John Bull Turns Johnny Reb

Since the 1940's, Americans have been slowly introduced to the idea that national sovereignty is a dangerously outmoded concept that must give place to a broader and more generous understanding of our place in the world: national defense became bound up with the principle of collective security; national welfare tied to foreign markets (and foreign aid); and the narrow and selfish principle embodied in the slogan “Don’t Tread on Me" was replaced with a series of ever more vague appeals to our common European identity (Lend Lease, the Marshall Plan), our commitment to democratic progress (Korea, Vietnam), our faith in the brotherhood of man. We are the children, we are the world.

But as we extend our identity around the world, our sense of self-inevitably thins out. The proliferation of acronyms is a dead giveaway. Like a cheap Hollywood cap job, everyday reality is being rotted out at the core and coated on the surface with a hard and lifeless abstraction. Once upon a time we were Virginians or Iowans, Americans living in a union known as the United States; now the best we can do is to boast of being “born in the USA” (no periods), a set of letters that suggests nothing more concrete than the IRS or MTV, and there maybe little else to our common Americanness than can be found on a tax return or a Michael Jackson video.

Increasingly our eponymous acronyms are international, rather than national,...

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