Robinson Jeffers’ poem “Shine, Perishing Republic” is entirely badass and entirely relevant here and now 89 years later. It was written in 1925, in the breath between World War I and World War II. I often search for the moment that America turned a corner. Was it in the in the ’60s and ’70s as it crushed the counter-culture and assured itself that it would no longer tolerate civil liberties’ threat to established power structures? Was it during the ’80s when Reaganism opened the floodgates of deregulation and suddenly all facets of the nation were for sale, oligarchy ossified, and the Neo-Con agenda was born?
All of these are pivotal moments, but Jeffers saw it as early as 1925, specifically it was America’s involvement in World War I. Before that, we were something that resembled a republic. After that, we were something that resembled an empire. Our involvement in sovereign nations since then solidifies this idea. When we look back in history, we get a sense that the pillars of civilization were once more firm, that there was once no need for cynicism and the basic tenants of American ideology meant something. In short: guilt existed for those in power, and they felt beholden to the concept of the greater good. But, as Jeffers writes way back then, America was already “thickening to empire.” Has there ever been any integrity in the American power structure?
The course of America through the past few centuries seems to be at best a slow slide toward the prevalence of its ulterior motives, meaning the motives of the few over the benefit of the citizenship. American exists wrapped in a second skin. We are told overtly by politicians exactly how fantastic we are. We might face hardships but they are only a hill to climb and beyond that hill are sweet amber waves of prosperity and peace. The corporate news media covers a different angle. For those entities, it’s about what they don’t say. It’s about the perspectives that they willfully marginalize, the blind eyes they turn toward our own history. Like some kind of buried traumatic event, much of America’s shady past is written in books as truth but ignored in the context of how we view the intentions of our leaders and the role of our own responsibility and complicity. What is missing from both mouthpiece entities is nuance.
Politicians, and the media outlets that they are in bed with, act as gatekeepers, and their stranglehold was only recently loosened by the advent of the internet. The lack of nuance remains though. We get to control the content of the internet, but even those with a desire to see beyond the standard narrative paint in broad strokes. It’s no surprise. We are just mimicking what we know at this point. There’s no nuance in politics and news media, and there’s probably even less in hot-button Hollywood drama and shallow network TV storytelling. Those have been our prime teachers. So the problem with conspiracy theory is not that it is baseless. There is absolutely no doubt that the American power establishment has ulterior motives that does not involve our best interest. The problem with conspiracy theory is that it lacks nuance. It paints in broad strokes and is essentially rudderless in the wide expanses of the internet wilderness.
Here’s what is true. The American government was complicit in coups and revolutions in Central American countries so that corporations might have an easier time making money off of bananas. This is true. This is history. The American government has installed dictators and trained rebels in the Middle East again and again throughout the centuries. There is solid historical evidence that says America had foreknowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor. There is solid historical evidence that says the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the so-called Nayirah testimony were both falsified. Each of these incidents was used to rally the public into wars.
Can the same be said of 9/11? Is it the new American Pearl Harbor because it was allowed to happen? What if we look at the architecture of our current position in the Middle East? We have destabilized the region so profoundly, have caused such profound chaos and destruction by stoking the fires of extremism, we can now turn around and offer a helping and uniting hand to the worn and wearied moderate Arab world. We use the beheadings of journalists to sway homeland opinion. Police presence increases in Manhattan mass transit. We wince once again as if someone has raised his hand to strike us. Yes, ok, whatever you want. Just leave us to our lives.
The Century Of Self is a masterful documentary by Adam Curtis. It traces the history of public relations in America as a deliberate type of peace time propaganda manufactured by the rising power of psychologists in the early post-war eras of America. It shows just how far the American power structure would go to shape public opinion and how deep their desire for control goes. But, simultaneously it shows how the desire for control is never satisfied. It is like trying to chase the setting sun around the globe at a speed just right to freeze it in place. The same can be said for America’s desire to control the Middle East. Our schemes are elaborate, but our control will always be just out of reach. The question remains: at what cost?