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Comment: Whose History Is It Anyway?

(Don't) Trust Your Government
Jim Curtiss

I was looking through a college Social Psychology textbook the other day, reading about time, schedules and Circadian Principles when I happened upon the following sentence: "In 1876, the wind-up clock was invented in Connecticut, and life was never the same again."
That sentence and it's subsequent claims of Yankee ingenuity disturbed me for some reason. I re-read it three or four times, finally realizing what it was that troubled me – I just couldn't believe that the wind-up watch was so recently invented!

15th Century Clock

So I reached for my New York Public Library Desk Reference book (NYLDR), a comprehensive fact book filled with the most random of facts, (Go ahead! Ask me anything!) and turned to the list of important scientific inventions to check when the clock was discovered. Sure enough, according to the NYLDR, the mechanical clock was invented in 1360 by Henri de Vick of Württemburg for King Charles the V of France. The portable clock (popularly known as the Nürnberg Egg) was invented by the German Peter Henlein around 1500. Even back then they used coiled springs that had to be wound up to power the watches.
So why was this Social Psychology textbook telling me that the wind-up clock was invented in 1876? I read the textbook again and there were no references to either Henri de Vick or King Charles V. Instead, credit for inventing the portable watch was given to the Unknown Yankee American.

One may feel that I'm splitting hairs here, but shouldn't credit be given where credit is due? I mean, if a German invented the freakin' watch, why shouldn't an American textbook contain that information? The answer is simple: because to do so would grant a certain amount of legitimacy to an outside system, and that's not what the American educational system is all about. No, the American way is the best way, and we don't inherit inventions from Old Europe – we invent them ourselves and claim first place.

The Flag Thing
Propaganda is a strong word that evokes dark, disquieting images. Perhaps we picture Nazi Germany or some other totalitarian regime of the worst sort; public address systems spewing rot throughout the town, posters everywhere espousing the system, fear of dissent.
Well, how about this for a startling premise: the American government, as well as the educational system, engage in propaganda every day.

Think back to your school days. Every morning it was the same thing, wasn't it? Stand up and say the Pledge of Allegiance. I haven't had to say it for over 15 years, but I still remember it word for word, as you may do. Let's take a moment and say it together: I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America. And to the Republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Amen.

Ok, so the words of The Pledge are relatively benign (even though the word "indivisible" also describes China's policy towards Hong Kong, Taiwan and Tibet.). After all, who isn't for liberty and justice? The whole God debate will soon be decided in courts as well.

But what The Pledge says is not the crux of the matter. The point is that young Americans are forced to say The Pledge of Allegiance every school day of their lives – well over 2,000 times for most Americans!
What is the point of The Pledge, anyways? I mean, we're already Americans, so why do we have to restate our position every day?

And while we're at it, what about the singing of the National Anthem before every American sporting event that takes place? You also know The Anthem by heart, don't you?
Why are these two seemingly benign slogans used, do you reckon? Could it be to reinforce patriotism? Bring about loyalty? Propagate American values?
You bet.
And forgive me for pointing it out, but isn't "propagate" the root word of propaganda?

Thinking Outside the Box
Most of the people in the U.S. have relatively little knowledge of what goes on in the rest of the world. In fact, irony of ironies, the typical American's worldview is restricted due to the limited amount of international information to which they are exposed. The easiest way to describe this rather straightforward idea is to present an information-flow theory I was exposed to while studying mass communications.

The main hypothesis posits that a nation of high-rank (i.e., possessing economic, political, or military power) generates much more information than a nation of lower-rank. Because of the higher amount of information generated within the higher-ranking country, A) the population of that country will have a great deal of domestic information to deal with, and B) a significant amount of this information will be sent abroad.

On the other hand, the information produced by the lower-ranking country will have a more difficult time entering the information market of the higher-ranking country because the population of the higher-ranking country, A) have adequate information from their own country to deal with, and B) lack the motivation to attend foreign media due to that country's lower status.

The practical side of this theory is that U.S. citizens receive a huge amount of information every day that is generated within the U.S., and information generated outside of the U.S .is seen as secondary in importance. "Around the World in 80 Seconds", boasts the newscast of a major American television network, as if that much time is adequate to cover the nuances of international affairs.

That Americans lack news and information from the world at large is no secret to people (especially Americans) who live outside of the States. That many American tourists abroad appear uneducated, uninteresting, and uninterested because of this is also no secret. However, to Americans living inside of the U.S., this notion is completely unfounded and can be very insulting.

Notwithstanding how domestic Americans view this widely-accepted idea, I have come to see it as fundamentally true and was shocked and amazed to discover I was once under its sway as well.
My knowledge of the above theory has led me to the following suspicion, true or not: American foreign policy is just a series of calculated "Fuck-yous" directed at other countries because the White House not only knows about, but simply LOVES how American media drowns out coverage of events that occur outside of the United States, thereby keeping its populace in the dark about its actions abroad. Americans are not dumb, but are grossly uninformed about the world and the actions of the U.S. in it.

Homeland (In-) Security.
The Homeland Security website tells us that the world is a changed place since Sept. 11, stating that the U.S. is at risk of terrorist attacks and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Just about every month, a new Al-Quida tape threatening American interests is released.

And so we have the Homeland Security Advisory System, which actually tells us how to behave under certain conditions. Code Yellow! Should we be guarded? Absolutely! We should be guarded and suspicious of people, especially strangers (and those of Arab descent, of course).
The explicit message is, "Don't trust anyone, but trust us, your government, because we are here to protect you from those who hate our way of life, who hate our freedoms, who hate the United States of America!"

The climate of fear that the government created in the wake of 9-11 is unhealthy and unnecessary. When one goes about their daily routine suspicious of others, on "Elevated Alert" status, the negative energy that is created leads to a population concerned with just one thing - survival. And according to Abraham Maslow, when one is concerned only with survival, one has precious little time to devote to the important things in life such as friends and family, learning, playing – in short, to having a life.
Since its inception, the Homeland Security Advisory System has never been on Green, or Low Alert. In fact, as this goes to press, it stands at Yellow Alert. We are under significant threat. We should live in fear. Don't forget that.

And don't forget this quote by Hermann Göring, a Nazi Germany politician and military leader, either: "Naturally, the common people don't want war, but after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country."

© Jim Curtiss November 10th 2003
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