Essay Non-Fiction posted January 23, 2012


Exceptional
This work has reached the exceptional level
Thoughts on a dynamic focus on history

A Product of Where We've Been

by bhogg

Americans are arrogant. I should know. I am one. Don't get me wrong. I'm very proud of my heritage and all that it represents. I do think we need to take a deep breath and try to understand why other peoples on this Earth aren't so crazy about us.

Sometimes, I think that arrogance comes about because of our tendency to view history in a static, fixed way. Unfortunately, history is not static, but dynamic. As Americans, we expect the rest of the world to be exactly like us, right now! It's easy to overlook the journey that brought us to where we are today. I can think of hundreds of examples, so would like to share a few.

I was in Singapore on business in 1987. During an economic summit, former Chinese Leader, Deng Xiapong was pushed during an interview with a simple question. "When, if ever, will China experience free, national elections?" You could almost see the cogs spinning in his head before he answered, "Yes, China will experience national elections in about fifty years." He was summarily criticized in the United States for his answer. It was actually considered flippant. I've done business in Asia, and I thought his answer was quite good. The American paradigm focuses on this instant. To the Chinese, fifty years represents the blink of an eye.

It's easy to criticize the Chinese, but take a look at our own history. Stretch yourself for just a moment to recognize the dynamic nature of history. What did the United States look like fifty years prior to 1987, or 1937? Women in our country were still new to the voting process, having been allowed the right to vote via the 19th Amendment, passed in 1920. The amendment wasn't easy to pass. There were few women in political office, and there was a strong opposition to extend this right. Not that it matters, but I do feel obligated to point out that the measure was pushed by Republicans and largely opposed by Democrats. Blacks were granted the right to vote by the fifteenth amendment in 1870. Significant opposition remained against their right to vote until passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. The bottom line is that our profile for free elections wasn't pretty in 1937. The truth be known, it is still flawed. Yet, our expectation is for other countries to be just like us, right now.

My son was recently visiting, and we stayed up one night and watched the movie "Pearl Harbor." If you haven't seen it, great flick. To me, more of a love story than a war story. My son made the comment, "Weren't the Japanese terrible, attacking like that and all?" The answer is yes, they were. It was mean, deceitful and just plain sneaky; certainly not the American way.

Jump forward to 1945. The war was winding down as the United States pressed ever closer to Japan. A bit of history that is often overlooked involves B-29 bomber raids over Japan. The B-29 was a fabulous airplane, unlike anything seen at the time. They did have a problem carrying out pinpoint strategic bombing. Flying at 30,000 feet and even with the use of precision bomb sights, they were rarely on target. General Curtis Lemay decided instead that blanket bombing raids on cities might do a better job of undermining the morale of the Japanese people. There you have it; the American strategy was to kill civilians. On March 10, 1945, a massive fire raid took place in Tokyo. In parts of the city, the fires joined to create firestorms. It is thought that over 100,000 people were killed in this raid. This was more deaths than occurred in the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of course, the death tolls from the latter increased over time and lasted decades. We still remain the only country on Earth to use nuclear weapons against others.

It should be noted that Curtis Lemay didn't just come up with this strategy independently. A similar fire raid took place over Dresden Germany in February of 1945. Dresden was a city of no strategic importance and its population was swelled with refugees escaping advances of the Russian Army. In a fire raid primarily carried out by our British allies, more civilians were killed in two days than the combined number from the atomic blasts and Japanese fire raids. Some estimates are as high as 500,000 people.

Yep, those Japanese were mean bastards alright.

Since I'm dwelling on the Second World War, let's look at another scenario unfolding in Nazi Germany, the Holocaust. This was a program of state sponsored murder of over six million European Jews. When you throw in the murder of other groups such as gypsies, Polish and Russian citizens, homosexuals and other political and religious opponents, that number probably doubles. Certainly, this has to be one of the most heinous state supported tragedies of all time.

The Soviet Union and Communist China soon made those numbers pale in comparison to deaths created in programs of their own. As Americans, we also have our own sin that you just don't read much about.

Remember the little ditty from school, "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue ..." It doesn't conclude this way, but could go on and say, and things were never again the same for American Indians. Conservative estimates put the population of the United States at that time at over 12 million. In four centuries, that number was reduced by 95%, to approximately 237 thousand. Of course, in the early years of America, it was the Spanish and the English who were pouring it on the Indians. After the mid 1600's, it was primarily the Americans. If you have a strong stomach, do a little research and read about some of the atrocities committed by American's. The Wounded Knee massacre occurred as recently as 1890. That is just a little over one hundred years ago. In the Chinese way of thinking, just the blink of an eye.

I'm not an old person, having turned sixty-two last year. As a very young boy, my closest friend was an old black man named Virgil Gates. He was over 90 years old when we met. I was six years old. I bring this up for a reason. Virgil's mother and father were slaves. What that means to me is that in little more than an arm's length in time, there was slavery in the United States of America. We are so quick to criticize other countries when all around us is not always glowing.

Perhaps some of you will be upset with this essay. I write it, not because I'm not proud of America or of being an American myself. I am proud. I've personally represented this Country in the military, as has my brother and father, great-grandfather and others. In fact, my father was a B-29 crew member on that Tokyo raid. Sit down with him some time over a drink, and he might tell you some things that are uncomfortable to hear. While you're at it, ask him to tell some stories about his great-grandmother who was a Cherokee Indian from North Georgia. Some of those stores aren't pleasant either.

We are a great nation and have tons of things to be proud of.  Sometimes though, when we pull those metaphorical shorts down, we should recognize .... those aren't nicotine stains.  We're not perfect.













Story of the Month contest entry

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Thanks to jgrace for the wonderful image of the world all wrapped up.

Several internet sites were used for research, to include Wikpedia and the History Learning Site.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.


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