Thursday, November 3, 2011

American “nation” worship: a figment of imagination

After reading the political classic by Gore Vidal, The American Presidency, I have thought about what I consider to be the American imperial machine. Part of that is the belief in nationalism.
               First one must understand what nationalism means. The Pan-Nationalist Movement gives a fine definition of the world. They write in response to a Frequently Asked Question: “Nationalism is the belief that political groups should be constructed around the idea of "nation," or population group unified by culture, heritage and language. As such, Nationalist is "rule by culture" where cultural values come before profit motive or popularity, which enables forward-thinking leadership instead. With profit motive, every object and idea and person is for sale, and society leads itself in circles. With leadership, society determines its goals and moves toward them.” Later, the website mentions the idea of a nation + a state (country), called a nation-state. This concept is abstract and it tries to unify its populations who have little in common on a cultural or ethnic level, and so become competing cultures. These [nation-states] usually take the form of an absolute which will never be demonstrated as being singularly right or wrong, like "freedom" or "free trade," but in the absence of cultural unity what brings people together is economics. Economics thus replaces culture, and soon every object and idea and person is for sale. Many American politicians today follow the opposite belief of Pan-Nationalism, the idea that each ethnic/cultural group gets their own nation. These political figures try to advance America toward a pure nation-state, where profit is the ultimate motive and where the people are one culture. But that is not possible in the “melting pot” of the United States.
               It all started with President George Washington. Adding the states of Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee during his two terms (1789-1796) led to a push to take over the whole continent. Then, under Thomas Jefferson (early 1800s), unilaterally, without the consent of Congress, the 885,000 square miles, the “Louisiana Purchase” was bought for over $27 million. This expanded the United States further westward. Many years later, in the 1830s, Andrew Jackson continued that tradition. During his presidency, 93 treaties were broken with Indian tribes and under the Indian Removal Act; Indians were forced across the Mississippi River, all in the name of expansion. James Polk continued on, adding Texas, California and much of the southwest in a two-year war with Mexico, called the training ground for the Civil War. That brings me to Abraham Lincoln, who just wanted to “preserve the union” but through dictatorial means. Newspapers were shut down, habeas corpus was suspended, the Supreme Court was defied and martial law was declared in several states all in the name of “military necessity” and preserving the union. The word union can be easily swapped with “nation,” so in essence he was the creator of the idea: America is a nation. While I would go through the rest of history with invalid presidents like Rutherford B. Hayes, talk about the planning of the American empire by four figures in politics (Captain Mahan, geopolitical thinker Brooks Adams, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Teddy Roosevelt and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge), imperialistic President William McKinley and so on, I will reserve that for a future discussion.
               What must be discussed is the idea that America is a nation. To do that, I’d like to look at what President Obama has said about it and go from there. In a recent speech about climate change, the President spoke about: “the Nation's future health and economic prosperity” and how “The Federal Government will work in partnership with states and local communities to help make our nation more resilient.” So, is he trying to say that all of those who live in this country are part of one nation? That doesn’t follow proper logic. Native Americans, who I mentioned earlier, are on reservations and have their own culture. That makes them not part of the greater “nation.” Also, foreign national and non-citizens including so-called “illegal immigrants,” foreigners, green card workers and others have different cultures. In addition, each ethnic and racial group has its own culture and beliefs. As one writer on AlterNet described it, there are 11-12 different cultures in the United States. This conjures up a number of different questions. Then, how is America a “nation?” Why is the intergovernmental organization, United Nations, not called the United Association of Countries?
               To find out, one must look at the UN Charter itself. The charter calls these entities “our respective governments” in the preamble. But, that’s not all. In Article 1, it states a purpose of the United Nations is to “develop friendly relations among nations.” However,Article 4 clarifies this, supposedly. According these sections “membership in the United Nations is open to all other peace-loving states…[and] the admission of any such state [with]… a decision by the General Assembly [and a]…recommendation of the Security Council.” In Article 14, the words “general welfare or friendly relations among the nations” is mentioned, in Article 32 non-U.N. members are called states and in Article 55 the “friendly relations among nations” is mentioned once again. In Article 110 of the charter it calls on “all signatory states” and “states signatory to the present Charter” to ratify it. As a result, I conclude that the U.N. is not completely clear on the issues, so it unsure if the organization was created to promote nationalism or just the maintaining of states.
               Also to determine the degree of nation worship, one has to investigate our President’s speeches on the matter using the White House search engine. In the wake of Gabrielle Gifford’s shooting in Arizona, Mr. Obama called for the nation to heal its wounds. How can that occur if an American nation is a figment of imagination? To put it simply, a “nation” encompassing all of the territory of the United States of America does NOT exist; it is only divided groups of people. One may ask why this matters. This matters because it eliminates the assumption that there is one common language, history and traditions. American Indians don’t drill in the plateau they live on, trucking water in. Intellectuals on the East Coast get water pumped to them daily. In the end, one must look beyond the “nation worship” rhetoric and see the evils of the American empire, not clouded in extreme patriotism.

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