Proud… To Be An American Male Born After The Civil War

I’m pretty glad that I was born in America in 1981.  Not especially because the year was so great or because America is so great, but the sheer fact that I was born in America after the Civil War as a white male is pretty awesome.  Can I say that?  (With full knowledge that Louis C.K. already did?)

This book I’m reading is really wrecking me (Who Is My Enemy by Lee Camp).  I read today about the movement from non-violence, to Just War Tradition, to “total war”, which is what we have seen unleashed in this country’s short span of existence.  I know a lot about history.  However, what I was taught was also taught/received through the lens of “We are America.  We are proud to be Americans.  We are the best country on earth.  God bless America.”  I’m also not ignorant.  I at least know about the terrible genus of our country when we displaced and murdered innocent humans to take their land away from them.  But, today I read with new eyes.

I read about the first Puritans and their retaliation against an entire tribe of Native Americans (the Pequots) for the murder of one white man.  It started small, killing “just” 12 Pequots.  But that wasn’t enough, so the Puritan army spent the next three days burning homes and crops of the Pequots, trying to elicit a war-response from them.  The Pequots declined battle.  So the Puritans, the next night, burned the fort that the Pequots were staying in, killing 400 men, women, and children in one fell swoop, all in the name of Jesus/God.  Don’t believe that last part?  “We had sufficient light from the word of God for our proceedings” (John Underhill, Puritan soldier). “Thus God was pleased to smite our enemies, and to give us their land for an inheritance” (Captain John Mason on the Pequot War).

I read about the war in the Philippines carried out under President Teddy Roosevelt.  Under the guise of freeing the Filipino freedom fighters from the oppression of Spain, the U.S. killed more than 250,000 Filipino men, women, and children in the process.  And this all in the name of bringing civilization and Christianity to the Philippines.  Don’t believe me?  “[Roosevelt] relished the chance to bring Christian civilization to America’s first major colonial possession in the Pacific” (W.G. Sebald).  What?

Then I read about stuff even closer to our time, like the firebombing of Hamburg, Germany during World War II, carried out jointly by the Brits and the Americans.  We dropped 10 thousand tons of bombs in the heart of the city at 1:00 am.  This was Winston Churchill’s strategy to destroy the will of the German industrial workers.  Rather than simply bomb the buildings in which German ammunition, weapons, planes, etc. were being made, he chose the more sinister route and decided simply to attack the people.  Here’s a recount of the aftermath: “Bluish little phosphorous flames still flickered around many of them (the civilians); others had been roasted brown or purple and reduced to a third of their normal size.  They lay doubled up in pools of their own melted fat, which had sometimes already congealed…Other victims had been so badly charred and reduced to ashes by the heat… that the remains of families consisting of several people could be carried away in a single laundry basket” (W.G. Sebald).

I have a wife and two kids.  Thankfully, like I said, I was born in America in 1981.  If I were born in, say, America in 1488, my family might have burned along with me as I hid with my people from the invading white men.  If I were born in the Philippines in 1873, I would likely have wanted my freedom, and have been shot at or bombed along with my kids by the one’s claiming to be fighting for my freedom.  Or, lets say I was born in Germany in 1923.   I went to sleep one night and awoke to my own flesh melting simply because I am German, trying to make my way to my wife and kids only to find that they were incinerated by the bombs of Brits and Americans, who claimed to be trying to stop Hitler from killing innocent people.

I started seeing these stories through father’s eyes as I read today.  I gasped, swore, and put the book down several times while reading because of the inhumanity of it all.  Not at how inhumane “us dirty Americans” are, but at how inhumane even the proudest moments in American history are when seen from the other side.  I understand there are “just” causes for war (rarely).  But, to be honest, I can’t stomach the injustice that must be meted out on innocent people, just like me, in order to gain a greater good, temporary peace, or establish our version of justice.

And its all my fault.  Kids change a lot about how you see the world.  For some, it makes them think more violently (or about how to protect them from harm).  For me, it has made me consider what it must be like to have your children’s lives taken because you happen to live in the wrong country.  Can you blame me?


9 thoughts on “Proud… To Be An American Male Born After The Civil War

  1. …thanks for ruining my day. While this totally breaks my heart and I wholeheartedly want to see change. I’m taken back to our conversation at Chipotle and I still have no idea what that looks like. I’m at the point where I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that violence is not the answer Jesus would give or did give.

    This sums up my thoughts well…it’s part of a recent article by Stephen Jarnick.

    “One of the biggest stumbling blocks in following the teachings of Jesus is our tendency to do whatever we want, and to then convince ourselves that Jesus supports our agenda. This is especially true when it comes to His peace teachings. I’ve talked to church leaders who really want to speak the truth about peace but are afraid of repercussions from people in their congregations who are either in the military or related to someone in the military. There are a couple of things I’ve learned from thinking through this issue. The first is that we can love and respect people without agreeing with all of the choices they make. Many Christians do join the military, or support going to war, but I believe that there are much more Jesus-focused paths that we can take. The second is that none of us is perfect at following Jesus but we do need to be honest with ourselves about what He taught. He is the Prince of Peace and His teachings on this topic are incredibly clear, so if for some reason we don’t want to follow Him in all situations, let’s just admit that and not pretend that He didn’t actually say what He said.

    My prayer for all Christians is that we’d be brave enough to take Jesus seriously and to do what He asks us to do – live peacefully by loving our enemies, turning the other cheek and doing good to those who hate us, but that will only be possible if we put our trust in God and know that Jesus’ way of peace isn’t intended to be a success strategy, it’s a love strategy. Or perhaps instead of allowing our culture to define “success” for us, we Christians need to redefine it as following Jesus well by loving all people.”

    It just seems so..I don’t know…hard. And I don’t know how to enact big change like I want to. But maybe it just has to start small…in our own lives and hope that it spreads?

    Once again I appreciate your thoughts and insight.

    Grace and Peace,

    1. First comes consideration, then, possibly, conviction, and only then, again possibly, action. I really like Seth’s way of explaining how he has arrived where he is in all of this.

  2. I like this perspective, I’ve been told more than once that once I have a family my views will change. As if I’m not already selfish enough to want to ignore Jesus’ teachings when it’s hard. I would die for my wife and if honest with myself I would probably kill for her. But the dangerous part is to look at my failings and call them holy. But hey- it’s the American way I guess.

    1. People who say those things have no idea how demeaning they come across…like you have no chance for really understanding until your life mirrors theirs. And it’s not always true. These events change us, having kids and getting married, but never in the same ways. That being said, I have had the correct experiences so my perspective is the correct one 🙂

  3. Were bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the USA in WWII and the horror and devastation wrought on hundreds of thousands of (innocent?) Japanese civilians worth it to bring the Pacific war to a close sooner, saving the possible ground war invasion and annihilation of millions more Japanese? Was there any other means of ending the war?

    The intent there and in cases like what the Philippine Insurrection eventually came to be – awful as the outcomes seem, and whatever the motivations that led to the wars – *may* actually be a sort of “mercy” in using extreme means in order to save more lives on both sides, preserving the lives of so many unborn children.

    Dan Carlin has a great recent Hardcore History podcast on this “American Peril” period in the late 19th century.

    1. The only rationale for these types of horrific events and decisions is simply speculation…”What if’s?” I will check out the podcast you mentioned. As you say, “War is hell”, and I agree. I hope that we can stop justifying the taking of the lives of those already born for the sake of those yet to be born, but I understand the perspective that says that there was evil in this generation and we don’t know any other way to stop/change the evil than to kill it (oftentimes in evil manners). As I have written recently, I think this is uncreative and difficult to justify in my mind. May we always seek to overcome evil with good, and not repay evil with evil.

  4. Something you may not know about me. I’m a military history buff, which connects directly with my love of games in the form of wargames. So, I have spent a lot of time living in and around the study and exploration of war. It’s a fascinating topic for *exactly* the reasons you lay out here.

    It is easy to wave the flag and claim the glories of war from afar. It is another thing to look closely at it, especially in attacks against civilians or imperialist land grabs, and somehow justify it as being consistent with the will of Jesus.

    So, strangely enough, I *just* finished listening to a podcast about (in part) the Filipino war you mentioned. Teddy Roosevelt figured prominently in the story, including his warmongering ways, which persisted into World War I, when the Roosevelt family sent their two sons into glorious battle. Roosevelt was so proud…until the word came back that one of his sons had been killed in combat.

    It broke him.

    I’m not a pacifist. (I can discuss my reasons in person, if anyone cares.) But, we do live in a nation built on warfare and sustained by bloodshed. And one concrete step we can take is simply to stop feeding the war machine with the blood of our own children. If we do that, perhaps it will make it harder for our leaders to take the lives of other people’s children.


    1. I appreciate you sharing your perspective…especially about not feeding the war-machine with the blood of our children. I would like to think that most people would understand this perspective, but many don’t. It’s quite curious.

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