Outside the supermarket today, I encountered quite an interesting combo of fundraisers. On one side, the Boy Scouts. On the other, Korean War vets. Both of these groups remind me of what’s wrong in America, and also a personal family issue that resulted from it which I think brings the whole thing home.
The Korean War served as a surrogate for the US’s and the USSR’s wish for turning the Cold War into an actual war. With the excuse of defending one Korean side against the other, each superpower was able to enter and fight the other. After three years, they called it a draw, but the adventure fanned the flames at home for the increased hatred against those damn Commies.
Riding that hatred were groups like the Knights of Columbus who succeeded in cashing in on a distinction between the US and Communist states, freedom of religion. Communist regimes aren’t just secular (which, btw, the US is as well – read the Constitution, damnit!), they actively suppress religions, mostly because they see them as a threat to their absolute power. But of course rather than lobby for something which would celebrate our free and open environment for Americans to practice or abstain from any religion, they pushed their god as something to rally around and in 1954 they got Congress to add the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance and in 1956 they got Congress to change the US motto to “In God We Trust”.
Just as the US and the USSR exploited the Korean civil war to play out their personal war, Christian groups in America exploited the Cold War to increase their influence on the government and America, and they’ve used this influence to discriminate against non-Christians, especially atheists. Today we have Americans who actually believe the US was founded as a Christian nation, that our motto was always “In God We Trust” and our Pledge is not only over 200 years old but always contained “under God” and to suggest otherwise or to fight to remove these religious phrases is unAmerican. Political candidates must make a show of their Christian convictions if they want to get elected as well, and that’s been painfully obvious in our current Presidential election where each major party candidate had to kowtow to Christ, recently agreeing only to meet for a forum held by a preacher in his church. The Democrats, at their convention, had prayer services and refused requests from atheists to speak at such events.
So aside from the personal discrimination I get as an atheist, in some small part due to the Korean War, I grew up living with the result of discrimination that occurred during that war. My father was drafted to fight in that war. My grandparents were proud to have him represent this country which they emigrated to decades before, believing in it’s high principles and boundless opportunities. Unfortunately for my father, his drill sergeant had quite a different idea of what America meant. For him, it meant a place that shouldn’t be plagued with outsiders, especially Guinea bastards, so eventually, unable to contain himself, he provoked a fight with my father which left him disabled for the rest of his life. The sergeant was court-martialed, but still, that atmosphere of discrimination apparently still exists. Certainly non-Christians, especially atheists are allegedly having a rough time, and then there’s the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for the gays.
Another group that now openly discriminates is the Boy Scouts. Although never declared official until the 80s, the Scouts claimed that homosexuals, atheists and agnostics could be barred (still unofficial is non-Christians, but I’d like to see Muslims try and join). Part of what made that official is having the Boy Scouts taken over mostly by Christian organizations (especially Mormons) who saw a wonderful opportunity to indoctrinate kids no doubt. Of course part of that indoctrination is open discrimination.
So there you have it, a trip to the supermarket where I was reminded of both the national and personal effects of discrimination and exploitation in America, past and sadly still present. Is the promise of America an empty promise? Is it impossible to ever rid ourselves of discrimination in America? Well I suppose I can be optimistic and say it’s a promise that’s simply slow to manifest. Perhaps one day America will be fully tolerant and it won’t matter what your religious beliefs are, or what your gender, race, sexual orientation or any other such distinction is. Hey, at least, as far as I know, Italian Americans don’t get beaten near to death in the military anymore.