Illustration by Josh Hagler
By Mariam Durrani
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday Feb 1, 2002
This weekend, my friend Leah and I were crazy bored. As many of you know, being under 21 left us with little opportunity to find entertainment in Tucson. So we decided to get a bite to eat and head over to the movie theater for some good old-fashioned fun.
After buying tickets, we found our seats and prepared for the endlessly long period of previews. As the lights dimmed, curious pictures were projected onto the screen and a different sound began to echo.
"Independence. Patriotism. Nationalism," flashed before Leah and I.
We looked at each other in shock. Images of Americans having fun, famous presidents, brave soldiers and other national propaganda exploded in the theater as a voice spoke about the beauty that defines the United States. At the end of the five-minute showing, John Wayne was shown walking away from the audience, with a "Thank you to all the brave Americans out there," courtesy of the Motion Picture Association.
I sat there astonished about what I had just seen. Leah turned to me and asked, "Are we in the '40s or in the McCarthy era?" We didn't quite know what to make of it. It stung us with a disturbed amazement as we reflected on all we have been taught.
Throughout high school history courses, I learned of the fanatical patriotism that surged during World War II and the Cold War, leading to some of the most devastating and embarrassing moments in American history. During that time, the government made similar tapes to show movie-going Americans how brave American soldiers were, and what those at home could do for the war effort. To the people at the time, it must have seemed appropriate, but in retrospect, many historians now consider those flicks dangerous brainwashing.
During World War II, the Alien Registration Act made it illegal for anyone to advocate, abet or teach the desirability to overthrow the government. Every citizen had to share his or her political views, and those who didn't were thought of as "communists." Later on, the House Un-American Activities Committee turned their attention toward the Hollywood industry to identify communists, resulting in the blacklisting of many outstanding artists.
In 1950, Joseph McCarthy began an era of psychotic behavior when he researched and accused State Department employees who had the slightest bit of different views, and questioned their allegiances to the United States. This began a hysterical witch-hunt, isolating those who were communists, fascist, alcoholics and sexual deviants. The FBI even provided its services to McCarthy. Due to the losses in Korea and the communist advances in Eastern Europe, many Americans became frightened of this internal subversion.
The appearance of John Wayne at the end of the clip wasn't unintentional. After all, he was one of the strongest proponents of McCarthy.
This charade continued until McCarthy questioned the Secretary of the Army, causing President Eisenhower to say enough is enough. That accusation concluded the McCarthy era; even the media refused to support his conquest. One newspaper, the Louisville Courier Journal, reported that, "In this long, degrading travesty of the democratic process, McCarthy has shown himself to be evil and unmatched in malice."
Why did I just go through this embarrassing and turbulent bit of American history? So you don't forget. By understanding how problematic and destructive fanatical patriotism is, we must recognize that it is happening again. This five-minute flick is evidence that we're heading down that same path.
These days, it isn't communists we are talking about - it's Muslim-Americans. What we are doing today isn't any different from the times the government put innocent African-Americans, Japanese-Americans and falsely-accused communists in jail or internment camps.
Hundreds of American Muslims who were arrested after Sept. 11 still haven't been allowed to return home. Yes, it is important to find those who are plotting against America, but it is also important not to repeat the McCarthy craze. As citizens of a strongly democratic America, we have the right to question our government. The showing of pro-American videos before a movie should be viewed cautiously to make sure it doesn't become a brainwashing phenomenon that could lead to another vicious witch-hunt.
I guarantee that 30 or 40 years from now, kids will study the details of how our government is wronging innocent American Muslims today (and yes, there are many), thus repeating the same insulting procedures that took place in the '40s, '50s and even earlier. Just as old clothing fashions repeat, it seems so do the old political mistakes.
Let's not let this happen again. Wake up and don't allow America to repeat this mistake any longer. I came across a 1947 political cartoon recently that perfectly ties in then with now: Uncle Sam and the Statue of Liberty are sitting on a bench, and Uncle Sam says to Liberty, "Everyone is a little subversive except thee and me and sometimes I think even thee."