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Kamloops News

GEORGE: Jingoism, nationalism and other silly stories

September 11, 2018 - 12:06 PM



I grew up in a time when young boys played that perennial favourite pastime, Cowboys and Indians. 

Its popularity was surpassed only by dirt clump wars. Unlike dirt clump wars though, playing cowboys and indians was much more acceptable to those arbiters of what is good for young boys, their mothers. Especially those mothers who had recently had the privilege of wiping a bloody nose and scraping embedded dirt out of a nostril.

"Cowboys and Indians" was seen as good clean fun in comparison. It was socially acceptable. And therein lies the problem. The social acceptance came after a long and hard-fought propaganda campaign that taught us to see indians as filthy savages and cowboys as the bringers of law and a particular form of order to "wild" lands, untamed wilderness just itching for the surveyor and a plow.

The stories were legion. Books, the stage, the screen, newspaper articles and columns; all brought us the same ideas wrapped neatly in a bow. The "civilized" folk came to town and made the very best world ever. The "savages" would be broken to the wheel of our way of life or exterminated and all would be well. In the small town I grew up in, even the indians wanted to be the cowboys.

Another word for those stories is bullshit. In reality, it was genocide most foul. There were more deaths than the Holocaust. There may have been many more. Scholars can't decide as some see evidence for as many as eighty million, ten times more bodies than King Leopold's colonial exploits in the Belgian Congo, with others pegging it at ten million or so. It also depends on whether you include those killed by disease in the years between 1500 and 1600 in your tally.

In Canada, we managed to avoid the outright savagery of the Americans in dealing with the 'indian problem'. But our methods of stealing the land and breaking their existing culture were no less effective.

To move public sentiment and what is socially acceptable from reality to the stories we grew up with took time, effort, and most importantly, the conscious will of regular people. Leaders and bureaucracies may have laid the groundwork for the rollout of this campaign but it couldn't have gone anywhere without the active participation of the writers, producers, actors, editors, fathers, mothers, and yes, even the little boys. Especially the little boys.

What is right and what is wrong?

Every one of us can come up with a handful of justifications and excuses for our colonial history. There are too many of these in circulation to even begin to refute them all as the BS they are. The propaganda job was masterful and has been running for a long time. At the end of the day, it has taken absolutely brutal and murderous behaviour and infused it with sufficient virtue to make it socially acceptable. The "bad guys" have become the "good guys" and vice versa.

It now appears there is no longer a need for propaganda or social acceptance.

The U.S. government has given up any pretence whatsoever of doing anything to make anyone think they are the "good guys". Anyone who has been paying attention to the last fifty years already knows that but now they aren't even trying. The administration has announced that they are seeking sanctions against the judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The stated reason is that it is in retaliation for those judges' willingness to entertain the idea of the court examining the evidence for war crimes committed by the American military in Afghanistan.

Now there has been some effort over the years by the U.S. to discredit the ICC but none of it has really stuck. They see this body, like the U.N., as an unwarranted infringement on their right to be a sovereign nation, an empire, and in general a bunch of warmongerers. If we allow them to take this position, where would it leave the people from countries in Africa or the Middle East when their leadership tries to pull the same stuff as cover for their own savagery? Where would this twaddle have left the people of Serbia, a use of the ICC that the U.S. had no problem with at the time?

"The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court," Bolton said.

Now change "United States" to "Germany" and "Bolton" to "Goebbels" or "von Ribbentrop" and you will see what I mean.

Since World War II aggressive war has been seen as one of the worst possible crimes against humanity. The ICC is a response to that. 139 nation states, including the United States signed on to the Rome Statute, the idea that the ICC was the legitimate venue to prosecute war crimes. 118 of those nations ratified the agreement, including Canada (but not the U.S.). Illegitimate court? I think not.

Is might all that matters? Is even the pretense of "right" simply too much for us anymore? The ICC performs a needed function in our violent world. The U.S. seems to think that it is above the law when it comes to war crimes. 

I can only hope that Canadians can see past the silly stories to what is actually right or wrong in this case. If we cannot, I fear that we risk finding ourselves, as a nation, on the wrong side of history.

— Chris George believes one measure of a just society is found in how well it balances fiscally conservative economics with social responsibility and environmental soundness in all of its living arrangements.

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