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Alternative Culture Magazine

What is America?
-- A Short History of the New World Order

Review of a new book by Ronald Wright
(Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008)

This is 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:

America’s wealth and freedom would be built on the slaughter of one race and the enslavement of another. (p. 107)
At 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)
In 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. (p. 45)
The Indians, wrote Senator Dawes of his Allotment Act, lacked “selfishness, which is at the bottom of civilization.” (p. 116)
To 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)
The 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)
As 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)

American prestige 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. (pp. 222-223)


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