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[casi] "Nationalism's Bloody Claws"


Nationalism's Bloody Claws

By: Lisa Walsh Thomas - 03/25/03

War is always personal. The outrageousness of the act
almost demands that we bring it close and personal.

A long, long time ago, my father was a naval flight
instructor to RAF pilots training for World War II in
the United States. I was an infant and knew nothing.

But several years later, soaring alone with him
through less complicated skies in his small plane
designed for a daredevil taking on the telephone wires
of East Texas, he would tell me about those romantic
days as a young, trusting military officer, proud of
his dress whites and the smiles of admiring young
ladies, still able to lift his head to the wind, eyes
stinging, and tell me in a choked voice of taking off
from an aircraft carrier at sea on Christmas eve, once
heading for Honolulu to the music of "I'll Be Home for
Christmas," knowing that I, his firstborn, would have
to do without him for the holidays. We cried and
laughed and sang and loved our country up there, lost
in the clouds and the vast majesty of space.

I was positive he had saved the world from evil, even
though he himself never saw combat and never made such
a heroic claim. For a time I used his parachute bag to
carry my books to and from parochial school, where I
could stand in my Girl Scout uniform and hear the
music about bombs bursting in the air and feel my eyes
moist over.

Like any other good Catholic girl, I loved God,
country, father, mother, and apple pie in that order.

What authority told me, I believed. For years I was
still up there in the clouds, singing "Anchors Away."

War, if fought by the United States of America, was
just by definition, fought always to defend freedom
and to bring better lives to people. Such war was
fought by a people who valued liberty and justice more
than did the other peoples of the world. Our people
were pure, the purest on earth. My father believed it,
so I believed it.

He never read people like historian Gabriel Kolko,
whose book, "The Politics of War," explains that "the
American economic war aim was to save capitalism at
home and abroad." He didn't know that in April, 1944,
one State Department official of our country recorded:

"As you know, we've got to plan on enormously
increased production in this country after the war,
and the American domestic market can't absorb all that
production indefinitely. There won't be any question
about our needing greatly increased foreign markets."

We never talked about the way World War II gave us
dominant influence in Saudi Arabia. What did we, even
my well-educated father, know of the lands of wild
desert warriors? We were sloshing through the oil even
then, while waving the U.S. flag high.

Far below our little airplane in the clouds, on the
dirt that covers the real world, men whose eyes had
once filmed over at these patriotic songs were banding
together under the camaraderie of nationalism, a
little like that my father and I shared up in the
skies. A bit later I would think that we, unlike them,
were guileless, blameless. Much later I would finally
learn there is no safety in a claim of innocence. I
would conclude that at every moment of human history,
the seeds of genocide are being watered by

Down on that dirt-covered real world, black people
were not allowed to drink from the same water
fountains that my father and I could use. Our
nationalism was white nationalism. The "others" had
black nationalism. That was a salient distinction of
U.S. culture, and if it wasn't genocide to the core,
deathless perhaps but genocide nevertheless, it longed
to be.

Genocide, I would learn, side by side with my father,
was something a bit different from Treblinka or
Wounded Knee. Genocide was the destruction of buffalo
herds to rid the nation of troublesome native
Americans. In the end, nationalism requires types of
genocide in order to keep its pure identity.

Genocide consists, according to the 1948 United
Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of
the Crime of Genocide, of various tendrils, one of
which is actions that break the cultural backs of a
people, such as the destruction of great runs of
salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

Lynching black people had been murder. Refusing to
allow them into mainstream public schools was
genocide. And accepting even the latter was to
participate in genocide. This division between those
who accept and those who refuse is the fuel of the
hatred that arises from nationalism. I never grasped
this division, this constant quest for a pure
nationalism, until the day John F. Kennedy was killed.

At my alma mater, Ole Miss, the forced acceptance of
James Meredith as the first black to ever enter the
hallowed halls, under the protection of the National
Guard, was to many the work of President Kennedy. On
the day the president was killed, crowds of people
gathered outside near the student union. I watched
from an upstairs window, where I was sharing a tuna
sandwich with a professor friend (we really do
remember such details). The cry went up. From part of
the crowd it was a cheer: Kennedy was dead. From the
other part, it was a dirge: Kennedy was dead.

Somehow, in those horrible moments, as were so many
people across our nation, I was changed irrevocably,
knowing I could never again return to the heaven of my
father's plane in the sky where all Americans were of
one nationalism and everything about it was good and
beautiful and just. Below me were two nationalisms.
One carried the confederate flag and would have
endorsed the expelling, if not the killing, of Mr.
Meredith in order to keep the culture pure. The other
carried the traditional American flag, saddened lovers
of a civil rights president who had envisioned a new,
united culture. Either side, given fangs, could be

I don't believe nationalism permits the kind of
uniting sought by John F. Kennedy or his brother,
Bobby. I believe it comes from a darker, more rigid
hollow of the soul and that it is one of the most
self-oriented reactions ever seen in humans. God
should favor the football players of my high school
over their contenders from your high school for one
reason only: It's my school and therefore better.

Today, a vast number of Americans are waving their
flags. They fly huge ones from their front porches and
tattered, pathetic ones from their car windows.
Discount stores have to replenish their supply daily;
cheap, made-in-China pieces of cloth for which an
Iraqi child may be destined to die by fire. Girls in
ponytails decorate their hair with flag-bordered
bands. Men wear flag pins in their lapels, like
lemmings. Flags are on everything from beach towels to
kids' comforters. Mall photographers offer flag
backgrounds so that even a photographed two-year old
can give proof that his parent is patriotic.

They are thusly identified. Their nationalism rises to
prove their patriotism. Wear a flag and kill an Iraqi
and to hell with anyone who asks them from what
country came the bulk of the 9–11 terrorists. "It
don't matter. They fooled with Amurka." Ask someone
you once looked up to about the value of the oil that
will eventually come our way and when he says, "You
and I don't know—we may really need that oil," take a
look in his lapel. Good chance you'll spot a U.S.

If you are fortunate enough to make him read
documentation by Hans Blix that not one shred of
evidence was found to show the existence of weapons of
mass destruction, there's a chance you'll hear, "Don't
matter. If they did have them, they'd use them." The
surge is on. And in a country with a tendency to love
the "good ole boy" over the intelligencia or the
artist, this kind of surge can swell frighteningly.

There are people of that ilk who would kill people of
my kind. One of the greatest anomalies of our nation
is its adulation for ignorance. College professors are
suspect, while people who spout the line about loving
God and country are admired, regardless of whether or
not they can give any reason for bombing innocent
people. Ask them if their God would approve and they
remember that Jesus said something about coming with a
sword. Sometimes they seem to be confused about where
Jesus was from, as if they need to find out whether it
was Georgia or Connecticut or Wyoming. They know only
that he had a sword and that they have a throne
awaiting them if they do as they are told and that the
sooner Armageddon begins, the sooner they get that
vertical ride in Rapture, right to the top.

Because I write from the left, oppose Mr. Bush, and
provide sometimes-disturbing info of wrongs committed
in our names by the nation so many are certain is
God's chosen nation, I receive a tremendous amount of
hate mail. This is typical, quoted literally:

"just remember president bush is in there because God
set him there.just sit back don't criticize the
president and watch what unfold in this war.are you
ready to meet your MAKER."

One human being wrote that to me, another human being,
both of us living in the same country. The grammar is
typical of most, the tone less angry, but the message
is—in truth—very frightening. Am I ready to meet my

No, I don't think this particular note is meant as a
threat (some are). I think it is meant as a revelation
believed in by a vast majority of born-again religious
fanatics, the core constituency of a man who claims
born-again infallibility himself, even while being on
the opposite side from almost every mainstream
religious leader in the country.

I believe the writer of this note is talking about
Rapture, the religious conviction that to accompany
the coming Armageddon, angels will blow their trumpets
and all those of this man's faith will be lifted
bodily from where they stand or sit to be taken up
into the physical heavens to be with their God before
he hurls down devastating fires, body-shattering
screams, unfathomable pain and killing power on the
rest of the world. According to expectations, he will
outdo both Hiroshima and Mr. Bush's "Shock and Awe."

I've seen the bumper stickers: Beware of empty vehicle
in the event of rapture.

People make fun of the Islamic sometimes-belief that a
man dying in the service of Allah will have 72 virgins
to himself up in heaven. While trying to be
respectful, I must confess to seeing that image as a
rather silly one (72 does strike me as more than any
man could handle), but no more extreme than George
Bush being lifted straight through the roof of the
White House, sans teleprompter, bible, and $2,000

Rapture would be funny if it were not now a driving
force to glorify Armageddon. Just as extremists on the
Islamic side believe in a reward for a suicide
bombing, extremists on the Christian side believe in a
reward for killing whomever their government tells
them to kill. The difference in the two groups is

And the rapture people support almost to a person the
belief that you support this nation, the one with God
on its side, and that you support it without question
because Mr. Bush is "a man of God."

They got here by the comfort of not having to think,
by the ease of always following and choosing the
"best" according to whether or not they are a part of

When I read my hate mail, I realize that we are not
just fighting angry people. We are fighting extreme
ignorance, extreme greed for a good investment in the
afterlife, fed from the roots by a nationalism that
has no room for outsiders.

I've been there, through childish assumption, and I
cringe for my young years. I'm not ignorant about
Christianity, having been raised and schooled by
devout but learned people, but when I see what the
neo-Christians have done to a religion where Jesus
advised his followers to leave behind their worldly
goods and love all men, I cringe for us all.

They are wound together, like the colors on a
rattlesnake. Nationalism, I now know, has the
potential for the most heinous acts of history. In our
time, it is the blind devotion to ignorance and a
cushy throne in the sky that serves as its claws. And
when a people let themselves be so misled as to be
taken over by those propelled by greed and ambition,
there is no way to ever scrape the claws free of the
blood that they gather while "just following orders."

I heard only yesterday of the perfect banner: "There
is not a flag anywhere large enough to cover the dead
we are leaving in the wake of what Bush is doing." The
blood will keep flowing and will soak into the sand
and the saturation, eventually, of our planet will be
in our own hands.

There is no small plane sailing through pure skies,
dipping down to scoop us up and give us safe harbor.

We're on our own.

Lisa Walsh Thomas is a former journalist, sixties
activist, poet and contributing political writer to
Liberal Slant, Practical Radical, Online Journal, and  She has a column, "The
Raven's Nest" at:  and is the
founder of "Mad Grandparents.

"our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear - kept us in a continuous stampede of 
patriotic fervor - with the cry of grave national emergency. always there has been some terrible 
evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly 
rally behind it."

-- general douglas macarthur, 1957

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