George W. Bush seems to have inspired not only political extremism in action, but in words as well – especially on the radio. If you want to hear cruel and mean words, just tune into prime time AM radio. The “John and Ken Show,” an afternoon talk program in Los Angeles, targets — illegal immigrants — and praises vigilantes who hunt them down. Both John and Ken stopped just short of calling for the immediate castration of Michael Jackson during pre trial and trial days in the preceding months.
Mean spiritedness of mouth, however, pales before some really vicious deeds. For centuries, sectors of peaceful and kind Americans have cohabited with another group whose pent-up aggression has awaited only a tiny provocation for release. The ire emerged in its full ugliness during the late 17th Century witch trials in Salem Massachusetts as sexually repressed Puritan elders discovered that the Devil had infiltrated their Zion in the Wilderness — through the genitals of course.
Although the Puritans failed to spread their mission everywhere on the continent, in their theocratic attempt to build a sin-free world so that Christ could return and redeem humankind, they did leave a lasting legacy. Religion, repression, empire and violence have fit well together ever since as a leitmotif in U.S. history.
For two plus centuries, millions of slaves experienced the cruelty of masters and lieutenants who routinely beat and raped their work forces and separated families – all justified, the men of God explained, by the Bible. After slavery, the new apartheid rulers regularly lynched blacks and effectively segregated much of the country – deeds again condoned by sections of the politicized clergy who interpreted segregation as God-given.
Malice took center stage in the personae of the military during the century plus of Indian wars, imperial battles with “enemies” who possessed inferior military technology. U.S. officials learned a lesson to not fight tough foes with advanced armaments in the 1812 war to annex Canada from England.
Under commands from the War Department, U.S. troops massacred tribes and stole their land. The U.S. invasion and occupation of Indian lands stands as a cruel and aggressive imperial model. (Indeed, both President Bushes criticized Saddam Hussein for doing similar deeds in Kuwait in 1990.)
U.S. soldiers carried out massacres when they occupied the Philippines (1898-1932). U.S. occupation armies in Haiti, Cuba and Nicaragua behaved in similar fashion.
What could have been crueler than the World War II dropping of nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities, the fire bombing of civilian populations in Germany and Japan?
And the ugly side of the American face showed out of uniform in recent bombings of the Oklahoma Federal Building and countless abortion clinics — not by fanatic Muslims, but by home grown, U.S.-army-trained young men.
The cruel deeds also find their reflection on the airwaves. The nasty talking addict Rush Limbaugh wanted to jail other addicts and give the death sentence to dealers. Listen, but only once, please, to the homicidal ranting of Michael Savage and the Puritanical orthodoxy of Dr. Laura, who posed naked for the camera while living in sin, a situation she deplores for other women. But these political potty mouths pale before the recent folksy wit of perennial radio talker Paul Harvey.
At 86 and fresh from signing a ten-year $100 million contract with Disney-ABC, this radio perennial personality apparently decided that the time had finally come for him to articulate a point of view that he felt certain his listeners would share.
On June 23, he said on his daily ABC radio show: “I’ve been choking on something for weeks. Let´s get it up and get it out, for what it’s worth. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Winston Churchill said that the American people and this is a direct quote: `We didn’t come this far because we are made of sugar candy.´ That was his response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. And that reminder was taken seriously and we proceeded to develop and deliver the bomb even though roughly 150,000 men, women and children perished in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With a single blow, World War II was over.”
Did he get your attention? Now for the application of history to the present, Harvey labeled “New York’s September 11 Pearl Harbor. Winston Churchill was not here to remind us that we didn’t come this far because we are made of sugar candy. So following the New York disaster we mustered our humanity, we gave old pals a pass even though men and money from Saudi Arabia were largely responsible for the devastation of New York and Pennsylvania and our Pentagon. We called Saudi Arabia our partners against terrorism and we sent men with rifles into Afghanistan and Iraq and we kept our best weapons in their silos. Even now, we’re standing there dying, daring to do nothing decisive because we’ve declared ourselves to be better than our terrorist enemies, more moral, more civilized. Our image is at stake, we insist.”
Harvey did not pause for “page 2,” his traditional transition to a commercial. He continued: “We didn’t come this far because we are made of sugar candy. Once upon a time we elbowed our way onto and into this continent by giving smallpox infected blankets to Native Americans. Yes, that was biological warfare. And we used every other weapon we could get our hands on to grab this land from whomever and we grew prosperous. And yes, we greased the skids with the sweat of slaves.”
A lightning course on how the United States became a great nation! “And so it goes with most great nation-states, which feeling guilty about their savage pasts, eventually civilize themselves out of business and wind up invaded and ultimately dominated by the lean, hungry, up and coming who are not made of sugar candy. Paul Harvey –Good Day.”
Harvey made a case for slavery, genocide and nuclear and biological warfare as legitimate methods with which to build “our” great nation. On Disney-owned stations, which syndicate Harvey to over 1,000 radio stations with an estimated audience of 18 million! Disney-ABC has not informed his listeners that Paul Harvey served in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1942-44 and was discharged via Section 8 — mental illness.
What a transformation from Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy! Disney drew these family-friendly animals without genitals, to make them unthreatening, or protect children from the knowledge that even animals have them? He even drew white gloves over their paws, for purity or to cover up the fact that paws are not exactly hands.
In 2004, Michael Moore tried to distribute his film Fahrenheit 9/11 through Disney’s subsidiary Miramax, which was also the principal investor in the film. The New York Times (May 5, 2004) reported that a Disney executive said since “Disney caters to families of all political stripes and believes Mr. Moore’s film…could alienate many” it would not allow Miramax to distribute the movie.
The Disney executives have thus far not seemed concerned about Paul Harvey’s endorsement of a variety of what several treaties define as crimes against humanity and war crimes, slavery and targeting civilian populations with nuclear and bio weapons. Nor do Disney executives fear that censuring Harvey might offend millions of those mean spirited people who listen to his folksy and reactionary platitudes.
Consider the 17 hours a week of prime time slots given to Limbaugh and Dr. Laura. Count the hours given at prime time to angry right wing ranters and ravers like Michael Savage, Al Rantel, Larry Elder, G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North. Indeed, these extremists almost monopolize the talk show time. On AM and FM religious stations, fundamentalist preachers dominate; their politics dovetail with the more secular mountebanks on non-religious radio. Ironically, the talk show hosts chime in as one loud chorus in their complaint about “liberal control of the media.”
As liberals waxed eloquent in their condemnation of the U.S. tortures of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib, Limbaugh suggested that the prison guards were – just having funÃ¢?? and – blowing off some steam.Ã¢?? Limbaugh – s idea of – harmless funÃ¢?? included sodomizing prisoners, attaching wires to the fingers, toes, and penis of another to simulate electric torture and raping children. Like fraternity and sorority parties at fun-loving campuses, the MPs at Abu Ghraib just played around as a male soldier raped a female prisoner.
Imperial aggression, from the Puritans – notion of spreading the Word to George W. Bush – s spreading-democracy-everywhere, coincides with cruel and illegal behavior. It also jibes with dangerous and close to the surface feelings of millions of people in this country. In the name of God and goodness, our soldiers, ordered by their political leaders, have done terrible things around the world. The least articulate of these psychopaths wait for words from – authoritiesÃ¢?? like Paul Harvey and the other charlatans of AM air time to tell them that God, democracy and greatness all justify their urges toward homicidal violence.
Landau teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University, is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and the author of THE BUSINESS OF AMERICA: HOW CONSUMERS HAVE REPLACED CITIZENS AND HOW WE CAN REVERSE THAT TREND.