We're The Bad Guys

An American reflects on history.

We're The Bad Guys
Photo by Ömer Yıldız on Unsplash

Most people think the main problem with Oedipus is that he secretly wants to kill his father and possess his mother. That's not the point. The problem with Oedipus is that by trying to avoid his fate, he fulfills it.

Toward the end, he finally gets it.

He's not the good guy.

He's the bad guy.

That's the reason why the story of Oedipus endures. It's a powerful moment for someone to spend their entire lives thinking they're the hero, only to find out they're the villain. It's interesting. Western mythology and popular culture are filled with cautionary tales about villains who think they're heroes. And yet, we never seem to take the hint.

The truth is, America has never truly faced its own history. That's why a large portion of them can't see what's happening in Gaza. They're reading it through the lens of American exceptionalism. They're reading it through a sanitized history of its own slavery and genocide. As we speak, many of our politicians are trying to recast slavery as a kind of "immigration" where they learned valuable skills, as if they even survived long enough to benefit.

You might wonder what qualifies someone like me to talk about any of this. Well, I double-majored in English and history. When you get a PhD in English, you're required to learn about the world. You can't study literature or communication without understanding the contexts. I took courses in Middle Eastern politics and the history of Islam. I studied Spanish and Arabic.

I lived abroad.

Regardless of their political affiliation, most Americans think we have some kind of honor or respect to restore. They don't get it.

We don't.

America has always been the bad guy. It was founded by a bunch of rich assholes who didn't want to pay taxes. They cared about themselves. They wrote a constitution for themselves. They had no intention of ever giving freedom to anyone else. That's our original sin.

From there, it just gets worse.

Immediately after gaining their independence, Americans began their earnest campaign of exterminating indigenous tribes and taking their land. They took children away from their parents and forced them into boarding schools, where many of them died from disease and malnutrition. Those schools had clear goals. Assimilate who they could, and kill the rest.

Once the genocide was largely complete and Native Americans no longer posed a threat, Americans lost a common enemy.

They fought with each other.

Hence the Civil War.

The Civil War didn't solve anything. Nobody triumphed. Slavery didn't end. It merely took a different, less overtly genocidal form. Read any real history of the southern states, and you learn about the sundown towns and the lynchings that persisted well into the 1950s and 60s.

Even while conducting genocide and enslaving entire populations, Americans still found a way to exploit cheap Chinese labor. They imported nearly 20,000 Chinese immigrants to build the transcontinental railroad. Forced to do highly dangerous work for less pay than their white counterparts, more than a thousand of them died from abuse and neglect. As thanks, Americans beat them in the streets and burned down their neighborhoods. White workers were upset because Chinese immigrants were taking their jobs, a story as old as time. Some cities even passed curfews, banning Chinese people from being outside after dark. Finally, the U.S. passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Oh, and the U.S. also started a war with Mexico in 1846. That war happened after years of white settlers illegally occupying Mexican land and kidnapping their politicians to force them into treaties.

That's how we annexed Texas.

Our founders built America through unjust wars, exploitation, slavery, and genocide. They stole an entire continent.

That's our legacy.

For the next several decades, a tiny handful of Americans amassed staggering wealth. They were called the captains of industry. They built entire corporate towns exempt from state and federal authority. They paid their workers starvation wages. They presided over staggering levels of poverty. In cities like Boston and New York, the streets filled with homeless children. A disgraced pedophile minister named Horatio Alger became the country's most popular author, writing rags-to-riches stories about good little boys.

The elite routinely published diatribes against the poor and vulnerable in newspapers and magazines. They spent most of the 1920s formulating ideologies like endless growth and disposable goods, often colluding with one another to reduce the durability of their products to increase consumption. They pushed for deregulation. In the end, their abuses destroyed the economy and led us into a Great Depression that we almost didn't recover from. At one point, Roosevelt himself thought he might be the last president.

He wasn't kidding.

Our contributions to WWII are the greatest myth of all. Most Americans learn that we saved the world from the Nazis.

It's not true.

Americans praised Hitler's work in Germany. They turned a blind eye to The Holocaust. They refused to accept Jewish refugees before, during, and after the war. The U.S. only joined the fighting after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, when it became clear Japan actually posed a threat. Even then, it was Russia who inflicted the vast majority of casualties on the Nazis.

They won the war.

American politicians knew about the staggering losses Russia suffered in order to beat Hitler. They had no intention of risking that with Japan. So instead, they dropped atomic bombs on civilians.

They justified it later.

There's no two ways to look at it. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were unforgivable war crimes. Americans justify it because that's what we're taught in school, that it had to be that way, as if Japan wanted to storm our shores and eat our babies. In truth, they mainly wanted to dominate the Pacific, so they could control trade and resources. That's why Americans dropped bombs on them, dooming 200,000 innocent people to death.

It was for money.

America learned one thing from WWII, that it could push other countries around. Our leaders spent the rest of the century building bigger, better bombs and experimenting with mass death and destruction. They held the entire world hostage with nuclear annihilation for decades, because they objected to how other countries wanted to run their economies. They backed dictatorships in Latin America, including the infamous regime of Pinochet, whose own economic advisors studied under Milton Friedman in Chicago. Pinochet's government alone ran 17 secret torture centers around the country. They murdered thousands of civilians accused of being socialists and spies. The U.S. also backed military dictatorships throughout the Middle East.

The U.S. has a long trail of bodies behind it around the world. We've spent the last hundred years violently suppressing and overthrowing democracies and replacing them with western puppets. We tried to do the same thing in Vietnam. If you remember, MLK actually opposed the war from its beginning. It tanked his popularity. How ironic that a few years later, the people who despised him for being a pacifist would demand the same thing.

American leaders learned nothing from their embarrassing defeat in Vietnam. A few decades later, they used the Sept. 11 attacks as a pretext to do what they'd always wanted in the Middle East:

Level the place.

Get the oil.

As they made painfully clear for 20 years, Americans didn't care at all about Arabs, Muslims, or their governments. Saddam Hussein had done nothing to his own people that western-style leaders in Latin America hadn't done three times over. The difference was that Hussein wouldn't play ball with American corporations. So he had to go. They did the same thing with the Taliban, whom they'd previously used as proxy fighters against Russia.

For the last decade, the U.S. has funded Saudi Arabia's military interventions in Yemen. The Saudi military has bombed everything from hospitals and schools to weddings and marketplaces. They waged war on civilians in order to break down resistance to their preferred government.

That's a crash course in the history of American diplomacy. You can use it as a lens for what's going on now.

We're never on the right side. Our wars never achieve their agendas. They're never waged for peace and democracy, or human rights. Usually, our leaders are siding with the violent fascists and colonists, not the oppressed. Time and again, they only care about power and resources. Their violence only results in catastrophic war crimes and human rights violations that get covered up, until one day the war(s) become unpopular and people open their eyes.

Domestically, American leaders gleefully slaughter their own people. It doesn't matter whether we're talking about workplace conditions or deadly viruses. Corporations conduct democide on behalf of the government every day, for profit. They treat their essential workers the same way they treat the poor kids in sweatshops who make our phones.

We're all expendable.

Around the world, we're known as the enemy of democracy, not its champion. The world's other two superpowers have decided they've had enough of our bullshit. They're uniting the world against us.

We're making the job easy.

The average American never benefits from these wars. They're never richer, happier, or safer as a result. They're always brainwashed to believe that this time we're the good guys, because our leaders don't want to deal with the headache of having to violently suppress us.

It's time for Americans to wake up.

We're never the good guys.

We're the bad guys.

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