Some years ago, a newspaper article credited a European visitor with the wry observation that Americans are charming because they have such short memories. When it comes to the nation’s wars, however, he was not entirely on target. Americans embrace military histories of the heroic “band of [American] brothers” sort, especially involving World War II. They possess a seemingly boundless appetite for retellings of the Civil War, far and away the country’s most devastating conflict where American war deaths are concerned.
Certain traumatic historical moments such as “the Alamo” and “Pearl Harbor” have become code words – almost mnemonic devices – for reinforcing the remembrance of American victimization at the hands of nefarious antagonists. Thomas Jefferson and his peers actually established the baseline for this in the nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, which enshrines recollection of “the merciless Indian Savages” – a self-righteous demonization that turned out to be boilerplate for a succession of later perceived enemies. “September 11th” has taken its place in this deep-seated invocation of violated innocence, with an intensity bordering on hysteria.
Such “victim consciousness” is not, of course, peculiar to Americans. In Japan after World War II, this phrase – higaisha ishiki in Japanese – became central to leftwing criticism of conservatives who fixated on their country’s war dead and seemed incapable of acknowledging how grievously Imperial Japan had victimized others, millions of Chinese and hundreds of thousands of Koreans foremost among them. When present-day Japanese cabinet members visit Yasukuni Shrine, where the emperor’s deceased soldiers and sailors are venerated, they are stoking victim consciousness and roundly criticized for doing so by the outside world, including the U.S. media.
Worldwide, war memorials and memorial days ensure preservation of such selective remembrance. My home state of Massachusetts also does this to this day by flying the black-and-white “POW-MIA” flag of the Vietnam War at various public places, including Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox — still grieving over those fighting men who were captured or went missing in action and never returned home.
In one form or another, populist nationalisms today are manifestations of acute victim consciousness. Still, the American way of remembering and forgetting its wars is distinctive for several reasons….
Simon Jenkins: It has taken 20 years to prove the invasion of Afghanistan was totally unnecessary
The fall of Kabul was inevitable. It marks the end of a post-imperial western fantasy. Yet the west’s reaction beggars belief. Call it a catastrophe, a humiliation, a calamitous mistake, if it sounds good. All retreats from empire are messy. This one took 20 years, but the end was at least swift. The US had no need to invade Afghanistan. The country was never a “terrorist state” like Libya or Iran. It was not at war with the US; indeed the US had aided its rise to power against the Russians in 1996.
The Taliban had hosted Osama bin Laden in his mountain lair through his friendship with the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar. At an immediate post-9/11 “loya jirga” in the southern city of Kandahar, younger leaders pressed the mullah to expel Bin Laden. Pakistan would probably have forced his surrender sooner or later. After the 2001 invasion the US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld demanded that George Bush “punish and get out”. Yet neither Bush nor Tony Blair listened. Instead they experienced a rush of blood to the head. They commandeered Nato, which had no dog in the fight, and began “nation building”, as if nations were made of Lego….
Chris Hedges: The Collective Suicide Machine
Chauncey DeVega: Trump is mentally ill but our real sickness runs much deeper
America isn’t breaking. It was already broken. By Andrew Gawthorpe // Why This Time Is Different. By Dahlia Lithwick
TOM ENGELHARDT: A World at the Edge
Alfred McCoy: The crumbling delusion of Washington’s endless world dominion
William Astore: The U.S. Military’s Lost Wars // Chris Hedges: The American Empire Will Collapse Within a Decade, Two at Most
Andrew Bacevich: High Crimes and Misdemeanors of the Fading American Century