The US Capitol was breached on Wednesday for the first time since 1814, when the British marched into Washington DC and set it ablaze
“Being an old farm boy myself, chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad…”
On 6 January, 2021, America’s chickens came home to roost.
The US Capitol was breached on Wednesday for the first time since 1814, when the British marched into Washington DC and set it, and other buildings (including the White House) ablaze.
That, according to the director of scholarship and operations with the US Capitol Historic Society.
In 1814, the breach was made by the enemies without. Wednesday’s breach was made by the enemies within: A mob of insurrectionists riled up by President Donald Trump.
A president who has for months vowed to “fight like hell” to stay in power. Who has claimed that the US election was “rigged” [it wasn’t]. Who has, over the past four years, systematically nurtured and weaponised white grievance and racism against his enemies. Who has called the press “the enemy of the people” (a phrase favoured by autocrats and dictators).
America’s allies were in dismay and disbelief. It’s enemies rejoicing.
Newspapers, for once, found the vocabulary necessary to accurately describe the harrowing events unfolding on LIVE television. Social media saw outpourings of shock and anger.
A common refrain seemed to be: “How could this happen here?”
President-elect Joe Biden, making a speech from Delaware said: “… let me be very clear: The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect the true America, do not represent who we are… I’m genuinely shocked and saddened that our nation, so long a beacon of hope and light for democracy, has come to such a dark moment.”
He added. “America’s about honour, decency, respect, tolerance. That’s who we are. That’s who we’ve always been.”
But has it really?
Even a cursory look at history proves that the President-elect is mistaken.
After all, the edifice that is America was built on the bones of Native-Americans and blood and sweat of Black people.
Let’s start with the Native Americans. This was their land, after all.
Since the day Christopher Columbus arrived on their shores in 1492, the indigenous people had to endure persecution and genocide that saw their population whittled away from 15 million in North America to a mere 238,000 in the late 19th Century.
Not to mention the over 1,500 wars and attacks authorised by the US government against them (the most of any country in the world against its indigenous people).
As historian Bernard Bailyn told the Smithsonian Magazine about the conflict between the Pilgrims and the Pequots:”… Look at the ‘peaceful’ Pilgrims. Our William Bradford. He goes to see the Pequot War battlefield and he is appalled. He said, ‘The stink’ [of heaps of dead bodies] was too much.”
War, what is it good for?
And the War of Independence? (1775-1783) Cut through the myths and the colourful tales and what you’re left with is bloody butcher’s work that left 50,000 dead (though hardly as bloody as the Civil War, but more on that shortly).
As per the Boston Globe, Holger Hoock, in his book Dark violence and atrocities of the Revolutionary War, offering a corrective to the sanitised version of the American Revolution passed down the generations, but also provides a case study in the power of myth-making by showing how the revolutionaries portrayed the British as barbarous and themselves as scrupulously observing the accepted rules of civilised warfare.
As per the book, Washington, who did not consider Britain’s Iroquois allies human beings, ordered the Continental Army to carry out a punitive campaign that decimated the Iroquois’ crops and homes with the avowed goal of “the total ruin of their settlements.”
Patriots vs traitors
Wednesday’s events, which caused the hashtag ‘CivilWar2021’ to trend, occurred on the same day that demise of the last widow of a veteran of the American Civil War made headlines. She had passed away in December.
That Civil War (1861 to 1865), coming on the heels of the election of then president Abraham Lincoln, fought over the original sin of slavery between patriots and traitors (to quote Ulysses S Grant, the Commanding General of the United States Army, and soon-to-be President of The United States) saw relentless and savage fighting from both sides that resulted in the death of over 6,00000 soldiers, left millions injured and the South decimated.
US Grant, who was given the nickname Unconditional Surrender, was unusually lenient with the vanquished (by the orders of his Commander-In-Chief Lincoln). A fact he later came to regret as president, when White supremacists and the remnants of the Confederate Army terrorised the Black people in the South.
Eventually, Reconstruction (1865 to 1877) gave way to Jim Crow, which saw Southern Legislatures pass laws restricting Black men from exercising their franchise through literacy tests and poll taxes, banned interracial marriage and mandated the separation of whites from persons of colour in public transportation and schools.
Until the advent of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and for years afterward, Black people were openly segregated, harassed, and murdered in the South.
Japanese-Americans, Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Ask Japanese-Americans during World War II, 120,000 of whom, peaceful and law abiding, were taken from their homes and placed in internment camps with no regard to their constitutional rights.
Actor George Takei, who experienced this as a child, recalls in his graphic novel They Called Us Enemy, “Shame is a cruel thing . It should rest on the perpetrators, but they don’t carry it the way the victims do.”
“I saw people crying and couldn’t understand why,” Takei recalled.
Ask the Japanese, who, some argue were on the brink of surrender during the conflict, bore the brunt of not just one, but both Atomic bombs ever used in the history of war (by the United States, of course) on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Over 200,000 died and thousands more followed in the years to come due to radiation sickness.
Korea and Vietnam
Ask the people of Korea, on whom a mind-numbing amount of Napalm was used during the Korean War (1950 to 1953).
As Mark Greenside explained to PBS: “Napalm was this hideous, jellied gas burning at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It didn’t just kill you; it tortured you. It has a complete reference to Zyclon-B, the gas they used in the concentration camps. It felt like chemical warfare at its worst.”
A quarter of a million pounds (113,398 kilograms) of napalm bombs were dropped by US forces every day, mostly in the form of the M-47 napalm bomb and the M-74 incendiary bombs.
Ask the Vietnamese, on whom up to 400,000 tons of Napalm was dropped during the Vietnam War.
Perhaps the most famous picture in history is that of Phan Thi Kim Phuc by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut. Kim Phuc, just nine when her village was napalmed by American forces, running naked and screaming in pain.
The story about a high level military officer saying “we had to destroy the village to save it” may only be an apocryphal tale, but it seems to succinctly sum up US foreign policy for decades. Speaking of which…
Interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan
Ask the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan, where US troop levels are set to be reduced to 2,500 each by mid-January.
In Afghanistan, two decades after the US launched an invasion and spilled countless blood and treasure, the Taliban remain unbeaten, unbowed and unbroken. Not to mention the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda. This, as the United States eyes the exit, and leaves India in an unenviable position.
In Iraq, which America basically broke but did not buy, the US is reducing its footprint by abandoning smaller outposts and reducing troop levels to around 3,000. It is also on the verge of shutting its Baghdad Embassy.
Just days ago, thousands Iraqi paramilitary groups gathered in Baghdad to mark the anniversary of the US killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia commander. An Iraq court recently issued an arrest warrant for Trump.
Despite its long brutal history of violence and its record of interventionism, America, much like an out-of-touch wrestling promoter, likes to simplistically portray itself as “the good guy” taking on “the bad guys.”
Storming of the Capitol
“America’s long journey as a stable democracy seems to be in doubt.”
Those were the words of an ITV News journalist covering the scene inside the Capitol.
Wow, this by ITV News is the best footage I have seen from inside the Capitol.
The journalist notes: “America’s long journey as a stable democracy appears to be in doubt.” pic.twitter.com/zvhsbwI1x5
— Amy Siskind 🏳️🌈 (@Amy_Siskind) January 7, 2021
The chaotic scenes from the storming of the building at the very heart of American democracy by angry supporters of President Donald Trump reminded one of countries where popular uprisings topple a dictator: The Arab Spring or Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution.
Scenes that have left America shamefaced in the eyes of the world.
To gauge how far the United States has fallen, Venezuela, which has been the target of both Republican and Democratic administrations since the 1990s, on Wednesday released a statement expressing concern over the developments in Washington and condemning the political polarisation.
In his 1989 farewell address, US president Ronald Reagan returned to a familiar theme throughout his political life: that of America as a shining city on a hill.
“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still,” he said.
This, for the longest time, has been the story America has told itself. Of its inherent goodness. Of its righteousness. Of its morality.
But today’s events show that it isn’t, and perhaps never was.
That shining hill was nothing more than a mirage.
America’s mask is now off.
With inputs from agencies
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