People of the United States, what are you telling the children?
By Luciana Bohne
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Sep 26, 2006, 00:59

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 war."

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 Middle Ages?"

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 children?

Luciana Bohne teaches film and literature at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. She can be reached at

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