Monday, October 18, 2004

W. E. B. Du Bois on America's imperial decadence

Reading from _The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois_ today for my transatlantic seminar. Sad to see that his description of America in a great jeremiad is not much diffent from an honest description of America today, some 35 years later. Du Bois wrote:

"I see a land which is degenerating and faces decadence unless it has the sense enough to turn about and start back. It is no sin to fail. It is the habit of men. It is disaster to go on when you know you are going wrong. I judge this land not merely by statistics or reading lies agreed upon by historians. I judge by what I have seen, heard, and lived through for near a century. [he lived for 95 years]
"There was a day when the world rightly called Americans honest even if crude; earning their living by hard work; telling the truth no matter whom it hurt; and going to war only in what they believed a just cause after nothing else seemed possible. Today we are lying, stealing, and killing. We call all this by finer names: Advertising, Free Enterprise, and National Defense. But names in the end deceive no one; today we use science to help us deceive our fellows; we take wealth that we never earned and we are devoting all our energies to kill, maim and drive insane, men, women, and children who dare refuse to do what we want done. No nation threatens us. We threaten the world.
. . . . "And they know why we fail, these military masters of men: 'we haven't taught our children mathematics and physics'. No, it is because we have not taught our children to read and write or to behave like human beings and not like hoodlums. Every child on my street in whooping it up with toy guns and big boys with real pistols. . . . The highest ambition of an American boy today is to be a millionaire. The highest ambition of an American girl is to be a movie star. Of the ethical actions which lie back of these ideals, little is said or learned. What are we doing about it? Half the Christian churches of New York are trying to ruin the free public schools in order to install religious dogma in them; and the other half are too interested in Venezuelan oil to prevent the [closing of] the best center in Brooklyn fighting youthful delinquency . . . . Which of the hundreds of churches sitting half empty protests about this? They hire Billy Graham to replace the circus in Madison Square Garden." (415-416).

Apparently things haven't changed much since 1968 when this was published. If anything, they've gotten considerably worse. Have a nice day!


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