After a long session of studying, or perhaps just using the costly color printers, a trip to the library is not complete without the momentary burst of nationalistic pride the “Freedom Shrine” grants at the exit.
Oh, you hadn’t noticed the wall of patriotic propaganda in your measly four-year degree? Perhaps, by the time you reached the hall in the University Center, which also bears a “Freedom Shrine,” the alluring smell of onion rings had gotten to your head.
The “Freedom Shrine” is a 32-document attempt to prove just how great and democratic the good ol’ U.S. of A. is. Donated to NMU by the WI-UP District of the National Exchange Club – devotees to community service for causes like “crime and fire prevention” (a project that teaches the public how to “safeguard themselves against the dangers around them”) and “Adopt-a-Grandparent.” As a club that was founded on extreme American patriotism in 1896, placing some of these 32 documents under the label of “free” is questionable.
Starting with the Mayflower Compact, it was one of the first documents to implement American pride. Yet, as symbolically “free” as it may be, the content of the contract was based upon conformity and oppression. Separatists required all passengers to promise obedience to their newly-founded government for fear that the majority of passengers, who were not fleeing religious persecution, would attempt to establish their own colonies once harbored (I won’t mention whose land they harbored on). Indeed, the beginnings of American “freedom.”
Another shrine document is Roosevelt’s Letter on Cuba – certainly inspirational in and of itself, promising Cuba “independence” from Spain. Yet, when your history courses come crawling back from the depths, the aftermath of the Cuban War of Independence, in which the United States gained possession of Guantanamo Bay, is an excellent example of American “freedom.”
A more recent document can define American “freedom” in its truest irony – the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Surely, the meaning of freedom.Except, of course, that little part in there that reads “except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted.” This served as a white supremacist loophole because apparently widespread lynching and community pillaging wasn’t getting the point across in response to the abolition of slavery (remember, this violence was in the name of nationalism).
Former slaves, now contracted laborers, were arrested for the slightest of crimes including not being under a labor contract, and were given long harsh sentences where conditions were actually worse than before. Laborers were worked to death without concern, shackled together and housed together with no humanitarian distinction in treatment between male and female (this was the emergence of “chain-gangs”). I wonder if they would agree with the Exchange Club about their American “freedom.”
America doesn’t need more nationalism and it certainly doesn’t need to draw pride from the past. America is currently responsible for unjustified war, corrupt politicians, a rapidly growing class divide and impending economic collapse.
These documents are nothing but testimonies to a long history of American (rather, white male) entitlement, greed, superiority, falsehood and corruption. But, I suppose next time you leave the library, you can take it all at face value and focus on more harmless documents like the “Star-Spangled Banner” and Ben Franklin’s epitaph and smile: America, “Home of free.”