Mythology, by various definitions, is:
- A collection of traditional stories by authors unknown purported to explain natural phenomena. A legend. Religious rites.
- Any fictitious story.
- Any imaginary person or thing spoken of as though existing.
The line between myth and modern propaganda is fine indeed. In the latter, the authors are known; the subject is of immediate interest. While myths may spring from imaginative and well-meaning attempts to explain nature, propaganda arises from outright deceit with society suffering the brunt of ulterior motives.
Propaganda is not necessarily bad -- when it is used to counter oppressive control or governance for example. It was from such origins that American mythology sprang. According to Thomas and Romano, Newsweek, 7 Aug 2006, Propaganda can also become myth. One American myth is the "Triumph of the Common Man." They explain that the battles of Lexington and Concord, where the first American citizen soldiers, the Minutemen, stood up to British imperialism, were later characterized as "Bloody Butchery by the British." Of course the propagandists were trying to stir up a popular rebellion, and how well they succeeded! "The Shot Heard Round the World" became a slogan and doubtless fueled "Manifest Destiny," yet another American myth.
Thomas and Romano go on. The myth "Lost Cause" arose in the Southern states after the Civil War. Lost Cause refers to the myth where gentlemen officers fell to superior arms of inferior, rapacious characters, in exploiting the South. The real issue, slavery, was hidden from exposure and even from the collective conscience. Slavery is innately rapacious; so here was a case where the pot was calling the kettle black. It served the purpose of assuaging guilt. It was a massive defense mechanism for the southern-states society.
Our unofficial anthem is not mentioned by Thomas and Romano. But it too gives rise to mythology. "God Bless America" caught on immediately in 1938 as war threatened. Americans are special, as all other peoples are. But Irvin's hit became part of the our national conscience in the same manner as "In God We Trust" on our coinage did. Berlin roused both patriotic and religious fervor in many. Each of these became slogans with a religious flavor. How they are beneath the surface, in our collective unconscious is: "God is on our side." One real battle in our day is over whose god is God. Never mind that either interpretation leaves our Hindi and Buddhist friends and citizens out of the loop. Sadly "God is on our side" has been deftly exploited by the religious Right in recent years. Of course there is a counterpart: "Praise be to Allah" is ubiquitous throughout all of Islam. Wars have been fought over religious slogans for millennia in never-ending cycles.
Would it not be better to echo Abraham Lincoln?
"Let us hope we are on God's side."
Thomas and Romano also pointed out how FDR painted the Japanese as having no character. American media following Dec 7 1941, promptly employed the "Day of Infamy," portraying the Japanese as "monkeys, snakes and insects--villainous vermin to be exterminated." Yet today Japan is a paragon of peace among nations, with the same gene pool!
Many cry out that the Japanese have yet to atone for atrocities committed during WWII. Is that not a case where mythology in a society may be operating in effect as a "Defense Mechanism" for the innocent Japanese citizens? We think so.
So what myth does America have in this age of terror? "Let's Roll" might have made it had its authenticity been affirmed. It is too early to tell, but "United 93" or "World Trade Center" might make it in due course if they become as sloganized as Lexington, Concord and Manifest Destiny were. Given that the war on terror as now pursued is floundering and making things worse, it is not likely that any such mythology will arise to grab the American psyche. Will "God Bless America lose any luster?" We think not. It may be re-interpreted in terms more humble, like Irving Berlin's persona, perhaps. It might even shine brighter than ever in the religious eyes as "May God Bless the Human Race".
But mythology lies on both sides of the terror-coin. The Muslims are not short of myths of their own. Consider "72 Virgins Await!" as perhaps the most prominent. Many societies have yet to come to terms with their many mythologies, or even recognize them as such. Peace cannot reign until they do. There is Hope, for potential Avenues toward peace do exist.
Posted by RoadToPeace on Friday, September 29, 2006.