Monday, May 25, 2009

Amorality Sanctified

A mythic aura engulfs the Kennedy administration. It was Camelot reborn, a time of prosperity and optimism, when all of our ugliness and problems were concealed beneath the glossy pages of Life magazine. The burbs were the only way to live, and a split-level house complete with manicured lawn represented the “good life.”

But, it was also the era when the amorality so necessary for the efficient management of empire came out of the closet.

We’d always been a nasty people from the very first slaughter of a Native American village in 1637 when John Underhill led a night attack on a sleeping Pequot village nestled on the banks of the Mystic River in Connecticut. He burned the village and slaughtered the survivors, including women and children. The body count came in at between 600 and 700 people.

But for all the blood, there was a certain piety to Underhill’s action. He was inspired by the biblical King David.

"And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah." – 2 Samuel 11.1.

This pious gloss was to continue throughout our history. McKinley justified his annexation of the Philippines and the brutal war that followed by asserting:

[T]hat there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died. And then I went to bed, and went to sleep, and slept soundly, and the next morning I sent for the chief engineer of the War Department (our map-maker), and I told him to put the Philippines on the map of the United States (pointing to a large map on the wall of his office), and there they are, and there they will stay while I am President!

It was a policy in which indigenous people were given a choice between salvation or slaughter. Ours was a noble empire spread by the bullet and the Bible.

Shortly after Kennedy assumed the president there was a tectonic shift, so subtle that is passed unnoticed. It had become the practice of the White House press corps to ask an incoming president who his favorite author was. For example, Eisenhower’s favorite writer was Eric Hofer, author of The True Believer.

When the press asked Kennedy the same question, he named Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, Agent 007 with his license to kill.

Amorality was out of the closet and Hollywood started churning out James Bond flicks starting with 1962’s “Dr. No.”

Who can forget the suave manner in which Sean Connery gunned down his adversaries with a psychopathic detachment? No remorse, no trauma, just a man following orders with a sardonic half smile.

In some respects, Bond became the role model and hero for the New American Empire that was emerging out of the Cold War. It was an era that hatched the cockamamie plots to assassinate Castro by poisoning his beard.

When our plots to assassinate world leaders who didn’t toe our line came out during the 1975 Church Committee investigation into the FBI and the CIA, the public was still capable of outrage.

No more.

Now Obama has appointed a seasoned assassin, Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, to head the NATO campaign in Afghanistan, and there’s been nary a whimper. Now, instead of a biblical justification, we simply refer to his appointment as “new eyes.”

Perhaps the press will start calling him Lt. Gen. 007.

--Case Wagenvoord


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