The United States at Age 231
“Morals and values” are ubiquitous in the media and political discourse. We are told of “values voters” who support George W. Bush out of a sense of moral rectitude. We hear of the decay of “traditional values” and the likely culprits almost incessantly. Fundamentalist clerics blame everything from the 9/11 attacks to Hurricane Katrina on the decline of morality in our society. This is clearly a serious matter.
The likely culprits are easily identified, and are the same every time. Gay marriage, feminism, abortion, contraception, homosexuality, anti-racist movements, dissident professors, “taking God out of our schools”, and many more of the usual suspects are paraded before us on a daily basis in a bizarre rhetorical perp walk.
Listening further, we learn that to be moral means to be heterosexual and fundamentalist, antifeminist and pro-Bush, anti-abortion and pro-war; to be moral means believing that the Earth is a few thousand years old, and was created by an invisible deity in the sky (out of sheer boredom, one assumes). These are the “morals and values” to which we must urgently attend, lest we fall over the precipice.
These, we are told, are our values, and they are in crisis.
Meanwhile, a cluster bomb maims a child in Kandahar, a woman in Baghdad is dismembered by American machine gun fire at the local market, still another child is diagnosed with leukaemia due to exposure to US depleted-uranium munitions, and a young man in Sadr City is dragged out of his bed in the middle of the night by machine gun-toting foreigners, and will wake up the next morning with no front teeth and electrical burns all over his body. A hospital is raided, doctors are hogtied, patients die for lack of medication.
The New York Times, the Washington Post, and FOX News either praise our great leaders for bringing freedom to benighted regions or argue that we must not terminate our invasion out of a sense of responsibility to its supposed beneficiaries. The raid on the hospital is praised, the rest is kept quiet, ignored altogether if at all possible.
And the self-appointed moral apostles of our country react either with silence or unmasked glee.
Six decades ago, a group of student anti-war activists wrote:
There is nothing less worthy of a civilised people than to submit without resistance to the "government" of an irresponsible clique of rulers who are ruled by base instinct. Is it not true that every honest German is ashamed of his government? And who amongst us can imagine the measure of the shame that will befall us and our children once the veil has fallen from our eyes, and the most hideous, infinitely unmeasurable, crimes reach the light of day?
Do not forget that every people deserves the government that it tolerates!
In our time, the authors of those words – Hans and Sophie Scholl, Christoph Probst, Willi Graf, Alexander Schmorell, and Prof. Kurt Huber, names that history must remember – are hailed as heroes. Schools are named after them. Children are taught of their courageous acts. In their time, they were decapitated for “betraying the troops” and “aiding the enemy”. One of the leading intellectuals of their day, judge Roland Freisler, summed it up in eerily familiar language:
Whoever, like [the authors of the leaflet quoted above], treasonously weakens the home front, thus sabotaging our defensive strength and thereby rendering aid and comfort to the enemy of the Reich […], raises the dagger to stab the back of our troops at the front! […] Anyone who acts in this manner is attempting - particularly now, when it is essential for our nation to stand united to open a first rift in the unity of our fighting front. And these are the acts of German students, whose honour was always grounded in self-sacrifice for our people and our nation!
The moral crisis in this country is real, and it is not yet clear whether optimism is warranted as to its outcome. We may very well deserve the government that we yet tolerate, but do the people of Iraq deserve it as well? Or the people of Afghanistan?
The crisis is real, and we see it every day. We live in a country where the reaction of the intellectual class to the revelation that our military tortures civilian prisoners – a war crime – ranges from red-herring discussions about “ticking time bombs” and doubts about the effectiveness of the methods to outright praise.
We live in a country where people are in uproar over the “murder of children” when a woman decides to terminate her pregnancy, but not when an Iraqi toddler is sliced in half by his “liberators’” bullets.
We live in a country where “sodomy” is condemned when two men want to get married, but not when a soldier shoves the barrel of his gun into the rectum of his prisoner.
We live in a country where officials who declare that Iraq will be able to finance the reconstruction of all we’ve destroyed are criticised not because the idea that the victim should pay for the devastation we’ve wrought borders on sociopathy, but because it didn’t turn out to be true.
This is where we live. This is our country, and these are the values of those who control it. They make no effort to hide them, because to them these values are right and proper, and thoroughly unremarkable. If we ever wish this to be a country we can call our own without shame or qualification, we cannot plead ignorance.
We must recognise where we live, and face the moral and ethical consequences. If we do not, we can only weep for this country, along with the millions who now weep because of us rather than with us.
We will not be rescued from the true moral crisis of this country by enlightened leaders, pundits, or clerics. This is a crisis of their making. Only we – the people of this country – can ever hope to save ourselves. It is up to us whether the people of the world ask our children how their parents could have done nothing, knowing what was happening, or whether, instead, we are remembered as the generation that finally said ENOUGH.
The world is watching us.