The U.S. has been a greatly admired world leader. Citizens abroad admire America’s founding fathers, its powerful capitalism and its functioning democracy. The U.S. image was at its highest level when Barack Obama was elected and reelected President of the United States. Obama, an expert in Constitutional Law, favored policies that would advance the lives and happiness of Americans as well as the lives of others around the world.
Then Donald Trump won the 2016 election and so much changed. Trump quickly attacked several enduring American institutions. He accused the liberal press of spreading untruths and “fake news”. He disputed many Supreme Court decisions. He publicly badmouthed a number of well-known citizens. He attacked science by opposing the medical establishment’s measures to control Covid and proposed his own home remedies. He criticized many of our allies including Canada, Mexico, the UK, and other European nations. He viciously attacked the Democratic party and its members. When he lost the 2020 election, he protested that his opponents had stuffed ballot boxes and he began the Big Lie that the election was stolen offering no evidence. He did nothing to stop the tragic Capitol insurrection. The U.S. had lost its traditional norms, its traditional civility and its precious image.
Countries constantly talk about their good words and deeds. Yet we need to be suspect of a country that only highlights its good deeds. No country developed without carrying out a number of wicked actions.
Here are seven American policies where we veered from humane norms and behavior.
- Destroying the Native American culture. Europeans came to America in search of religious freedom and new opportunities. The settlers confronted different Native American tribes with different histories, resources, and values. Some tribes accepted the early settlers and others attacked the early settlers. Some settlers wanted to convert Indians to Christianity and others wanted to kill Indians and take their land. The white settlers won the battles and eventually pushed the Native Americans to live on reservations with few resources. Some white communities removed Indian children from their parents to educate them and “Americanize and Christianize them.” Today, many Native Americans are broken with poor job skills and problems of alcoholism and gambling.
- Establishing Slavery in the U.S. In late August 1619, an English privateer ship arrived at the Virginia peninsula and brought 20 Negroes in exchange for food. The slaves came from Angola and were described as former prisoners of war. Different European business groups entered the slave trade. They brought slaves and auctioned them publicly to plantation owners in the South who put them to work in growing cotton and handling domestic chores. The U.S. finally and officially ended slavery in 1866.
- Reconstruction Period after the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln had a grand vision for the Reconstruction period that would include suffrage and freedmen. After Lincoln’s assassination, President Andrew Johnson granted more power to the Southern states in deciding on reconstruction. The Ku Klux Klan emerged, lynching black men at the least suspicion and removing black person’s civil and human rights. Racial segregation prevailed and racism has continued to this day in the unequal treatment of white and black citizens.
- Internment of Japanese American Citizens during WW2. The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 launched a rash of fear about national security, especially on the West Coast. In February 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 to intern Japanese Americans. These Japanese citizens were forced to move into “relocation centers” for the duration of the war.
- Second Indochina War (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia). The U.S. launched the Second Indochina War on November 1, 1955, bombing Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The U.S. Air Force dropped tons of the herbicide Agent Orange in Vietnam to defoliate vegetation to get a clearer vision of enemy hideouts. Yet Agent Orange brought many diseases to both local and American troops. A tactical bombing campaign devastated Cambodia from March 18, 1969 to May 26, 1970. The Second Indochina War ended with the fall of Saigon to the Communists on April 30, 1975.
- S. Invasion of Iraq. George W. Bush’s government was intent on rallying the American public to approve invading Iraq. The U.S. aim was “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction” and to end Saddam Hussein’s support of terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people. Tony Blair’s U.K. government joined in this intent. Many groups around the world protested against starting this war. Yet General Colin Powell on February 5, 2003 addressed the U.N. Security Council supporting Bush’s claims. The U.S. led its coalition of allies (Britain, Australia, Poland, etc.) to invade Iraq on March 19, 2003. The invasion was completed on May 1, 2003. The case about “weapons of mass destruction” was never proven and even Colin Powell later shared second thoughts about the legitimacy of this invasion. The war and its aftermath led to many deaths of Americans, Iraqi citizens, and citizens of other countries.
Should we Cancel Culture?
Some Americans feel that citizens should feel more patriotic about American history and the greatness of the founding fathers, the Constitution, the economy, and the Democracy. They would like citizens to stop talking about our history of slavery and racism and wars and hope that our history textbooks skip over to be briefer about some sordid actions in American history. This is happening today on the topic of critical race theory (CRT) where some citizens want to downplay or discourage this talk.
I would argue that a nation becomes stronger and prouder when it accepts a full view of its history including its mistakes and inhumane decisions. No nation is free of mistakes. Germany provides an example of a country that is ashamed of its Nazi history and has done much to make reparations for its evil Hitler history. On the other hand, Turkey continues to deny its brutal treatment of one million Armenians during WW1. Japan refuses to make amends for its inhumane treatment of Korean women during WW2. Russia attacks Ukraine with the lie that Ukraine and NATO would have attacked Russia.
We need citizens in all nations to speak the truth about their countries, if we hope to move to a higher level of human aspiration.