Yuval Noah Harari, the Israeli historian and author of Sapiens and Homo Deus, recently wrote: “When a thousand people believe some made up story for a month – that’s fake news. When a billion people believe it for a thousand years – that’s a religion”; and, “Questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you cannot question.”
The furore which confronted New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, when he asked whether America had ever been great, are an indication of the relevance of Harari’s views – in this case about the civic religion to which many Americans subscribe and the limitations on what citizens can question without being attacked as Cuomo was.
To illustrate this it is probably best to start with American founding myths of greatness around liberty, the rights of man and all that soaring stuff in the Declaration of Independence. Of which Samuel Johnson said: “How is that we hear the loudest yelps of liberty among the drivers of negroes?” So, in the spirit of Harari and the Great Cham of literature the blog started to think about when America was great, when it was not and how, if those myths were to be challenged, what were the questions which ought to be asked? It doesn’t take much time to think of a few. For instance……..
Was America great when the European settlers massacred First Nations inhabitants, deprived them of their land and continued doing so for centuries more?
Was America great when Salem executed ‘witches’?
Was America great when indentured labourers were treated as slaves?
Was America great when it started importing African slaves and kept both their descendants and cargo-loads of successors enslaved for centuries?
Was America great when civil rights leaders were murdered in the 1960s and peaceful protestors were assaulted by police?
Was America great when its revolutionaries rallied support from the white populace by asserting that if the British won they would liberate the slaves?
Was America great when a President, Thomas Jefferson, impregnated his slave companion and preppy guides at Monticello were still denying it in the 1990s when the blog visited?
Was America great when it invaded Mexico and annexed much of its land?
Was America great when the defeated Confederates mounted vicious terrorist acts against African-Americans and Reconstruction?
Was American great when it deprived African-Americans of the vote for more than a century after it was granted them at Reconstruction?
Was America great when they effectively annexed the Philippines and Cuba in a war started on false pretences promulgated by a media baron?
Was America great when it invaded Central American countries to protect United Fruits’ interests?
Was America great when robber barons used Pinkertons and the military to break up strikes and shoot workers?
Was America great when the Palmer raids were launched against foreigners and trade unionists?
Was America great when it put up barriers in the 1920s and 1930s to European immigrants?
Was America great when it turned away the St Louis and thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany?
Was America great when it interned Japanese American citizens during WWII?
Was America great when it pioneered enforced sterilisation and eugenics policies which were endorsed by the Supreme Court; studied by the Germans; employed in the Final Solution; and, cited by Nazi war criminal doctors as justification during their post-war trials?
Was America great when it carried out the Tuskegee study of untreated syphilis in African-American airmen?
Was America great when it launched the McCarthyite communist witch hunts?
Was America great when J. Edgar Hoover spied on millions of Americans including Presidents?
Was America great when it assassinated four Presidents and shot another 10?
Was America great when it intervened in the Vietnam War and left millions dead?
Was America great when it indiscriminately bombed Cambodia and Laos killing thousands and rendering fields unsafe to farm for decades after because of unexploded bombs?
Was America great when it organised coups in South Vietnam, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and the Congo?
Was America great when it embraced dictators, drug lords and war criminals?
Was American great when it organised a coup against the democratically elected Mossadegh Government in Iran; materially supported Iraq in its invasion of Iran; and, today claims it is sanctioning Iran to make its people “free”?
Was America great when it embraced the Saudi Arabian regime and sat idly by as its Salafist theology fostered world-wide terrorism and Saudi citizens mounted the 9/11 attacks?
Was America great when it invaded Iraq and Afghanistan inciting terrorism around the world?
Was America great when it tortured people during the so-called War on Terror?
Was America great when it separated children from their parents at borders and cannot reunite them because they simply don’t have their name?
Was America great when it began to undo all the environmental legislation and regulation which had been implemented over decades?
Was America great when its government denied the existence of climate change and set out to dismantle policies and agreements which might combat it?
And, of course,
Was America great when it elected Donald Trump as President?
And, also of course – should Australians remember the old adage about people in glass houses?