"Why do you hate America?" This is a remarkably easy question to provoke. One might, for instance, expose elements of this nation's brutal foreign policy. Ask a single probing question about, say, U.S. complicity in the overthrow of governments in Guatemala, Iran, or Chile and thin-skinned patriots (sic) will come out of the woodwork to defend their country's honor by accusing you of being "anti-American." Of course, this allegation might lead me to ponder how totalitarian a culture this must be to even entertain such a concept, but I'd rather employ the vaunted Arundhati defense. The incomparable Ms. Roy says: "What does the term 'anti-American' mean? Does it mean you are anti-jazz or that you're opposed to freedom of speech? That you don't delight in Toni Morrison or John Updike? That you have a quarrel with giant sequoias?" (I'm a tree hugger remember? I don't argue with sequoias.)
When pressed, I sometimes reply: "I don't hate America. In fact, think it's one of the best countries anyone ever stole." But, after the laughter dies down, I have a confession to make: If by "America" they mean the elected/appointed officials and the corporations that own them, well, I guess I do hate that America-with justification.
Among many reasons, I hate America for the near-extermination and subsequent oppression of its indigenous population. I hate it for its role in the African slave trade and for dropping atomic bombs on civilians. I hate its control of institutions like the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization. I hate it for propping up brutal dictators like Suharto, Pinochet, Duvalier, Hussein, Marcos, and the Shah of Iran. I hate America for its unconditional support for Israel. I hate its bogus two-party system, its one-size-fits-all culture, and its income gap. I could go on for pages but I'll sum up with this: I hate America for being a hypocritical white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
After a paragraph like that, you know what comes next: If you hate America so much, why don't you leave? Leave America? That would potentially put me on the other end of U.S. foreign policy. No thanks.
I like how Paul Robeson answered that question before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1956: "My father was a slave and my people died to build this country, and I'm going to stay right here and have a part of it, just like you. And no fascist-minded people like you will drive me from it. Is that clear?"
Since none of my people died to build anything, I rely instead on William Blum, who declares, "I'm committed to fighting U.S. foreign policy, the greatest threat to peace and happiness in the world, and being in the United States is the best place for carrying out the battle. This is the belly of the beast, and I try to be an ulcer inside of it."
Needless to say, none of the above does a damn thing to placate the yellow ribbon crowd. It seems what offends flag-wavers most is when someone like me makes use of the freedom they claim to adore. According to their twisted logic, I am ungrateful for my liberty if I have the audacity to exercise it. If I make the choice to not salute the flag during the seventh inning stretch at Yankee Stadium, somehow I'm not worthy of having the freedom to make the choice to not salute the flag during the seventh inning stretch at Yankee Stadium. These so-called patriots not only claim to celebrate freedom while refusing my right to exploit it, they also ignore the social movements that fought for and won such freedoms.
There's plenty of tolerated public outcry against the Bush administration and the occupation of Iraq, but it's neither fashionable nor acceptable to go as far as saying, no, I do not support the troops and yes, I hate what America does. Fear of recrimination allows the status quo to control the terms of debate. Until we voice what is in our hearts and have the nerve to admit what we hate...we will never create something that can be loved.
Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.