Independent Media Centre Ireland

Myths of Americanism and Identity

category donegal | anti-war / imperialism | opinion/analysis author Wednesday September 17, 2003 16:58author by Ruairi - Donegal Peace Groupauthor email muscailt at yahoo dot com

Talk/article by Elizabeth Stamm

The below is a speech given by Elizabeth Stamm of the Second Flag Salute project in Philadelphia. She was speaking as part of the Donegal Peace Group's 'War on Trial' Public Forums.

The Myths of Americanism and Identity

It is really difficult to explain my personal identity as an American because I have been fed so many contradictions as to what we are as a nation, who we believe ourselves to be, and what we are to feel about this.

For so long claiming to be American had little weight. Therefore, I often resorted to the roots of my ancestry which originated from Counties Cavan and Cork in Ireland and Essex, Germany. I rarely concerned myself with sentiments of patriotism. Instead I yearned only a sense of belonging and something conclusive regarding my identity as someone who was born and raised in the United States.

I thought I had come closer to an answer in September of 2001 when Al Quaeda forces struck the World Trade Center. 9/11 indubitably ignited solidarity among the nation and I believe that the people were basis for the fresh sense of patriotism that exploded throughout America. At first, I felt empowered by this, and relieved that my life had brought identity. I was no longer one lost soul in a large pool of unfamiliarity. I could now identify to a culture that others felt just as strong and proud to be a part of as I did.

Unfortunately, this sentiment was snatched from me when I wasnít looking. The government saw an opportune moment to get a hold of something that was so important to its people, and something that was a disguise to so much vulnerability, and the Administration pounced on it like a savage animal. It is not the first time in history where an authoritarian government has used nationalism as a way to manipulate and assemble its people, but Americans still fell victim very hard and very fast to our governmentís seizure of our prize possession.

All of a sudden, Americanism was supporting your troops, not questioning your government, and constantly trying to identify enemies in order to ensure safety. This seemed more like totalitarianism to me than it did democracy. Patriotism had become a sick game that the Administration used to rally its people around a cause that was not actually a cause.

I have often been told that we are the most powerful and wealthy nation in the world and that our country sets the standard of living for all other nations. Essentially, it is truly American to believe that we are under international attack because we live so well and have such opportunity and freedom. This concerns me for many reasons. I have no doubt that we are an extremely wealthy nation, if not the wealthiest in the world, monetarily speaking. But I only need to drive 20 minutes outside of my white, upper class community to bear witness upon third world conditions. So many pockets of our cities lack housing, health care, and basic education. Entire families and neighborhoods are seeking shelter in abandoned houses that have boards instead of windows, corners instead of toilets, and drugs instead of food. The US-Mexican border has become a dumping ground for raw sewage in addition to the fact that there is no clean water to drink and electricity is scarce. Diseases are rampant, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, rabies, and leprosy among our people. This is not first world, and this is not what other countries want.

But due to the manipulation of our government over the mass media and educational system, those removed from these situations are ignorant to its existence. We pride ourselves on freedom of speech, yet condemn and judge those who disagree with us. It is funnier to us to not know something, than it is important to know all that we can. We laugh with contempt at foreigners, yet depend on them for economic success. We expect a nation to rally around a man who fraudulently made his way to presidency and we kill people because of the color of their skin.

If this is Americanism, than I donít want to have any part in it. Not that I have a choice because if I did, I would have to shut my mouth, wave a flag for an institution that covers up human rights abuses and traditionally uses force and violence as a means of achieving economic success, and I would have to turn a blind eye to the millions of people that are being killed, and the hundreds of thousands in our own country who receive no representation or respect because of who they are, not for what they have done.

It goes unspoken in the United States that just maybe the anti-Americanism spreading around that world stems from our wicked interventions and constant isolation of the poor. It goes unspoken that we have only ever have gotten involved in a foreign dispute or taken part in an agreement that holds economic interests for the rich. It goes unspoken that a majority of the people focus on the latest trends of the news, and never blink an eye as to what is happening in our own communities or in other areas of the world. It goes unspoken that about half of Americans are under the impression that Iraqis were flying the planes that crashed into the towers.

I was born and raised in the United States. I call myself American and I call myself a liberal, but on my own terms, not those that society, by that I mean the Bush Administration, dictates to me. I want to love this country and I want it to be the best place for all people and for it to be the land of equal opportunity. This is a nation that has a great concentration of immigrants and plethora of cultures, languages, and food. But while our states may geographically be united, our people are not. The potential of this country is endless and its human composition is beautiful and I am prepared to defend it and fight for it. So I am calling to all those out there to come together and work towards peace and justice.

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