Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Wright stuff

I hope everyone saw the Bill Moyers interview with Senator Obama's former minister, Jeremiah Wright. From the media coverage and the fiery Youtube video footage--very selectively edited, of course--I was convinced I was going to behold the devil incarnate, right there on pbs. What I found instead was an eminently personable, highly educated and thoughtful individual who kept Bill and the audience spellbound for the whole hour with commentary on the Bible, African-American history, his ministry and congregation, American culture and yes, politics.

They did discuss the "god damn America" sermon Wright delivered the week after the 9/11 attacks. I honestly could not find anything majorly objectionable in it...his point was that while America had suffered a terrible blow in the murder of thousands of innocent people, America itself had done a lot of harm to innocent people through its domestic and foreign policy over the years, e.g. the treatment of native Americans, internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, its policies towards Palestinians and the discretionary war in Iraq. This isn't so different from European critiques of American policy in the post/9-11 world, which focus on the disproportionate reaction to 9/11 vis-a-vis the wars of the 20th century, in which some 50 million people--many civilians--perished.

So this was what all the fuss was about? I had to ask myself what you could deny in Reverend Wright's remarks. You could argue that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not deliberate murders of civilians, but a means of preventing many more deaths, and it might have been incendiary on his part to imply that God would damn America for its sins against others. But objectively speaking, what was untrue in Wright's remarks in that sermon? And why do people take such umbrage at this admittedly tough, but fair criticism of US foreign and domestic policy?

The only thing I can figure is that most people have grown up on American exceptionalism...the idea that America is blessed by God, that it is a shining city on a hill undimmed by human tears, that it should be exempt from criticism. I have always thought it was more a matter of being blessed by geography rather than God, but nevermind. If it is true that history is actually patriotic education in most schools, I guess outrage would be a natural reaction. But it would seem that if we are to emerge from the quagmire in which we now find ourselves, especially abroad, we ought to reorder the history curriculum for the kidz and convene Truth commissions all over the country for the older folks, in order to acquaint everyone with the underreported misdeeds of their country, so that they might avoid sending to Washington people disposed to commit such misdeeds in the future. People got a lot of learnin' to do, I think.

Maybe there is a job for Reverend Wright in his retirement? We need a lot more of the Wright stuff...let's send him on a nationwide speaking gig.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fear that interview won't make a dent. Too many people take a sound bite over nuanced debate anymore.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Karlo said...

I think much of the knee-jerk reaction was over the fact that someone had actually tried to analyze America's past--hand not dealt with history in terms of the normal platitudes. Analysis of any kind in the US is equivalent to denying the trinity several hundred years ago in Europe.

7:58 AM  

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