Progressive Writers Bloc

The Myth of the Superman

Uncle Bill Warner

Hitler had a word for it: übermensch" ...the super race. All others were "untermensch" ...or sub-humans. Couple this idea with the capability to do violence, and you can see that the results may quickly get out of hand.

There is a hierarchy in the minds of many Americans. Father over children. Men over women. White over Black. Rich over poor. Straight over gay. Christian over Muslim. Israeli over Palestinian, European over Asian, capitalist over communist, and so it goes. Implicit in this hierarchy is the idea that one should dominate the other, and if the other resists, you can use force and it is O.K.. They are not as human as you.

This is learned in so many ways in our culture. When I was in Marine Corps Boot Camp in Parris Island, SC in 1950, I quickly learned that a US Marine was not only superior to civilians (especially women, who were just sex objects for our benefit) but that male Marines were superior to female Marines (referred to as "BAMS" - "Broad a---d Marines") but to "Doggies" (Army) , "Swabbies" (Navy) and "Fly Boys" (Air Force). You were superior to everyone in the world who was not an American , and definitely superior to anyone who had a darker skin or spoke a funny language. You cannot kill someone unless you see them as inferior to you. The people who get in our way are dehumanized to the point where killing someone in that category was nothing more that ridding the world of a rodent, in the way the Nazis depicted the Jews in their propaganda films, justifying the mass murder of millions.

During the Korean War (1950-53) Americans came to refer to the Koreans (even the "good" Koreans on our side) as "gooks", a slur originating with the suffix "geuk", meaning "people". It was later applied in Vietnam. Applying a label to someone is a shorthand consigning someone to an inferior status and rendering them more and more subhuman. Untermensch. We hear the term "rag heads" and "sand niggers" applied to the people of Iraq, who were going about their own affairs before we decided it was O.K. to go in and give them freedom and democracy by bombing the hell out of them and occupying their country. And torture is O.K., because they are not as human as we, and the ends justify the means.

The combination of this attitude and the propensity to violence learned from Movies, TV, video games, etc. makes for the unhealthy type of situation seen at Abou Grahib prison. These young soldiers are not un-American. They are VERY American in the grand tradition of the soldiers before them that slaughtered the subhuman native Americans, Filipinos, Koreans, Vietnamese, etc. If you doubt that we are teaching our young people this hierarchy of superiority and of violence, I suggest you just check out some of the video games our kids are playing.

What is the answer to this combination of our belief of our moral and God-given superiority and the capability to inflict ourselves on others at will for our own benefit, while pretending it is for the good of our victims? I don't rightly know, but I suspect that refusing to see the situation for what it is and to take note of how we really are is a first step.

Belief in myths about ourselves is not going to make us safer or more prosperous in the long run. Can you convince the Arab world of our innate goodness and unselfishness if we bomb, torture, and treat others with a lack of respect for them , their culture, religion, and humanity? How many new recruits into the ranks of terrorists have been made by the US heavy-handed policies in the Middle East? I think that as we sow, so shall we reap. Our arrogant unilateral abrogation of the Geneva Convention, saying it "does not apply to people we think are terrorists" with the subsequent mistreatment of prisoners of war ( who, by calling them "illegal combatants", etc., are exempted from the protection of international law) can backfire on us. Can you imagine photos of captive Americans being piled naked and photographed a la Abou Grahib? If we are mildly outraged by this being done to Iraqis, we'd be IMMENSELY outraged if those poor souls were US! What is wrong with this picture?

100 years ago Rudyard Kipling penned the classic imperialist/racist poem: The White Man's Burden", which contains passages illustrative of our myth of being the supermen. Here are a few choice lines:

Take up the White Man's burden-- Send forth the best ye breed-- Go bind your sons to exile To serve your captives' need; To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild-- Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man's burden-- In patience to abide, To veil the threat of terror And check the show of pride; By open speech and simple, An hundred times made plain To seek another's profit, And work another's gain....

or take notice of these lines:

Take up the White Man's burden-- The savage wars of peace-...

Take up the White Man's burden And reap his old reward: The blame of those ye better, The hate of those ye guard.

Perhaps we would do well to look in the mirror and try to see who we really are, and to ponder our relationship to our fellow human beings. Our Declaration of Independence reads: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal..." Do we really believe that, or are those just words, subordinate to belief that we are the master race. I know Hitler's answer. What will ours be?

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