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WHAT WE THINK
"Covering up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages"
What July 4 really means

July 4, 2003 | Page 3

WASHINGTON'S WARMONGERS will wave the flag with special fervor this Fourth of July. Democrats and Republicans will salute the "Stars and Stripes"--and compete over whose blood runs redder, whiter and bluer.

But how can this orgy of patriotism look to someone in Iraq today? While politicians celebrate America winning its independence from Britain's colonial rule in 1776, the U.S. military is setting up colonial rule over Iraq.

While the media claim the American flag as a symbol of freedom, the U.S. won't even allow Iraqis to hold elections to choose their own leaders. While Bush talks about "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Iraqi prisoners suffer "cruel, inhuman or degrading" conditions in U.S.-run camps, according to Amnesty International.

This week, Bush will travel to Africa, a continent ravaged by war and poverty. He'll pledge that the U.S. is committed to "peace" and "prosperity."

But you can be sure he won't mention that Africa is the scene of one of the greatest crimes in human history--the enslavement of 50 million Africans, transported across the Atlantic to die in the plantation fields of the U.S. South, among other destinations. What can the American flag mean to Africans whose ancestors were dragged away in chains?

Bush will state his concern about "unrest" in Liberia--where a civil war threatens to topple the dictator Charles Taylor. What a travesty that United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has called on the U.S. to send "peacekeeping" troops to Liberia, even as Washington cracks down in Iraq.

There are those who question Bush's war machine, but say that "peace is patriotic" and that we should claim the American flag for our side. But every U.S. fighter jet, helicopter, tank and armored personnel carrier scattered around the world bears the Stars and Stripes.

American military might, American dominance and American empire--this is what daily makes and remakes what the flag stands for. Meanwhile, at home, appeals to the flag and patriotism are used to demand sacrifice from working people--for the good of the economy or in the name of "national security."

More than 150 years ago, the Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass gave voice to what the Fourth of July holiday means to the have-nots. "This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn," the former slave said in an 1852 speech. "What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.

"To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy--a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages."

On the Fourth of July, we stand with Douglass--not Washington's warmongers.

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