Taking stock of our own history, it 's important to remember that the rationale for the Gold Rush was not just gold digging, it was empire building. Our predecessors may have begun on the east coast, but their predecessors were a few lone European navigators who were convinced they could head west to get to someplace east. As the settlers settled in, so did the mindset of bigger is better and size does matter. That mantra seemed to creep into our culture and become part of our heritage, and Americans just kept on trucking. Over the river and through the woods, go west young man and we did. Until that is - we were met by the Pacific, which seemed a natural border. Never mind that the restless natives had fuzzy borders anyway and that Spain 's reach couldn 't hold onto its grasp. Our aggressive nature just rolled them over it was our destiny, it was said manifestly true because we said so. It was America 's God-given right to extend from sea to sea.
Then came the age of transportation, and trains and planes made it easier to keep going west. After all, we never said which sea would be the shining sea at the border. So westward ho, oceans can 't stop us now, don 't change course, head west, and before you know it, we proudly annex Hawaii, Guam and the Philippines (and a few other lesser islands/atolls that are largely uninhabited after all you never know when some little island will come in handy what with the real estate bubble these days.). If we couldn 't own them, we at least permanently borrowed them, marking our territory with American-style military cities imposed in the middle of a foreign culture. Well, you can 't say we didn 't try in Vietnam but it was our first real failure to secure foreign lands (and thus the 'shame ' of Vietnam on our spotless imperial legacy). The world may be getting smaller but our reach keeps getting longer.
Seems that the neo-cons were looking west when everyone thought it was east they were after; really, it just depends on which way the wind blows. Like the relative morality the conservative pundits like to accuse the left of lapsing in, cardinal directions are relative, like sin.
As the world turns, we 're now facing what is known as the Middle East, and instead of a gold rush it 's an oil rush. There are plenty of get-rich-quick schemes, many of them legal because, well, they said so, and as we air-drop the forts and fortresses, killing off the natives with automatic artillery and depleted uranium instead of rifles and smallpox, the U.S. once again shapes the world in its own image.
The perfect leader for such a mission is W. himself who believes that he was appointed not by the Supreme Court but by the Supreme Being to continue the American tradition. I guess if you believe that God has created a Hallmark moment exclusively for you, that it 's your personal destiny to remake the world in your own image and images are what your policy is made of, then you feel justified in smirking at anyone who dares to question you. (True believers don 't have to ask.)
When the 19th century Congress unleashed the movement West, they used the manifest destiny card to justify the means. Thousands of natives were killed in the process. (The fact that it took another 100 plus years before we stopped officially calling the native peoples 'Indians ' tells you something about the sense of direction we inherited from our ancestral 'navigators ' who thought they had arrived due east of their starting point although they were headed west all the way.) The determined foot-soldiers who forged the path over the mountains endured terrible hardships only to find an empty pot.
In the 21st century update, our brave foot-soldiers are being sent east on a goose chase to grab the black gold that fuels our democracy. Like their earlier counterparts, what they are finding is a smoke screen and an empty pot of rhetoric about lofty ideals. The only folks invited to the oil rush party are the energy companies that molded the legislation giving them the rights to dig in a free for all except the rest of us who have to pay for it. The 'Indians ' finally figured it out: If they cut the politicos into their pot of gold, Americans would come and empty their pockets of all their in-god-we-trust coins, hoping to get-rich-quick, leaving without a pot to piss in.
So the circle is complete - from the cradle of civilization around the globe and back to the future as we dig ourselves deeper into the black sink hole that ripples from Iraq. Where is our destiny card now?
©Lynne Glasner 2005
Lynne Glasner is a freelance an editor and writer in NYC. Her latest editing is on Danny Schechter 's book, When News Lies: Media Complicity and the Iraq War, to be published in this fall by SelectBooks.
She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org