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?