Saturday, July 4, 2015

America's national myth is an insult to the victims of the British Empire



Today is July 4th, when everyone writes their requisite attack on American imperialist narrative. This is one of those, about the false division of American colonies and the British Empire.

Every year Americans celebrate July 4th, a holiday celebrating the adoption of a document they unironically call "The Declaration of Independence". There are many objections to celebrating this holiday, and I could write an entire article about that. But today I want to say something entirely different: that to celebrate July 4th is to validate the narrative that America was OPPRESSED by the British Empire, and that this is the reason for their 'revolution' against it. In doing so, Americans show no respect for the suffering this Empire inflicted on much of the world. They equate the life of an English colonial in an illegitimate settlement to that of someone who had their lands conquered by a vile imperial machine. It says that the 'suffering' of a merchant who had to pay taxes is equal to that of someone who cannot speak the language of their parents, because it was beaten out of them.

Let's look at this insensitive national myth, then. America is the promised land where all who yearn for freedom from hitherto written history can come to forge A NEW DESTINY FOR HUMANITY. Those who had written this history would not have this, and launched brutal campaigns to put a stop to it. Luckily, THE GOOD GUYS WON - and today we benefit from their victory. We benefit SO MUCH that the world is constantly on the verge of world war as the descendants of these victors try to hold on to global dominance. What a great myth.

In this myth, America denies its true nature at the time: a colony of the British Empire, intended to extract wealth from stolen land. Obviously the Empire at the behest of which this occurred would want a cut of this. To create the image that a colonial entity could be oppressed by the Empire that it is an inseparable part of, America had to be positioned as something more than that. This is often done by the deification of the 'founding fathers'. By floating the notion that these men had bold new ideas which would bestow previously unattainable liberties on human beings. The American state, then, gains legitimacy from being the fulfillment and defender of their VAST contribution to human thought. In reality there was nothing new about their thought, and the way they set it out specifically intended to enshrine property rights as having primacy, as their major influence John Locke did.

Other fabrications move in for support: religious extremists opting for a colonial life become refugees (despite having taken up residence in the Netherlands, a nation friendly to their Calvinist beliefs) seeking religious freedom in the New World. When this is said, we must of course forget that they do not exist separately from the colonization of this 'new world'. No, America is some sort of blank slate and all decisions to migrate there were made in a vacuum. The taking of land from First Nations peoples (by trickery, force and ultimately genocide) is here merely a mistake, or a decision that circumstances forced on colonists, rather than an undeniable part of colonial goals. It has to be this way if the British Empire is to be seen as entirely external to the American colonies. This view allows the narrative that while Britain had the traditional evil colonial desires, AMERICANS merely wanted to live free and in peace.

A popular American saying is that the colonists were "at first welcomed" by the tribes who's lands they trespassed on. They go on to imply that these tribes were so 'primitive' that they did not understand colonial intentions at all, and only resisted when it was too late. But this is not true. Every step a British colonial took on American soil is stained with native blood. The period of peace, especially the story celebrated during Thanksgiving, is a complete fiction.

The American 'revolutionary' narrative often begins in 1765, as this is when the 'tyrannical' Stamp Act was passed, and colonial rhetoric shifted towards the unlawfulness of this and prior attempts by the Crown to extract wealth from its colonial enterprise (which had been hard. colonists had resorted to all sorts of tricks to dodge duties and taxes for decades now. You know, as multinationals do today). To the ahistorical American narrative, there is No Reason For This. In reality, the British Empire had by this time fought several wars both in Europe and in North America and badly needed revenue. The taxes were never even that high. That British troops were eventually stationed in the colonies was large part because people had at this point taken to ASSAULTING the officials tasked with collecting taxes and duties.

When you believe in the 'revolutionary' narrative, you play into the hands of the rich colonists who wanted to be the uncrowned kings of this new world. They wanted to keep their ill-gotten wealth entirely to themselves. Much of the popular support the revolt achieved was down to more apolitical reasons as well: many saw a chance to annul their debts to British investors. In a categorization of revolutions in history, America's can only find a place next to the 'color revolutions' they instigate elsewhere to destabilize uncooperative nations.

But lets go back to the claim that the colonies had no representation in British parliament, and that this made taxing them unconscionable. This argument is entirely based in British law, and on the colonists' "rights as Englishmen"; which really throws a wrench into the whole clean break from the past thing. It performs the same literalist reading of the 1689 Bill of Rights that Americans now do with their own constitution. It takes a document with a historical context and then applies the desired reading of it to the current situation. But this bill was never written with colonial subjects in mind. It was ultimately just rhetoric. The British responded with their own - that colonials were 'virtually represented' in Parliament, so justifying taxation on them. No one really went for this line, but we must take it as just as legitimate as an argument from the 1689 Bill of Rights.

You'll notice that here I often appeal to the authority of the British Empire, as if it were legitimate. Of course, it isn't. But the arguments of the revolting colonials require an undefined stance on legitimacy. They simultaneously claim rights granted by the British state, but also reject it as having authority over them. They claim the legitimacy of their British colonial states, but reject the Crown on behalf of which the colonies operate.

Instead of being dragged into a boring discussion about the merits of the half-baked liberalism of 'revolutionary' America and its demands, we must force Americans to make a choice.

Either:

The British Empire is illegitimate, making the Thirteen Colonies illegitimate occupiers in North America.

The American colonies were legitimate states and the colonials had the right to occupy North American soil, and so by extension the Empire of which they are colonial ventures is legitimate as well.

My choice is the first option.

Now we get to the main point: that to claim that America was ever 'oppressed' by Britain, and that this required a bombastic Declaration of Independence from them, spits in the face of all victims of British Imperialism.

Can America's 'oppression' by the British Empire be compared to anything at all? Can it be compared even to the acts of England on the British Isles? As colonists, no land that was theirs could have been taken from them. Neither was their culture or language suppressed.

When Britain wrapped its claws around the Indian subcontinent, it throttled the life out of it for centuries. It did to a civilization what prolonged starvation does to a body.

When the Empire set foot in Australia, it declared it empty. It considered the peoples of Australia as mere fauna, and treated them as such.

In Africa the atrocities are so numerous and shocking that I do not trust myself to write a sentence that does not ignore the majority of them.

In the Middle East, they - what's that? You want me to stop because you've gotten it by now? But I haven't even gotten a quarter of the way into listing the areas of the world this Empire has devastated, and which you are insulting.

America is illegitimate. Its 'revolution' is illegitimate. It is a blight on this world, and you should spend as much of this July 4th as possible reading about the crimes it has committed. But you should leave some time to read about the actions of the British Empire. And you should ask yourself: "do I really want to claim that America was among its victims?".

Happy July 4th. The American Century is over, and a new world is coming. Eat your hotdog with this in mind.

1 comment :

  1. you could just read this out as a speech and it'd win any rap battle

    ReplyDelete