Bogeymen, strawmen and cowardly lions
I couldn’t sleep last night and for some reason, I started thinking about how American presidents seem to personify America itself for that particular decade as well as how America is perceived by outsiders. That, in turn led to a musing about how America seems to have had a bogeyman for most of its history in one form or another. (The one about American presidents will have to wait for a blog entry on another day … :p)
But before I get into that, a few disclaimers When I say America, I use it in the sense of either the American government or in the sense of what I call "greater America" – it’s that amorphous, faceless mass that get characterized as an entire nation, not the individuals. I know a lot of Americans and most of them have been good, kind, caring people – just like everybody elsewhere. But "greater America" is more like a mob animal – it’s the overall impression that a nation gives and this, with regards to America, is not usually pleasant. And I’m constantly surprised by this duality. Or maybe I shouldn’t be, since this seems to be part of human nature in its many varied forms. But I digress, so back on track …
The reason that "greater America" is seen in such a negative light might be the fact that it has been confrontational (or pugilistic) most of its lifetime. Now note, some of the conclusions I draw later on might not be historically (or statistically) accurate but my impressions are drawn from popular culture (books, TV shows, movies) and that’s what shapes the impressions of most people – not historical fact. (The statement that "history is written by the winners" dovetails into this but that’s another tangent :p)
We have the birth of America and the war against the Red Coats. Then you had the fractured internecine civil war where the bogeyman was either the Rebels or the Yankees. Then you had the heathen redskin who had to be put down. Next you had to go to war against the Kaiser and immediately after, it was the Jerries (or Huns or Krauts if you prefer) again. Then it continued on with Russkies, Commies, pinkos, Charlie (better known as the VC or Viet Cong) till you got to modern times and met Al Quaeeda, Taliban, Islamists, Axis of Evil, Islamofacists … what-have-you. Always somebody to hate, always somebody to fight.
Of course, the interesting fact is that you can trace similar lines (perhaps not as clearly) for most nations and for the whole of humanity. It’s just that I was thinking about America when I started the speculation and the different instances came up easily without having to do any research at all. But the critical factor is that this is our history (our as in humanity’s) – our pattern of operation. We always seem to need somebody to blame, somebody to fight, somebody to put down. Why is it that we cannot fight hunger, corruption, hatred, injustice and prejudice with as much vigour? Is it because we need a face to our opponents? Or is it because we need our opponents to be human?
I wish I knew …