Wednesday, June 25, 2008

William James: American Traitor

For months, Rev. Jeremiah Wright was cursed as an anti-American traitor for pronouncing "god DAMN America!" for its treatment of African-Americans. With his words, Rev. Wright entered a proud heritage. In his excellent book Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, Stephen Kinzer discusses the United States' grisly war against Filipino rebels, during which our troops killed innocents and tortured POWs. As blogger Velvel noted two years ago, news of these atrocities sparked a backlash among American intellectuals:
There was a backlash for a while against some of this, at least among some of our prominent citizens. Noted anti imperialist “Mark Twain, whom some think is still our greatest writer, suggested that the time had come to redesign the American flag with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and crossbones.” (Kinzer, p.54.) The great philosopher, William James, “said that Americans were guilty of ‘murdering another culture’ and concluded one of his speeches by declaring ‘God damn the U.S. for its vile conduct in the Philippines!’” (Kinzer, p.54.)
I wonder if any prominent politician felt the need to "dissociate" themselves from one of America's most innovative philosophers.

Rev. Wright has his flaws, and hsi thinking in many respects is bogged down by shadowy conspiracy theories unsupported by evidence. Some of his ideas ought to be rejected. The idea that America is stained by its treatment of minorities is not one of them. As James shows, the emotion Rev. Wright expressed wasn't even unique. Good citizens hold their governments and their cultures accountable.

You can read more excerpts from this chapter, "Bound for Goo-Goo Land", on Third World Traveler. I'll be highlighting more amazing excerpts as the week wears on. Kinzer provides a damning historical context that our so-called press never saw fit to highlight in the run-up to the Iraq occupation.