Who We Are

     “That’s not who we are.”
     President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton both said that this week after a U.S. Army sergeant slaughtered 16 people in Afghanistan, most of them women and children.
     Sorry, Mr. President and Madame Secretary: You can’t make murder go away with words.
     That Is Who We Are.
     I do not say “allegedly slaughtered” or “an alleged U.S. Army sergeant.”
     There is nothing alleged about it.
     The children and women are really dead.
     Who We Are is the world’s most powerful country, which sends children with guns all around the world to kill people whose language we cannot speak.
     This is not a knock on U.S. soldiers, except on the sergeant whose name the U.S. government is hiding from the world.
     U.S. soldiers are Only Following Orders.
     The sergeant wasn’t following orders, of course.
     He did it himself.
     But we made it possible for him to do it.
     President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, the United States Congress and all 300 million of us are kidding ourselves if we say, and pretend to believe, that “That’s not who we are.”
     In my lifetime, the United States has invaded, sent U.S. citizens to kill people in, and/or dropped bombs on Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Korea, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Vietnam, Yemen, and (the former) Yugoslavia.
     That’s what we know for sure.
     The CIA estimates the population of those countries is more than 1 billion.
     Give or take a few hundred thousand dead people.
     To paraphrase Sam Spade telling Bridget Wonderly why she had to go to jail in “The Maltese Falcon”: Maybe some of those murders were defensible – maybe none of them were – but look at the number of them.
     Along the way, the U.S. government – that’s you and me – has tortured people, or suborned torture, in Afghanistan, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Iraq, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Vietnam, in secret CIA prisons God knows where, and right here in the United States.
     That’s what we know for sure.
     How, then, can President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton claim, “That’s not who we are”?
     It is who we are.
     I know, I know: China does the same or worse every day to its own people; so do Vladimir Putin’s Russia, North Korea, Myanmar, and on and on.
     So what?
     We’re Not Them.
     We’re the United States of America.
     We are, for my money, the greatest country in the history of the world.
     Our country was based, once upon a time, upon the Declaration of Independence, which criticized the King of England for restricting immigration to our shores.
     Our country was based, once upon a time, upon the Constitution, which guaranteed the separation of church and state.
     Once upon a time, our country did not outsource torture, or jobs, or allow rich people to hire other rich people to write our laws, which our state and federal legislatures – that’s the United States Congress – duly approved.
     Once upon a time, racists and the political parties that support them called people of another race a filthy name outright, instead of slinging the word “socialist.”
     But, as Mr. Shakespeare said, that was in another country. Besides, the wench is dead.

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