The Myth of the Superman
Uncle Bill Warner
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
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 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
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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