What We're Working With
As a byproduct of our modern culture, our attention spans are shrinking. The American mind is so besieged by information and so saturated by marketing schema that clear thinking on complex issues is almost impossible. For many, it is not even possible. Never mind that it's not fashionable to be mindful since "fun" is the most important pursuit of the world citizen; certainly, fun and mindfulness do not work well together. So the thinking goes: when one tires of the constant motion of fun (a fast lifestyle filled with shopping, fast food, amusement parks, video games, and dance clubs) then one should forget their cares by doing absolutely nothing. This opposite of fun is called recuperation. Therefore, for many in our society, there is a shrinking middle ground between high-pitched excitement and the intentional void of thoughtlessness to counter it except that dismal period of in-between called life. This usually consists of the day-to-day routine of work and/or school, which is also spared of any semblance of thought, for that is the very essence of routine. It is no wonder that many Americans, merely dwelling in a routine between the highs and lows of thrills and recovery, are incapable of simple thought, much less enlightened conversation (of which mindful thought is a prerequisite). So what to make of all this and how did it come to be? Is thought the first casualty of capitalism run amuck?
There has been much talk lately of the failures of the American educational system, which is readily apparent. However, before we simply write off society's problems as evidence of a failed education system (which many do), we need to establish the direction of causation. We may have it all in reverse — could a nation of entertainment-driven know-nothings prosper in a legitimate educational system? Has our educational system been "dumbed down" in an attempt to meet the citizenry on their terms? There is support for this notion: college admission standards admittedly have been lowered for greater inclusion, the format of the SAT has been changed to allow for "less competitive" students to achieve parity and there is considerable pressure on universities to graduate more students regardless of academic performance (especially if those students have protected status, i.e. minorities). So we cannot fully blame the educational system for society's failings (although many do and rightfully so) because it is not entirely accurate. At the very least, there are other forces at work.
The rise of the marketing industry has produced an American landscape characterized by advertising litter and propaganda. Our conscious and subconscious minds absorb constant and ubiquitous advertising to the point of rendering our minds numb. The sea of information is too vast and too steady to allow for sufficient processing so we take shortcuts and we tend to only consume information that is easily digestible. For instance, we vote for the candidate that belongs to the political party we like the most; we buy products based on brand and name recognition instead of measures of quality; we prefer our news in digested form and the issues explained in sound bytes; and we only consume that knowledge which will make our lives easier or better. We are consummate utilitarians in the marketplace of information! We get just the essentials and then we are in a hurry to get to the checkout. In essence, we are hurried consumers at all levels in our society, not just in the supermarket aisle. But so what? We all know this right? And if you've made it this far, you probably congratulate yourself for being above all of this.
History as Fast Food
My main point is to take a look at history, even "current history" if such an oxymoron is permissible, from the proto-nihilist point of view that I've offered. Foremost, what will the history books say about the American-Iraqi war of 2003, especially the American history books 50 years from now? They will surely talk about George Bush, our leader, rushing in troops on fears that there were weapons of mass destruction (WMD). If they do mention that there weren't any to be found (but they did find a few gas masks!) I'm sure the dialogue will then focus on vague concepts like "bringing democracy to the Iraqi people" or "liberation" if the term democracy is out of use by then. There will be little to no mention of oil and there certainly will not be much coverage of the massive protestations here at home and abroad. There will be no talk of American might fighting for the interests of Israel due to powerful "Likudniks" inside our DC Beltway. Nor will there be talk of Dick Cheney's scandalous Halliburton involvement (Teapot Dome?) and the lucrative post-war contracts doled out to partisans of the neo-con administration. In essence, the official history of this great unpleasantness that we are all now fully aware of will become sanitized for later generations as another example of American might, American benevolence and the proud tradition of "the American way."
You can be sure of this because it is already happening. Even if you agree with the sanitized, popular assessment of the war, and many of you do, is it reasonable to leave out all of the relevant details? Moreover, is it honest to omit the details and simply offer a clean, simplistic, sugary summary? The current treatment of the American-Iraq War fits neatly into a simple narrative:
The world's leading democracy liberated the Iraqi people from a corrupt regime, spreading the holy religion of American-brand democracy and capitalism to yet another sector of world citizens. Military force was necessary and precisely directed to minimize civilian casualties. It was another American success story.
What is there not to like? For many of you, this sounds like an overly simplified view of a very complex series of events, suitable only for grade school children who aren't yet sophisticated enough to deal with the full scale of the events, and rightfully so. It conspicuously leaves out the following: the crumbling American economy, the millions of citizens who protested against the war versus the thousands who protested for it (isn't a "democracy" supposed to represent the will of the majority in a polity?), Bush's National Security Strategy which advances American foreign policy toward pre-emptive war, the role of Iraq's oil reserves for which control means control over the world's most prized natural resource, the role of 9/11 as an emotional trigger for enlisting popular support and how no one has yet to demonstrate a link between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, and last, the unusual migration of the impetus for this war from retaliation for 9/11, to Hussein's lack of cooperation with the UN, to an American invasion to search for weapons of mass destruction, to a "war on terrorism" to a war to liberate the Iraqi people. That's five completely different rationales for why we must invade Iraq immediately! Few noticed that problems so critical to our country, at least rhetorically by our President, were routinely swept aside and rarely mentioned thereafter once opinion polls showed that Americans didn't agree with the administration. Would a citizenry with an attention span of more than 5 minutes allow for this? No way. But this is precisely what has happened and already we are witnessing the dissolution of these facts surrounding this very recent war.
A Definite Future and a False Past
For many Americans (dare I say "most"), this analysis is an interesting discussion of how events that happen now will forever be laid threadbare by pro-American, sensationalist, simplistic historians. It is a disservice to future generations who will have to dig through newspaper articles, House and Senate speeches and magazine articles to learn what we all take for granted as common knowledge. Those few that uncover the real nature of this latest war will be accused of treason for daring to speak ill of our great nation, our current crop of great leaders, and the noble American spirit that goes forth to establish democracy (and oil wells) on foreign shores. One day, there may even be a monument erected to George W. Bush in Washington, DC to honor our current leader, despite a great deal of ill will towards him presently. It would not be ridiculous for there to be a Bush Memorial erected to honor the leader who saw America through it's great period of ascendancy in establishing a Pax Americana. This spirit is already alive and well and will only intensify over time.
Now for the jolt: this scenario has already been fully played out. Just as there were widespread complaints that "he is not our president" rang out when GWB took office, the country literally split in two when Lincoln took office — interestingly, he didn't garner one electoral vote from the South. Just as thousands of citizens marched in protest against Lincoln's unlawful invasion of the South (most strongly in New York City) so too thousands of citizens took to the streets to protest Bush's unsupported war (WMD?), again with the largest turnout in NYC (some estimates point to upwards of 250,000 in a single event). Newspaper editorials all over the North clamored that Lincoln's war was unjust; it was unsupported by the people; there was widespread common knowledge that Lincoln's cronies were to get rich from the war effort (Halliburton?) which they did; the economy was on very shaky ground and the ill-advised war was deemed unaffordable; he ordered Federal troops to Fort Sumter, SC in 1861 without Congressional approval (pre-emptive force augmentation) to send a clear message using military force; Lincoln turned the country into a police state to ferret out any Southern sympathizers; he suspended civil liberties to accomplish strict police state objectives, despite being ruled unconstitutional by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; last, it was also common knowledge at home and abroad (particularly amongst the British) that Lincoln was waging war against those who opposed his domestic and foreign policy objectives by use of force. Does any of this sound unbelievably familiar to us current Americans? You bet it does.
Just as the Bush Myth is well underway, with terms such as "freedom" and "liberation" being inaccurately thrown about, the Lincoln Myth relied on the terms "Union" and "the people" whenever it was possible. The tactic of using ironclad principles of war and terror to produce empire, while using vague rhetoric to justify these policies is a political trick used identically both by Lincoln and Bush. Whereas Lincoln has been called The Great Emancipator, Bush is being cheered as The Great Liberator… of the Iraqi people. The principle difference between these two, perhaps the only difference, is that history is yet to embrace George Bush to the extent that historians have literally deified Lincoln. He is the patron saint of Union and, oddly, democracy to the "America — Right or Wrong!" crowd.
The good news is that the Lincoln Myth is finally losing its credibility. Only recently, serious scholars have began to question the mountains of evidence that paint a much different picture of the real Lincoln from the Lincoln of myth and folklore. Foremost, Professor Thomas J. DiLorenzo has written a point-by-point analysis of the Lincoln administration called simply "The Real Lincoln." This book alone, a compendium of factual details pulled from all available news sources, should suffice to render the Lincoln Myth fully exposed as a fraud. Moreover, a simple Google search with the words "Lincoln myth" reveals 113,000 results, including a Lincoln-Myth group at Yahoo! I can save you some work by referring you to my two favorite sites, www.lincolnmyth.com and LewRockwell.com’s Lincoln Archives, although I admit that I'm yet to peruse them all.
The Lincoln Myth has persisted not because it is true, quite the contrary, but because it has been adopted by the American educational system and spoon-fed to students for generations. The official, sanitized version of history that is taught in our schools does not stand up to any rigorous debate, which until now has not been the case. It has taken 140 years for the Lincoln Myth to be exposed as a fraud, intentionally fabricated and "dumbed down" to the intellectual level of a nursery rhyme. Must we wait another 140 years for all the facts to appear in any serious discussion of the Iraq War? Rather than saddle future generations with the burden of discovering the truth beneath the layers of sanitized hogwash, we should make sure to keep all the relevant facts of the Bush administration and their so vehemently desired war fully in view. Whether you support this latest war or not, as Americans we should all be proud and honest enough to give an accurate, detailed picture of history as we are making it. If there is any birthright we should give future generations of Americans, it is that of an accurate and honest account of the American experience. Anything less is mere propaganda on a par with Germany from the 1930s and 1940s.
The elevation of Lincoln as the original American martyr is a direct affront to all of our legitimate heroes from our founding, during our secession from the British Crown, to the soldiers fighting on this very night over in Iraq. America was founded as the opponent to empire, a policy which Lincoln then turned on its head less than 100 years later. Now 140 years after Lincoln, Bush is promoting a world police force using the American military with the right of pre-emptive aggression. Can we afford this and do we want the role of world policeman? The serious debate that desperately needs to occur on these complex issues is impossible amongst the masses who are sated by television, video games, entertainment and the junk history being leveled at them in our schools and on our news channels. Propaganda and history are bitter enemies. If you're confused between the two, consider this: history does not choose sides.
The Lincoln Myth needs to be exposed because it is a fraud. Moreover, it needs to be exposed so that a proper comparison can be made between the Lincoln administration and the current Bush administration, which is an accurate comparison. The critical thinking skills necessary for a real democracy, for an enlightened polity, are not being developed by the one institution we safeguard for this duty: our schools. Last, our current history is being written not for an enlightened audience, capable of dealing with all of the complexities of our day, but for primitive minds guided by emotional rhetoric and oblivious toward facts.
Many Americans are ardent Bush supporters who feel that the Iraq War has been fully justified. For them, the use of our military force to overthrow Saddam and liberate the Iraqi people is a duty, following in the Wilsonian tradition of spreading American democracy to every clime and place that yearns for it. To their credit, many are well aware of the social, political, and economic forces which have played out on the American landscape. They have cheered Bush all along and they happily enjoy the results of the war. There is no greater duty in the telling of this newest chapter in America's war annals than that of comprehensive regard for the truth including all of the factors that have been crucial to this war. Irrespective of one's feelings toward the Iraq War, one cannot truly love America with a heart full of pride towards her achievements if they allow our history to be sanitized and watered down for future generations (or this present generation).
For those of us who are well aware of the truly complex issues facing our nation, it is our duty to resist the fairytale tellers' version of history and deliver a message that is at once consistent with reality, supported by facts, and unadorned with fiction. It's no small task but neither is myth making and we have Truth on our side.
April 17, 2003