31 January 2010: To Be an American
I am more than 500 pages through Howard Zinn's comprehensive history of this country from 1492 to the present. More than previously, I am in a turmoil about the contradictory nature of patriotism. All that we have has been gained over the dead bodies of the vast majority of the Indian nations and the brutal enslavement and continuous racism against "people of color" who co-habit the greatest democracy in the history of the world.
Those of us with our heads above the turbulent waters of the current recession survive it over the harsh labor of the working classes if they're employed full-or part-time, while so many are unemployed despite the happy statistics of recovery; others homeless shivering for pennies on the street or overcrowded sharing shelter with relatives or friends. "Help wanted" . . . if you happen to live overseas and want employment with many American economic supernovas.
All this has been written before by me as well as others--even the observation that if the economy were turned upside down I'd feel as sorry for the oppressed as ever, human nature being what it is. Can we inhabit a nation where wealth is equally distributed? Did we inhabit that nation back in the fifties when the wealthy paid much higher taxes? At that time also attention was paid to the infrastructure, including Eisenhower's innovation of the Interstates we all travel grumbling at the pollution and the weather that is always worse than what's going on farther inland--those areas that receive lower priority whenever snow plowing is needed.
During the fifties, far more than 14 percent of the workforce was effectively unionized and the middle class thrived, still over the bodies of the underclasses, but in far larger numbers than today.
Of course, there was the cold war mentality that kept us as frightened as we are today of terrorist attacks. There were those awful air-raid drills and bomb shelters, culminating in the Cuba Missile Crisis, resolved by the dismantling of well-nigh useless and outdated warheads aimed at the Soviet Union. I remember that time vividly--how for the first time in my life my parents admitted to inability to do anything about it, inability to make things better--the entire middle class nirvana hung on the slender thread of diplomacy. We survived that.
In my "umble opinion, pace my respected colleagues of the ACLU, I'd much rather be searched in Metro stations than be blown to smithereens by a terrorist attack. My only reservation is that the successful attacks always succeed by novel, unanticipated methodology or unexpected targets. Otherwise they are caught in the act, most of the time.
So once again, as in the fifties, we live in fear. The term "Communist" sent shivers down my spine the way "terrorist" does now. Back in the fifties, we had a neighbor everyone shunned because he was a Communist. I remember collecting for UNICEF and knocking at his door, recalling he was a Communist only when I heard him approaching and fled with terror as I heard him call out gently, "Marta, where are you going?"
To the next house, next door, to collect from good, solid Democrats or Republicans. Not from a Communist who would have been as willing to donate as anyone else, to win some acceptance in our frightened, paranoid neighborhood.