People of the United States, you are transmitting to your
children the values of your culture. What is the central value of your culture
now? Can you name it?
I have been racking my brain for three days, trying to
figure out what value the US is now living that could be transmitted to the
next generation. I think a value is not a value if it does not contribute to
human development. So, for example, I grew up and transmitted to my daughter
the idea I had been taught: war is a scourge on humanity. The word
"scourge" came from the Charter of the United Nations. The Charter
said that the United Nations was created to prevent the "scourge of
Accordingly, I said to my daughter that at the end of her
life she should be able to look back and ask without fear of regret, "What
have I done to eliminate the scourge of war?" That was the central value
of my generation, which had been born in WW II.
People of the United States, what values can you transmit to
your children? The Congress of the United States is "debating"
whether it is legal to torture people. If the Congress decides that torture is
a good thing, will you tell your children that torture is good? Or will you
tell them that the Congress, the highest legislative body of their country, is
a sadistic institution? At the end of their lives, will your children look back
on their lives and say, "I have helped my government to inflict pain on
helpless human beings," or will you have helped them to say, " I have
prevented my government from bringing back the judicial terrorism of the
undemocratic, dogmatic, arbitrary, and irrational torturing regimes of the
People of the United States, what are you telling your
children about the role of the United States in the world? One advisor close to
President Bush has this value: "Every 10 years or so, the United States
needs to pick up some small, crappy little country and throw it against the
wall, just to show the world we mean business.� To get your children to share
that value, you'll have to encourage them to beat on the little guy in the
school yard; you'll have to teach them to go ahead and torture their puppies
because animals can't feel pain; you'll have to teach your boys that the weak
and the helpless deserve no quarter; you'll have to teach your girls that being
a man is the best thing on earth because he is physically strong; you'll have
to tell both that "America" is "great" because it can push
people around. You'll have to say that "honor" is the reward of the
hunter, the killer, the destroyer.
People of the United States, your Declaration of
Independence tells you to have "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind."
Are you transmitting to your children this wisdom? Or are you proclaiming, as
another advisor to President Bush boasts, "Let them hate us so long as
they fear us"? This was the motto of the Emperor Caligula, who was not
only cruel, power hungry, and blood-curdlingly violent but also as mad as a
hatter. At the end of their lives, will your children look back on their lives
and say, "I die happy because my wife, my children, my neighbors fear and
hate me?" or will your children be able to say, "I have done what I
could to earn the love and respect of my neighbors; I have not incited one
against the other; I have borne false witness against none; I have tirelessly
worked for truth and justice and sought to dominate no one."
People of the United States, are you telling your children
that force is the engine of history? That nature is red in tooth and claw? That
human beings are killers by nature? That war is their "natural"
element? What will you answer if they ask, "Then how come human beings are
still around? How come, if we are all killers, we haven't all killed and been
killed?" Will you say, "Go kill some more; it hasn't been
enough"? That is what prominent intellectuals who inspire President Bush's
advisors believe: "The question people are asking is why do they hate us?
That's the wrong question. . . . The question which we should be asking is why
do they neither fear nor respect us?� The solution this intellectual proposes
is threefold: force, force, and more force. This intellectual cannot see that respect
does not proceed from fear. Respect derives from respect. Fear breeds hatred.
Hatred breeds resistance. Resistance breeds freedom. Freedom breeds contempt
for the oppressor. Contempt breeds isolation. Therefore, force, cannot be the
engine of history but its dynamite.
People of the United States, what are you telling the
children about the value of other cultures? Are you telling them that the
defeat and humiliation of other cultures is your triumph? This is what
President Bush's favorite historian claims. He says--as another historian puts
it, "that the West has consistently proved its 'cultural superiority' over
the rest of the world through such military victories as that of the Greeks
over the 'Peacock Throne,' the Romans over the Carthaginians, the Christian
Crusaders over the Muslims, and the Spaniards over the Aztecs and the
Incas." If you are transmitting to your children this kind of
triumphalism, you are also telling them that genocide, slavery, and perpetual
war-for-conquest are the handmaidens of "greatness." You are also
lying to them: where is the "greatness" of the Greeks, the Romans,
the Christian warlords, the Spanish conquistadors today? If the legacy of their
civilizations lives on in our culture today, it is not the legacy of the sword,
which broke their backs and ejected them from history. It lives on by virtue of
what was good in their philosophy, literature, poetry, and arts. What have you
done to help your children develop these creative agencies -- the only ones
that survive because they add to the patrimony of humanity and its development?
People of the United States, when the homicidal force of
your sword breaks your country's back, what will your children take of you into
the future? How will they remember you -- with shame, guilt, loathing, and
contempt? How will they survive in the sea of resentful blood you have created
with your endless wars and your endless fears, prejudices, anger, racism, and
intolerance? Will they think of you as the world's Cain and curse you? Will they
look upon your values and know that they have turned their country into the
world's pariah? Will they be forced to wear bells for generations to come to
warn that lepers are approaching?
People of the United States, what are you telling the
Bohne teaches film and literature at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. She
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.