide against the American aboriginal peoples (the “indians” that fought the “cowboys”), which began with the policies of British Commander Jeffrey Amherst, who conducted biological warfare against the Indian population of Ohio, among other things, directing his troops to deliberately infect gift blankets with smallpox. It is likely these actions by British troops caused a major smallpox epidemic among the native population.
Such mass social cruelty to an entire people has continued unabated to this day. After personally starting the French and Indian War (out of abyssal ignorance) George Washington led forces that ferociously destroyed the villages and societies of the Iroquois Confederation across New York state. He was known to the Indians as Caunotaucarius, which means “devourer of villages.” Many years later, when Washington was President and the settled Seneca were suffering under the continual abuse and cruelty practiced on them by American frontier rogues, they sent a delegation, headed by Cornplanter, their great spiritual leader of the time, who had encouraged them to adopt agrarian ways compatible with European frontier development. This delegation was to beg the great white man for mercy from his government and to require the frontier citizens to obey treaties and the law. After Cornplanter made his appeal, the delegation was given gifts and promises and sent home. On the way back they were robbed several times and, of course, nothing changed on the frontier. In retrospect it is easy to see that, in those days, the President and Federal government were powerless to control the frontier. It seems there has been no time when our nation was willing to live up to its grand promises for its aboriginal peoples.
This discussion continues tomorrow.