America 1941-1999: A Cosmological Historical Perspective

September 1, 1999

[Essay originally published as an article in The People’s Voice of Franklin County (Massachusetts), Autumn 1999]

My life began in 1941 on the day we celebrate our independence, five months before our country’s entrance into World War II. In 1945, when I was but four years old, the U.S. unleashed the Atomic Age with the dropping on Japan of the previously unimagined destructive power of nuclear bombs. At this point in history, for the first time ever, the continuity of life and culture could no longer be assumed as certain. This loss of assurance of our continuity as a species, as a community, is perhaps the most pivotal psychological/psychic event in human history.

My life has spanned the entire tense Cold War (1945-1990) era. Having grown up in a religious, lower middle-class family, it seemed everyone was gloating over our "victory" in World War II. "National security" dominated our politics assuring the economic prosperity promised to virtually every family (with, of course, many exceptions based on race, political views, etc.).

Then came the revolutionary 1960s. More than ever before, the "Columbus Enterprise," whose mind-set of arrogance and violence so permanently altered and deleteriously affected the native cultural, ecological, and economic landscape of our hemisphere beginning in 1492, was lanced. Through traumas of my military experiences in Vietnam my own comfortable "American" paradigm was broken as well.

The revolution seeking to replace a greedy, destructive and deceptive capitalism with a caring and honest one or, better yet, a socialist model of some sort many had hoped for, did not succeed. However, through the energy unleashed by the Civil Rights, feminist, nonviolent, anti-war, and ecology movements, among others, an unprecedented questioning of previously entrenched values occurred. A new awareness, or a revitalized ancient one, was activated in our collective consciousness. As with all emotional and social history, this energy and awareness became part of the content of our evolutionary journey. It is not behind us. It has become a permanent part of our collective memory and wisdom, a source of ongoing change and hope. It is unpredictable how this awareness may yet manifest in formulating a new politics, a paradigm based on a sustainable model of sacred interconnectedness (or ecology) of all life.

Many of us naively thought that Vietnam represented a demonic aberration from a glorious U.S.-American history. With some reforms of the political system and the infusion of more enlightened intellectual judgements, we thought, "America" would return to its splendid destiny. But as a people’s uncensored version of our history was reexamined with more honesty, the golden mystique surrounding "America" collapsed. Our country, in fact, was not founded on democratic practices but rather on oligarchic ones. Our wars originate with fabricated pretexts and are perpetuated by incredible lies. Our civilization has been aggressively built on three holocausts: (1) theft of our land base from the Indigenous peoples through the genocide of millions of original Americans; (2) development of our agricultural and industrial economy through chattel slavery of millions of involuntarily imported African natives with millions killed in the process, and wage slavery of millions of other imported laborers from Europe, Asia and Latin America; and (3) application of "manifest destiny" beyond the borders of what became the Continental United States, especially since the "Spanish American" war at the turn of the Twentieth Century, leading to our rationalized overt and/or covert interventions into over 100 countries. We have killed millions to assure hegemonic control over global resources and markets in order to feed the non-negotiable, insatiable collective appetites of the American Way Of Life (AWOL). This historical evidence reveals that Vietnam was not an aberration but the continuation of a long pattern of darkness in our cultural character–a pattern which continues today.

Incredible violence was the historic victor in World War II, though the military victory celebrated by the U.S. further corrupted our character by reinforcing our original sin of arrogance. Following our humiliating defeat 30 years later in Vietnam, AWOL has been busy restoring itself to full confidence through global hegemony. In the post-Cold War era, the U.S. is operating with unipolar triumphalism, more than ever behaving as a dangerous international outlaw entirely beyond the boundaries of international law and institutions created to resolve collectively regional and global issues, and doing so with absolute impunity. The U.S. 1998-1999 bombings of Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and former Yugoslavia are the latest dangerous examples. The U.S. "needs" to assure that the world is safe for AWOL and a global "free," tyrannical market enabling ever more profits for transborder corporations while impoverishing ever more poor.

Ironically, we as a nation continue to be deeply affected, even haunted, by our Vietnam trauma, euphemistically termed the Vietnam syndrome (i.e., a disorder). The fact that the U.S. society, through its government, chooses not to ask forgiveness from the Vietnamese people for the terrible unprovoked transgressions committed against them, but instead continues to experience Vietnam as unacceptable humiliation, is a significant clue that the world faces ever more dangers as the U.S. operates as sole world arbiter and decision-maker. Psychologists tell us that those who refuse to own their own darkness generally project that darkness with ever more intensity upon others. "Enemies" are regularly created whether at the individual or collective level, and behavior is directed at eradicating those "enemies." Paranoia, carefully masked by comforting propaganda and noble-sounding rationales, dominates.

We in the United States, and the West in general, are faced with the Mother of all structural problems: The U.S. with but 4.5% of the world’s population consumes a range of 25-50% of the world’s resources; the industrialized "developed" world with 25% of the world’s population consumes 85% of the world’s resources. This leaves the 75% of the world’s peoples that comprise the "Third World" impoverished with the remaining 15% of the world’s resources. This is both unjust and immoral. The lifestyle of the 25% of the "developed" world requires incredible exploitation of "Third World" peoples, the ecosystem and the other ten million species in a manner that is totally unsustainable.

This structural problem must be addressed if we choose to survive as a species. Understanding it helps explain our imperial, violent intervention policies. How human beings of conscience and integrity preserve their humanity within the context of the criminal nation-state system is one of the greatest challenges of our time.

Depression, loneliness and addictions have become the most common maladies in virtually every consumer-oriented society, including ours. Many ecopsychologists, in trying to understand our apparent death wish, argue that since the advent of modern agriculture (separation), our species has suffered from psychic mutilation, an original trauma, resulting from the rupturing of our primary intrinsic and intimate relationship with the earth. Our growing human psychopathology, they claim, helps explain the increasing injuries being inflicted on the planet and upon one another. In other words, we are experiencing the symptoms of a fundamental disconnect from the Earth and all her wisdom, and therefore from our true selves.

As significant as the beginning of the nuclear age has been to depressing our psyche, another discovery offers a powerful antidote for our minds and spirits. Subsequent to the Bomb, astronomers, physicists and cosmologists have been able to scientifically offer us awareness of a gre
ater universal perspective within which to comprehend our journey–a perspective that may assist us in formulating radically different choices and values that will determine whether we continue or not as a species. We now know, for example, that the birthplace of the universe is 15 billion light years from the earth. Many scientists consider this discovery the most significant of the Twentieth Century. The universe continues to expand everywhere in all "directions." And you and I on our three-million-year human journey continue to be part of this creative energy force. Five billion years ago the hydrogen atoms created at the birth of the universe came together to form our great Sun, and within another half billion years, our solar system emerged. Astronomers now believe there are more than 300 billion stars, i.e., suns, comprising our Milky Way galaxy alone, and more than a trillion galaxies in the universe.

This is the awesome, magnificent context that is accessible, already within us, to guide our journey as we enter the next, quite scary millennium. We now have a better understanding of our origins, development and potential destiny–our cosmological wisdom–than ever before. Indigenous peoples have intuitively understood their sense of place and journey in the cosmos, which has provided them a wisdom and a spiritual life rooted in the earth-oriented and astronomical world. It is tragic that the "developed" world is on the verge of erasing "primitive" Indigenous cultures from existence.

Ironically, at the same time that modern science is beginning to reawaken us to our awesome context and energy sources, consumerism has become the contemporary dominant religious faith. Television is the church and the advertisers our preachers, constantly bombarding us with crass materialism. This force, escalating and omnipresent, effectively conveys the central message of what is now the essence of neoliberal economics and even "democratic" capitalism: human beings exist to make money and then buy as much stuff as possible.

As part of my own healing I have chosen to study other cultures and the effects of U.S. economic, military and covert policies on their peoples. I have traveled to rural areas, villages and cities in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as throughout the U.S. In the process I have discovered numerous examples of striving to preserve a just and healthy way of life, often explicitly rooted in the wisdom of the Earth and the Cosmos–this despite repression intended to force these efforts into the "development" model. I have been impressed by many who express a revulsion to the religion of the day (materialism), and demonstrate an awareness of the incredible propaganda system that bombards their minds with "America’s" spin on everything from the superiority of our way of life to the evils du jour in the remainder of the world.

The intensely arrogant, self-serving ideology of Western governments and their economic institutions propagated through their mass media is a major impediment to awareness and enlightened action. The frenetic materialist lifestyle preempts reflection and critical thinking. Therefore, people and communities who have preserved simplicity or who have chosen to live more simply and who are not dependent on or do not have access to the mass propaganda system are much more likely to connect with the wisdom of the Earth and the heavens. In some cases, they have been forced to seek an alternative way to survive, more locally and organically, for lack of cash and access to external inputs.

As people and communities learn to live locally consistent with a natural regional "carrying capacity," their ecological footprint becomes much smaller and they come closer to a sustainable, non-imperial way of life. This verges on being both radical, i.e., going to the root of their being, and revolutionary, i.e., turning around from limitless consumption to sacred sustainability. Our ancient evolutionary intimacy with the earth, as part of the continually unfolding cosmological energy, is already deeply imbedded within us, despite the powerful, arrogant ideologies conditioned in our brains. Reconnecting with this intimacy is our great hope.


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