It's a funny thing, about history. If you look back at its long sweep, it seems like some broom moved the dust of ONE civilization to another location, to build on that dust; moving gradually around the globe, one spotlighted continent (or subcontinent) at a time. Each successive ONE has some relationship to those which went before it; each starts vigorously against opposition, but ends langorously, against none: kinda like a relay race. So the spotlight on the US is in large measure due to its receiving the baton from an England-led Europe, once the smoke cleared from WWII.
Winner of WWII, Grantor of the Marshall Plan, we had become a unique entity in world history, which of course we don't realize at that point. The Grand 1776 Experiment, a unique combination of no-monarchy and no-state-religion and, within but a century, the largest united polity, ever, without mandated religion or king/emperor. Beginning as we did, as a nation of folks seeking sanctuary to live under God according to our consciences, we also brought our pioneering and pacificism with us. Thus was forged our badgerlike independence.
Shifting time and again among these conflicting attributes, we had our growing pains and civil wars, as every new nation eventually does. Our faith burned brightly for a few generations, and then dissolved into some form of hedonism; then, back to faith. As time passed, the bouts of strait-laced belief and wild abandon turned over faster. With due repentence at each turn. God mattered, you see. We couldn't get out of the spiritual third grade, but we didn't want to divorce Him, either. It is no exaggeration to say that, in aggregate, the story of America is the story of a people who really WANT God, but.. don't quite know how to grow up with Him. That is our secret, our soul.
So, we have always been fitfully growing up, retrogressing, coalescing, starting anew; we flexed our muscles time and again with foreign policy blunders, since we were forever bollixed over what to do about those cousins of ours, the Europeans; but when WWI finally bled Europe white, we found ourselves alone to fight, should another war occur.
Which, of course, it would: between Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points and that travesty, the Treaty of Versailles, not to mention the never-resolved war of attrition that WWI really was, the centuries of argument between France and Germany were now a tinderbox for a Hitler. For a Mussolini. For a Japan which was rather happy to see the whites finally show their weaknesses. For a Stalyin, who likewise was eager to see the hated West at last collapse. Bye-bye! The proverbial handwriting was on the wall, even as the ink dried on the treaty. But who listened? Oh no! We just fought the war to end all wars! And all was Quiet on the Western Front. Yeah, right.
So, as has always been true, the US was unprepared for war2. We drilled our soldiers with wooden sticks for guns, wooden models for tanks, wooden generalship for maneuvers, and a wooden populace who was deeply divided over warring in Europe -- as indeed, we always were. We had skewered folks like Billy Mitchell and all other manner of visionaries; many still believe that Roosevelt had to fineagle the anger of the Japanese, or we'd never have gotten into the war. All that unpreparedness, of course, would change. As indeed, it always had, for once America wakes up.. it gets going. After a rather nasty spanking, of course.
So we went to WWII. Our leadership ineptitudes in effect condemned many a sailor and soldier from Pearl Harbor to Bataan, to Omaha Beach; in Europe, the blunder at Hurtgen Forest, Bastogne was almost impossible to believe -- but, in both places and all the others, the "GI" was incredibly inventive, resilient, and accepting of all manner of hardship, despite his swagger: "Nuts!" We had a few brilliant over-tethered generals, and a lot of loyal soldiers; who, being human, showed both their flaws and their courage from parachute drops in France, to Anzio to Iwo Jima and Tarawa.
For, "God" actually meant Someone to US: although as spiritual children we still clung to our insecurity in the form of racially-segregated units, hugging the myth that skin color somehow intimated worth; nonetheless, every man-at-arms had a hymn book, a little maroon thing (1942), slimmer than some wallets. But we believed in those hymns. For, we believed in the God the hymns sang about, and the belief was simple, but deep. We'd be huddling in a foxhole on Iwo, looking at a sparrow calmly sitting on a log, despite the deafening slash of fire about it -- and we'd recall the Gospel verse that Father cares even for every sparrow. Thus inspired, we'd jump out of the foxhole to bring blood plasma and other medical aid, to others in other foxholes. Just like that sparrow.
For, "God" was the main reason America became unique in the first place: many of our ancestors came to this country fleeing persecution; a nation of mostly Deists and Reformed folks sought sanctuary here. So America became a unique entity in history because "America" is an IDEA, not a racial group, culture, religion, or even a common history. 'An Idea -- based on God. Based, thus, on Freedom. Freedom from having to be of a certain social class, ethnic background, culture; freedom from having to belong to some state religion; freedom from cultural baggage one feels disloyal to question; free to speak, enfin -- more than ever in an entity of such size. All this, due to our simple faith in a weird desert God Who Paul and like missionaries brought with them when they came to Europe, to fulfill a prophecy we'd not known (i.e., in Ps18:43, Eze32:9, Isa65:15). Back when our ancestors were still largely worshipping, trees...
So, still strong in faith, we come home victorious from WWII; and we build. An unprecedented period of prosperity in the history of the world, started by the Europeans (principally England), was now in full swing. So, we advance. Yet our strong belief, well, it didn't keep up pace with our material growth; our strong belief stayed skewed to childish moral thinking. You can see the skewing in the movies we made during the war: the innocent dialogue and Normal Rockwell dress code would later seem strange to the more modern, jaded children. You can see the skewing in the (new invention!) TV programs, which promote "nice": Mouseketeers, Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet, Disneyland's Sunday show with Tinkerbell descending. We dutifully attend our churches on Sunday, praise the nice homily the pastor spoke, sing our hymns, and then play with all our new prosperities. Then God kinda gets tucked into the background, as we arrest in our childish fancies. These fancies display many dark undersides: Godzilla fears, burning crosses, greed. As many a historian has quipped, America wins the war, but loses the peace. And so we did, again. As indeed we always have done, since our beginning as a nation. So, the childish, shiny-faced, happily-hoping American, the Tom Sawyer of the world, grows into the Ugly American. With his big stick.
Kinda like a bull in a china shop, at that point we still don't recognize or know how to use our uniqueness, our size, any more than we know how to grow up with respect to God; so, we don't see the unprecedented weight our polity has on world affairs, simply because we are so different. Instead, all we know, as indeed we have always 'known', is that we still react against the 'old world' values we all fled from to get here in the first place. So, childlike (or childish) we blunder into other sovereign nations with our new way of being and doing, clueless; with our over-familiar manner, our overfed bodies, or overflowing money: and we don't see how the old world finds all that, offensive.
We didn't then (and still don't) recognize that our offer to rebuild Europe would not exactly garner everlasting thanks, for it looked a lot like the American Way would smother the European past; it looked a lot like a threat to the paranoid Stalyin, who nearly destroyed the Russian economy and people to 'catch up'; his paranoia would be inherited by Khruschev, onward. Our Way was a very real threat to the equally-paranoid Mao Tse-Tung, especially since Stilwell et al were on the Kuomintang side. The American Way looked a lot like humiliation to Japan, but they were determined to learn from it.
So our impact on history since the Enola Gay, plays essentially as follows...
Humiliation, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Just the same, in every dispute, as in every bad marriage, both sides are to blame in differing ways, and it always boils down to one question: will the parties find a way to mediate their differences? Surely the US cannot be blamed for its historical uniqueness or size, and if other nations are intimidated by some American superiority, well: that's not the fault of the US. However, we didn't grasp all this reactive aftermath, and still don't. We continued to remain clueless to our uniqueness, so keep on our natural way, offending. So, we keep on reacting to 'their' offense; thus shocked, self-righteous, or just plain baffled, we exacerbate any negative reaction to US. So foreign policy remains our greatest ineptitude. Because, we're still 'children'. Under God. Just as we were, back during the aftermath of WWII. So, of course, the war with Communism, first with South Korea as a battlefield, was inevitable.
It's a funny thing, about faith. When you're still young enough in it, every thing is black-and-white, good or bad. So, post-WWII (as today), we just scratched our heads when we encountered offense; that is, if we didn't wave our stick around. Others tried to scratch up some money from us.. or, from the paranoid leader of Russia. We didn't know how to separate genuine support for ideals like our own from superficial 'non-alignment' policy which was a ruse a weak nation needed to buy itself time. So we spurned a Ho Chi Minh and others like him, thus forcing communistic embraces which could have been avoided. We didn't catch on. So, instead of fighting the evil of communism with wisdom, we fought with religious polemics: because, we still believed in God, you see -- doesn't EVERYONE?
It's a funny thing about the history of nations: not a one of them dies from prolonged adversity. Instead, they all implode, or slowly rot like a overripe peach: death-by-prosperity. Some outsider taking them over merely is a coup de grace. Whether you trace the history of China, SPQR, Russia, or Europe through the 20th century, in each case, prosperity is enervating, if it lasts too long.
Of course, the US is a very young country, with a spectacular start, growth rate, and an unprecedented prosperity for its people: we were one of the very few countries in world history which could produce ample amounts of "guns and butter". So also, a swift decline has ensued, but for a reason not unique to nations-under-God: we don't grow out of spiritual childhood. that remains our Problem. For our Secret Soul Wants God -- and we don't know anything else, even as we don't know what to do about our spiritual retardation. We were founded on Him, not like the Christian right contends with its goofy misuse of Bible and history -- but more truly: in Simple Faith. Which, alas again, has become, simpleton. (See Isa28, Hos4:6, Lev26 and Deut28, just to name some sample passages. Paul expresses the same principle as in Deut 9:4, in Romans 11:17.)
For, between the headiness of our new post-Korean War position on the world stage and our crusading over other nations' reactions, God became a designer label to US almost overnight. The moralistic 1950's degenerate into the '60's: we react, frantically seeking happiness to compensate for all that moral sacrifice. The goodies, you see, leave us empty. So, tempers become thinner, and demands, higher, as the frantic search backfires, boomerangs, by mid-decade. Vietnam only helps accelerate the decline. Families fragment; divorce rates quicken, since the other partner is always to blame. The progressively self-absorbed populace emotionally revolts: if it's not demanding "free love", it's demanding religion and government "do something". So, legalism and laws multiply, suffocate. Thus, over the next 30 years, life becomes hopelessly negative, hypersensitive, as society chokes within a growing tangle of regulated "rights".
By the '90's, you can see it even in our eyes: people have so blackened in self-absorption, their self-scarring deadens them. Seed-pod people. As Deut 28 predicts, they are restless: people now long for night in the morning, and for morning, at night; they feel chased, even when safe; they no sooner get a respite, when some disaster strikes, as no good deed goes unpunished. The Great Society becomes the Great Debacle. Father Knows Best is replaced by "Cops"; Tommy Dorsey gives way to rap music. The perennially-open kitchen door and evening strolls in our neighborhoods cease: for real hoods are out there, now. Cowering, some of US won't eat at public restaurants; won't drink anything at an private junior high's party; won't fly; won't won't won't move, for.. it might be dangerous! The Boogeyman is everywhere, in our eyes.
So, having reversed all former ideas of "love" as giving, having rejected Grace, our people have come to violently demand being given-to: Legislation becomes 'god', in lieu of The Real One. So, law micro-manages even one's private habits --like if a fetus is a legal person, child discipline controls, right-to-die; like the paint on a frog, to old linoleum in a home; to smoking, eating; to packaging, like childproof caps which no adult can open; all these evidence how people insanely demand 'someone else' provide the 'magic fix' for their ever-shrinking souls. Life sours into a tasteless diet of rules, rules, rules, rules! Or, bread-and-circus. 'A men-are-from-mars, women-from-venus "scorecard" sterility is promoted "good". Everyone tells everyone else "I am right! You are wrong!" "Join my crusade!" "March on Washington!" "There Oughta be a LAW!" So of course even "sex" must be religified, too: you have to learn it on video. Why, for only $49.95, says the back cover of Book magazine's second volume, you can get both the basic sex techniques, as well as the advanced lessons. So to show how proficient you are. You are 'good' if you make the right movements; bad, if you don't.
And Love? Well, it was in a movie, once. George Orwell's "Hate Week" has replaced it now. Big Brother's penetrating eyes have replaced it, now. Very moral, very paternal, very enslaving, very dead.
Thus history repeats itself. Such was SPQR (Ancient Rome), toward its end. The Inquisition, too. The 'Salem witch trials. The French Revolution. Hitler's Germany. So, US churches today browbeat, or offer feel-good thump thumps to keep congregants returning. So, today's hypochondriasis -- or, true illness -- skyrockets. Why? The defense mechanism "plumbing" is overloaded with self-focus, so backs up into the conscious mind. The soul, already too shrunken by these many dry rules, begins to break under all their stress. And so it goes. 'For people, for nations. All due to loveless morality's diarrhetic tyranny. George Orwell's 1984. That's how loveless morality shrinks the soul. Never was Satan's plan -- "having a form of godliness, but denying its power" -- so eloquently expressed, as in that book. There, everyone is madly in "Room 101" -- Orwell just picked the wrong country for his allegory, that's all.
Hate Week is our life. Now, in 2001. Now, in 2002. Dull, afraid, colorless, waving the flag, shaking-the-fist, we bang our heads on our rhetorical walls, thud thud. Not even the shocking loss of life on 9/11/01 really penetrated our cotton brains: we get on our high horse and kill those who have the same skin color as the terrorists, or we get on our high horse and think God likes it if we negotiate with Sennacharib's spiritual children. And we mount our high horses stupidly, to boot. We donate oodles of money, but not a single thought to the insanity of strengthening a cockpit door, when the latch itself is always easy to break.
OOOOOh, it feels so good to feel bad. Ooohh, it feels so good to sue the airlines whose misfortune it was to ferry the terrorists! Uh-Oh, bored again. So, what else is new? Oh, yeah, Enron: aha, another feeding frenzy, get some more soundbyte coverage! But Ooops! Enron died too quickly! So onward, after Arthur Andersen! Drat, it also died too soon by allegation! Ahhh, let's impale someone else, as our thirst for bloodying others is yet unquenched! Let's engage Hamlet's self-righteous quest, rising up against a sea of alleged ancient pederasts, and by accusing, end them!
Thus we living vultures prey on our own dead, to feed our own egos. Piously, of course. After all, one must have some manners at the dinner table. Anyone got salt?
Yours truly was born shortly after Stalyin died. Growing up in the US, I saw first-hand how different we were then. The seeds of our present malaise were already well-sprouted, but there was a certain understanding about the 'little graces', and we revelled in them. Gloves for church. Thank-you notes. Saying hello to one's neighbors while walking to school -- even a stranger was welcome! Goodie-baskets for new neighbors. Dressing up for dinner, or company.. even at home. There, children learned to sit quietly, and practiced hard to be well-behaved. It was quite a thrill, I can tell you, when I mastered which fork and glass had what purpose!
Dads puttered in the garage or at the fishing hole. Moms baked bread, and truly relished doing it, with memory-moist eyes telling their daughters how "Nana" rolled the dough with just-so-much cinnamon. Kids played marbles and actually got tucked in at night with a genuine bedtime story. In the morning, if we made up our bedsheets so tightly a quarter could bounce off them.. we got to keep the quarter! Which we could, yes, we could! spend on "Pushups" for our friends when the ice cream truck rolled by after school!
Parents taught us that no well-bred young man or lady considered a porter's job demeaning; one oughtn't to deem the rich evil, but to have worked hard to get there: did not God give them the money? But: both were admired, for did not God make us all? Servanthood or Headship were both a privilege to cherish, whether high-to-low, or low-to-high. After all, we were all equally-loved, by God. Nearly every child in Sunday school learned these things, as did I. Whether in the poorer sections, or the wealthier ones. We all had God in common, you see.
My friends and I didn't understand some of the grownups' rules. For example, why certain colors of kids couldn't live in our neigborhood -- so we sneaked over to theirs. They didn't understand why, either. So we played together, on the sly, vowing that when WE grew up, we'd not have such rules. Doesn't Jesus love ALL the little children? So, all their parents, too? For, we all had GOD in common, you see.
The reason to be moral, was good manners: to be thoughtful of the other person. That mattered, and it felt good. It was a thrill, then, to have one's own little tea party or soirée, the little gentlemen in their tiny suits, the little ladies in their patent-leather shoes and crisp pinafores, because we could practice our manners, and practice being thoughtful. It was nice to avoid swear words, and being cross; it was understood that the problem with sex was, if you had it too soon, you dishonored your intended mate-for-life. That was important, then, and we believed in it.
Best of all, God was a real person you prayed to at night, learned in Bible class, and trusted to take you home so you could finally see Him face-to-face:
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
and if I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take."
See how important Doctrine is, see why God's 'just study' First Commandment is vital to one's health? Sure, some of the details above seem stilted now (whyEVER did we need to wear gloves and hats) -- but, see the intent? It was a childish honor, to be sure -- but it was Honor. Where is even that honor, now? Where is the pleasure we once knew, in the little graces? Oh, but we never grew past their forms! Never came to learn the God 'behind' them! So where is honor, now? Oh, it's in but movies, now. Gone, with the wind.