I find the Revolutionary War to be a very confusing war

            I meant to post something for the 4th of July, but I got way too caught up in my thoughts about America. I’ve been abroad for at least four out of the last ten months. And I spent most of that time in South Asia. Prior to going there in October of 2009, the last time I’d been to India was a short visit in the summer of 2003.

            Being not-in-America makes me really miss America. I sometimes surrender to the temptation to kiss the ground upon returning home. There’s really no other place in the world in the world where I want to live.

            But I also find that feeling so paradoxical. Because I know that life in America is not better than it is in other developed countries. In many respects, it is significantly worse and its people are significantly unhappier. Which makes the 4th of July kind of a weird holiday. Down here, we have a country celebrating a war that killed 26,000 people in order to liberate it from….Great Britain? North of the 49th parallel, there is a country that expended no lives and is also a free and stable democracy.

            If anything, we’d be better off right now if we were part of Canada. From the modern standpoint, it seems like the main results of the Revolutionary War are a lack of healthcare and millions of innocent people, from across the world, directly and indirectly murdered in our name.

            Given that, what does it even mean to say that I love America? I certainly don’t think it is more moral or provides a better life for its people than most (or any) other developed nations.

            The only rationalization I could think of is that I love America in the way that most people love their families. You know that your family is not really better than the millions of other families around you. But you love them anyway. You see their good points and downplay the significance of their bad points.

            And sure, I can name a hundred and one things that I love about America. In fact, I delight in most of the things that are generally held to be negatives. I could go on and on about it. But those are not really real things. I like those things because I grew up with them, because they’re familiar to me. America is the scenery for every major event in my life, and so of course American things will have an emotional resonance for me that other things will lack.

            But…even that is kind of unsatisfying as an explanation of my love for America. You love your family because they’re people, because they love you, and because you need to love them in order to interact with them and grow up with them and put up with their various impositions. Love lubricates the entire setup.

            But…America doesn’t love me. America is not capable of emotions. America is a place. Or a collection of people. Or a system for organizing people. Or a shared set of customs. If the purpose of a nation is to create an environment conducive to the material well-being and happiness of its people, then America is not that great of a success. The solution is to move somewhere else, or, if that’s too much of a hassle, to deal with it. What purpose do all these extraneous emotions serve?

            If anything, it makes the things America does feel worse, and seem more egregious. Especially when it’s things that directly affect me. The way that Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Travel Security Agency act at airports is not actually that bad. I don’t mind it when other countries hassle me. But receiving even minor hassling by your own country upon coming home…that just really sucks.

            I’m pretty sure that love is not the right word. Maybe I’m just using it as a synonym for, “I’m comfortable here” or “I’m happier here than I would be somewhere else”. That feels righter, since it puts the emphasis on me and on some chemical stuff going on inside my head, instead of on America, an object which is not, on its own merits, capable of supporting these emotions.

            But I don’t know if that’s really quite true either. I feel much more positively about America than many people I know, including people who would be much, much unhappier in some other country.

            And that’s where I’ve gotten on this topic. I think my problems here are mostly linguistic and semantic. I haven’t really defined what I mean by “America” or what the emotion I feel is. And I’m not really sure what the question is either. Is the question, “Why do I feel this way?” or is it “How should I feel?” I don’t know.

            Now that I have a reader or two, feel free to chime in with your own mild America-related angst.

10 thoughts on “I find the Revolutionary War to be a very confusing war

  1. Alex J. Kane

    You probably haven’t seen my article on immigration/U.S. race relations/foreign policy, but if you’re interested, it’s here: http://kanearts.net/wordpress/2010/04/26/the-battle-for-legal-and-cultural-liberty-an-examination-of-the-strife-toward-freedom-and-understanding-by-mexican-american-immigrants.

    This nation is a good one, don’t get me wrong, but it is in a very, very unhealthy state right now.

    I’m not one of the grim preachers of The Fall of the American Empire, because I really don’t foresee that sort of thing happening anytime soon, but I do believe that as a nation we really need to get our act together.

    The sociopolitical climate is riddled with subtle racism and notions of white superiority, which disgust me, and I absolutely hate the manner in which the two opposing parties banter with one another regarding how the other is at fault for various problems.

    It’s like the U.S. government has become a damn reality television show and its officials are the cast, running the show with mindless bickering.

    I’m going to sit down and relax now. Hehe.

    1. blotterpaper

      I’m not really sure that any of that stuff is different from 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, though.

      I mean, sure, the immigration situation sucks. But until 1946’s Luce-Cellar Act, immigration policy was explicitly racist, with immigration from Asia forbidden. And until 1964, the national quotas on immigration were very racially based, with most Asian countries being limited to a hundred people a year or so. If they’d come of age twenty years earlier, my parents would have found emigrating to America legally impossible.

      And America’s always had a bipolar political landscape with two parties who basically agree on most things, but bicker endlessly and unproductively about their minor differences.

      So, no, I don’t really see that America is much worse right now than it has ever been. If anything, right now we’re killing fewer people, occupying fewer countries, and denying fewer citizens their rights than has been our historical average.

  2. Alex J. Kane

    I suppose that the truth of it is, from my point of view, that I just never noticed how explicit the mentality is until recently.

    After all, I’m still in college and more politically informed via news, blogs, and television (John Stewart, mostly hehe) than ever before.

    You’re right, most definitely, in that America isn’t even close to as bad as it once was. We no longer openly exterminate our enemies. Now we just hire “Corporate Security Contractors” to help out with that sort of thing.

    The more you learn about history, the more facepalming you find yourself doing. Watch FOX News and you’re face with end up bright red by the time it’s over.

  3. Anonymous

    I’m Canadian, but I’m always down in the States because my girlfriend is from there. And I love it.

    One time, I was buying chips with a(n American) friend at a vending machine at school (in Canada). He pointed to all the choices, and he said, “I wish we didn’t have all these choices. I wish there were a bunch of brown bags, and all of them said ‘CHIPS.’ And I would just have to choose CHIPS, instead of Ruffles, or Lays, or all-dressed, or whatever.”

    I do not agree. When I go down to the States, there is more variety–you know, of stuff, just stuff–in a gas station on the side of Route 611 in rural Pennsylvania than there is in my whole country.

    And I guess I just love that.

    Oh, and beaches.

    …however, I prefer monarchs, so Canada does have that. We do have monarchs.


      1. R. H. Kanakia

        Yeah, I love lots of things about America…especially consumerist things. I really like fast food. I mean, they have it everywhere now. But the notion that I can get a huge selection of extroardinarily cheap food items that will taste the same every time, without leaving my car, that is American all the way. Oh, I love driving. It might be the same in Canada, but other than us and Australia, I’m pretty sure there is no other countries in the world that are so vast and empty and accessible. I love being able to drive fifty miles, or a hundred and fifty miles, on a whim. I love urban sprawl. There’s something soaring in the concrete savannah, something like what we feel when we look at forests, or mountains.

        But…if I’d been born somewhere else, I would probably be horrified by all those things.

  4. David

    Sorry that I haven’t been here in a few days.

    1. Patriotism is gratitude and gratitude is grace. One is full of grace for the country because it contains the people and institutions which reflect love and respect.

    2. There is also the delight of agonizing over the meaning and importance of America. AMerica is at least meaningful because of the clash between the commitment to equality and freedom with the deep reality that the life, liberty (from a certain point of view) and happiness that people pursue has very little to do with equality. America (but certainly not everything about living in America) is great because one can see where equality has won, rightly and wrongly, and where inequality has won, rightly and wrongly. This tension is present for all liberal modern societies, but America is the biggest and probably the first.

    3. Speaking of America as the first liberal modern society, Canada did not become independent etc. in a parallel universe where there had been no American Revolution, where there was not a large country to Canada’s south that had become independent from Britain through force. Now I don’t know what Washington, FRanklin, Jefferson, Hamiton, should have done around 1776 (and not only because I am very stupid), but I do know that the Shot Heard ‘Round the World at Lexington was not literal and that then it must have been widely known and possibly influential, possibly even on the Upper Canada Rebellion and Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837-1838. I have neither the interest nor ability to compare the independence movements in America and Canada but still know that I would assume neither“Absent the American Revolution, there is Canadian independence as we understand it,” nor (especially) “Absent the American Revolution, there is American independence as we understand it.” But maybe it would be better.

    4. Don’t waste your time responding to my stupidity.

    1. David

      Additionally, I should point out that you are right that patriotism as emotional resonance is different from love of family.

      Also, the gratitude which includes patriotism is not a moral duty for everything; not everything is worthy of gratitude. Relatedly, it is also possible to be grateful for something while being hostile to, or at least disappointed in, it for other reasons, and, as you point out, this mix of the two emotions may make that hostility or disappointment more intense.

      1. R. H. Kanakia

        Yes, sometimes I feel this gratitude for being alive which I also find really perplexing. I think that our lack of terminology to handle emotions like these is part of what leads to a belief in God. If we had a word that was “grateful for being alive” but didn’t seem to require an object (as the word “gratitude” does) then life would be less confusing. I bet the Germans have that word.

    2. R. H. Kanakia

      Yeah, re: point 3 (I didn’t really understand the first two points), you’re right in that Canada might not exist in this form if America didn’t exist. But the lines of causality are not really as clear as you make them. The UK was (something of a) democracy even before America became independent. And there were Swiss and Dutch democratic systems as well.

      But from the point of today, all that counterfactual crap is kind of besides the point. Today, right now, the Revolutionary War serves to highlight the deep differences (and similarities) between Canada and the U.S. and the U.K. And the US doesn’t really come out looking that great.

      I mean, the point you’re making is one that can be made about pretty much everything in the U.S. Our educational system is a mess because we were the first nation to have a comprehensive secondary-school system and we did it from the ground-up, in a decentralized fashion. For fifty years, that made us the best-educated people in the world. But then other countries learned from our mistakes and leap-frogged us. Same with rail transport. Same with our internet backbone.

      I mean, we can take solace in having been the first. But solace doesn’t put knowledge in peoples’ heads or internet in their phones.

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