What is America?
-- A Short History of the New World Order
Review of a new book by Ronald Wright
(Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008)
a timely and comprehensive look at American history that brings up to date
the currents conflicting in the 2008 presidential election. Fundamentalism
and free enterprise are both here in force from the beginning ... along
with genocide and imperial expansionism. These five hundred years of facts
are disturbing, and Wright does a commendable job of letting the facts speak
for themselves. In like spirit, I will turn the review over to salient quotes
from the book itself:
wealth and freedom would be built on the slaughter of one race and the enslavement
of another. (p. 107)
about the same time [around 1620], the colony ended landholding in common,
a practice that had blunted competition with the Powhatans and among the
whites themselves. When Jamestown’s leaders converted the prime land
into private estates, lesser fry and newcomers had to fan out into the backcountry
and take what they could from the Indians. The self-replicating machinery
of encroachment and conquest that would gnaw its way across the continent
had been installed. (pp. 66-67)
short, Europeans took Africans to America to replace dead Americans [Indians]
and make them grow food, clothing and luxuries for Europeans and the world
market. The economic engine of loot, labour and land had built up steam.
Indians, wrote Senator Dawes of his Allotment Act, lacked “selfishness,
which is at the bottom of civilization.” (p. 116)
modern America the frontier bequeathed positive attributes of boldness,
equality and self-reliance; and negative ones of self-absorption, xenophobia,
extremism and intolerance. As the historian Bil Gilbert puts it, the legacy
of the frontier wars is the delusion “that only a feral man can be
genuinely free.” Such men bedevil the United States today in the form
of gun-crazy survivalists, Dominionists and vigilantes patrolling the southern
border against a feared “invasion” from Mexico. (pp. 140-141)
Third World War has been fought in the Third World. The hydrogen bombs haven’t
killed us yet, but for billions they killed the future. The warmongers were
sane enough to stop short of bombing each other (though they came close
during the Cuban Missile Crisis) confining themselves to bombing each other’s
non-white allies by conventional means, including napalm and chemicals.
Since 1950 some thirty countries have been bombed and invaded by the United
States, the U.S.S.R. or China – in that order of activity, with the
United States far ahead. (p. 198)
in the frontier wars, the Philippines, and the Middle East today, non-white
life was cheap. The comedian Dick Gregory summed it up: “What we’re
doing in Vietnam is using the black man to kill the yellow man so the white
man can keep the land he took from the red man.” (p. 199)
has never been lower; yet, whether we like it or not, the United States
is such a military and economic power that what it does is everybody’s
business. All of us, Americans and outsiders, must live with this land
of paradox: a democracy hobbled by theocracy and plutocracy; a “peace-loving”
country at war almost constantly for four hundred years; a nation both
well-meaning and rapacious, welcoming and suspicious, devout and materialistic,
friendly and fearful, innocent and corrupt, libertarian and repressive,
individualistic and conformist, generous and grasping, imperial and parochial,
modern and archaic. (p. 222)
The crops, metals and “free” land of the New World gave western
civilization a new lease on life which has lasted five hundred years,
the period I have called the Columbian Age. Now the lease is up for renewal
on much steeper terms, but we are eating into Nature’s capital instead
of living on her interest, wrecking the very ecosystems on which we depend.
The economic “surplus” is in fact an overdraft -– mortgaged
against the future of all, squandered by the few on luxury and weapons.
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