My grumpiness about this year’s Fourth of July celebrations got off the ground when, earlier in the week, I was at my local convenience store.
There I encountered a Budweiser Beer “promotion” for the Fourth. It's Budweiser Week! Get your drink on, and support our troops! Yes indeed, if I bought some bottles of Bud and after drinking the contents I returned the bottle tops to the store, then Budweiser would donate 10c per top (big deal) “for the troops”. How and when Budweiser would use this money to “support the troops” was not made clear.
I guess they wanted us feel patriotic by purchasing their beer.
The next day I was at my preferred supermarket “Sweetbay”. There, at the checkout I was asked if I wished to purchase some ground coffee to “support the troops”.
The deal was that if I bought two packs of coffee, then put one of them in a bin, “Sweetbay” would make sure that all the donated coffee was sent “to the troops”. It was not made clear if these troops would be in Iraq or Illinois, in Afghanistan or Arkansas.
I guess they wanted us to feel patriotic by purchasing coffee.
Then on Friday I went into another supermarket – “Winn-Dixie” to get some canned food for my dog. The store was decked out in the obligatory red, white, and blue. The “muzak” featured a male singer whose militantly tuned song repeated (ad infinitum) that he was willing to die for our freedom.
My visits to these three stores made me realise that the propaganda machine is more than alive and well in the United States. It is a machine which asserts that freedom is to be equated with war. That’s an Orwellian message indeed.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a grand respect for the men and women of our armed forces, and I believe that the “officer class” in the military is second to none.
My problem is not with the military per se. Rather it is with our political leaders (Democratic and Republican alike) who have created the neo-colonialist policies which our Armed Forces (subject to civilian authority) are ordered to enforce.
Hence: our “wars” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. These wars have very little to do with political, economic, and social freedoms in the United States.
They have everything to do with America’s misguided sense of “manifest destiny”- i.e. the idea that God/Nature/Evolution – call it what you will – has singled us out above all other nations to bring freedom to the world.
I have “been there and done that”. Remember that I am British by birth, and that my people once believed that their Empire was a matter of divinely inspired “manifest destiny” - at the receiving end of a musket or rifle.
The truest freedom comes not from armed force, but from the human will when it is inspired by words. Thus it was that America’s freedom was inspired not by weapons, but by the forceful and dissenting ideas of pastors, poets, preachers and pundits.
Our ideals of freedom are rooted in the dissent of men such as Tom Paine, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson (with many others.
That freedom has been preserved and enabled principally by words:- such as those of Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mary McLeod Bethune, James Weldon Johnson and Martin Luther King – each one a dissenter. Not one of these “freedom fighters” ever used a gun or pistol! Neither did Jesus.
How I wish that local Churches would uphold Jesus’ non-violent dissent and protest as the norm for our July 4th celebrations.
Since I could not be sure of this I skipped Church today.
I knew that I would not be able to sing “America the Beautiful” without weeping for the African-Americans, Hispanics, Immigrants, Poor people, Trailer trash, Homeless, Muslims &c, &c: all those who are excluded from the neo-colonialist vision of “America: the land of the brave and the home of the free”.
*** On the evening of 7 April 1775, Samuel Johnson made the famous statement, "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." This line was not, as widely believed, about patriotism in general, but the false use of the term "patriotism" by John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (the patriot-minister) and his supporters; Johnson opposed "self-professed Patriots" in general, but valued what he considered "true" self-professed patriotism