A lot of people see the name of my podcast and blog and take me at face value. They immediately think that I am some right-leaning conservative. A person who holds up American Superiority as an ideal that cannot be argued with. Those people clearly don’t read my articles or the post on our homepage discussing why I chose the “Post Modern Patriot” brand name. I question a lot of the actions of this nation. I wonder why we have done many things throughout history. Yet I continue to stand behind the belief that America is a house upon a hill because I forgive this nation for its faults. Much like I forgive myself for my own faults. We would do better to have more forgiveness in our society.
I recently heard Congressman Dan Crenshaw (R, TX) make an interesting comment about the current racial and cultural divide in America. I’m paraphrasing but he stated, “we are currently in a cultural war in America where we are deciding if the history of our nation is something, we are proud of or something we are not proud of.” I would venture to argue that the people who are angry at this nation and have trouble forgiving our past also have trouble forgiving themselves. Understanding cognitive dissonance has helped me to accept my own faults, the faults of others, and the faults of specific institutions.
The first time I heard this psychological term used was when I was studying atrocities of war at The Basic School. The Marine Corps made a concerted effort to teach their officers about units who have engaged in the murder and rape of innocent civilians in the midst of war. While raping and pillaging are actions taken alongside war for centuries, they are highly detestable to the American people. They hurt the image of our armed forces, and there is no place for them in an organization that labels itself as possessing the value of honor. Therefore, terms like My-lai and Haditha are well-known to and, well-studied by the Officers of the Warrior elite. In my studies we watched an interview with the Sergeant who ordered the killing of 24 unarmed civilians in Iraq during the Haditha Massacre.
In the interview we watched, you could see Sgt. Wuterich rationalizing his actions and explaining the fact that what he did was not wrong. That it was due to circumstances outside of his control. The Captain teaching our course then introduced the term Cognitive Dissonance to us. She explained that individuals view themselves as either good or bad. That for an individual to continue viewing themselves as a good person they must rationalize away the bad things they have done. Otherwise they will never be able to live with themselves. She explained that Sgt. Wuterich had to convince himself that the murder of innocent civilians was the result of combat fatigue from constant patrols and loss of life within his squad. As we watch from the outside of his situation, we find it easy to judge Sgt Wuterich and armchair quarterback his situation.
Forgiving Early America
I believe many of us find it very easy to watch the history of this nation from the outside and judge the actions of those before us. I too have a hard time rationalizing the fact that Thomas Jefferson deemed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as inalienable rights while owning slaves himself. As I studied Race and Ethnicity in college, I found myself becoming very angry at the actions taken against black people within our nation. When I read the auto-biography of Frederick Douglas it was the first time in my life I felt I could truly sympathize with the realities of the early treatment of slaves in America. I found myself struggling to turn a blind eye to this treatment by rationalizing it as thing of the past that we no longer engage in.
I would point toward the civil war and the largest loss of American life as a way of correcting this wrong. A way of demonstrating to the world that our nation does place the highest precedence on liberty and justice for all. Then I learned about the indirect racism in the north and the direct racism in the south during the 20th century. Again, I took pause and questioned the treatment of citizens in our nation who may not identify with the majority based on their skin color. Cognitive Dissonance prevented me from accepting these realities and simultaneously viewing our nation as good on the whole.
Atrocities in our nation don’t always happen in war. Our founding is as steeped in the birth of democracy as it is in the oppression of a people. The way we treated the Native Americans in this country is most definitely something we cannot rationalize away. While it seems far off and history points toward there being aggressive action on both sides it is absolutely something I am not proud of. I look at the current socioeconomic standing of the descendants of the Native American people as a whole and, cannot help but feel that our nation should take fault in their present situation.
I Am Still Proud of this Nation
I don’t think we can ever make up for the mistakes we have made as a country. The decisions of those in power at certain times were not appropriate. At other times I believe this country has had a great role in the benefit of mankind. There are certain things this nation has done for its people that we cannot argue with. The entire history of our nation is embedded in one of the smallest, poorest countries in the world having the ability to stand up to the greatest empire in existence. The declaration of independence is a statement to the world that we can look back at and be proud of. A statement that says, The American people will not tolerate injustice. We will not be a nation who sits on the sidelines while other entities engage in actions we do not tolerate. Even if standing up to that injustice potentially results in our own demise.
The Constitution and our Bill of Rights have provided a foundation for the great struggle for equality and acceptance that we find ourselves engaged in even today. The same institution that tolerated slavery for so many years issued a proclamation of emancipation and engaged in combat with itself to right that wrong. The civil rights movement would not have occurred if our founding fathers failed to afford the American Citizen, freedom of speech and the right to assemble. The same nation that at its birth almost ruined an entire race of people, has repeatedly stepped onto the world stage to bring down some of the worst dictators the world has ever seen.
I don’t believe everyone needs to forgive this country for its faults. Asking people to do so from my position as a member of the middle-class majority would be unfair. I can say that I think it is possible to accept that the actions of our past did happen. To accept that although slavery and oppression are a part of our history, they do not define us. We as a people choose what defines our nation. For me, our nation is defined by the men and women of our armed forces. It is defined by those citizens with a sense of civic responsibility. It is defined by the communities who continue to band together in times of struggle. Who make progress and face defeat. Who try again and again because there is no great effort without failure and shortcoming.
John McCarthy is a Father, Son, Husband and former Marine Infantry Officer. He serves his local community and just wants to push people to be better humans. Check out the Tough Talk Podcast and other writings on this website to learn more.