Journal

America’s Myths

By Jon Elordi

The French have a tradition of rewriting their constitution, and each time they do it gets a new number. France is currently on its fifth republic. We scoff at this as Americans. But the American republic has also changed and been reinterpreted over the years. We’re not as overt about it. But our understanding of the Constitution and the federal government’s role differs significantly from the founders. In my estimation, we’re on the third republic. New republics started after the Revolutionary War(First Republic), the Civil War(Second Republic), and World War II(Third Republic). There’s plenty to quibble with here. But broadly speaking this is the major trend.

The United States got a new layer to our founding myth with each new republic.

First, what is a founding myth? A founding myth is a simplified story that sets the groundwork for a civilization. It galvanizes the people and it points to that civilization’s highest good. Two examples of founding myths are the story of Romulus and Remus for Rome and the story of King Arthur for England. Founding myths are stories nations tell themselves so they can feel good about what they do.

In the year of our good lord 2024, America’s founding myth is an amalgamation of the stories surrounding three events: The Revolutionary War, The Civil War, and WWII.

Each founding myth is roughly:

The Revolutionary War was fought over taxation and the rights to liberty and equality. The British, but really King George, is evil. The outcome of the Revolutionary War is that constitutional republics and self-government are best. Monarchy, kings, and aristocracy are antithetical to America.

The Civil War was fought over slavery. Slavery is America’s original sin. And the Civil War was necessary to purge that evil from within ourselves. The Union, believing in equality for all, had to save the South from what it had become. Slavery, inequality, and separation from the Union are the utmost evil. Lincoln saved the republic. Lincoln freed all the slaves. And he was martyred for it.

World War Two was fought to destroy the evil fascists. Both Germany and Japan had evil regimes that had to be destroyed at all costs. The people of those countries were under a hypnotic spell cast upon them by their leaders. Those evil regimes committed atrocities against mankind and they had imperial visions, and if we did not destroy them, they would destroy us.

There is again plenty to quibble with here. But roughly speaking these are the stories we tell for why America is good. In every case we defeated evil. We didn’t defeat rival nations or were involved in complex geopolitics. No. We defeated pure evil.

I love America and I do think on the whole we are the good guys. What’s interesting is the power these stories have. These stories inform the morality of Americans. They have a massive effect on our culture:

Why is being called a fascist, nazi, or white supremacist is one of the most damning insults?

Why are nazis overrepresented as the bad guy? Think about video games and media. Indian Jones fights the nazis. Call of Duty and Wolfenstein started as WWII shooters. The Marvel Movies have Captain America and WWII as their starting point. Heck. Star Wars even signals the empire is evil by having them dress like nazis.

Why is it socially acceptable to be a communist in this country even though global communism has killed significantly more people than fascism?

Ever notice that when we want to make fun of someone for being dumb we use a Southern accent?

Why can’t we question the necessity of Sherman’s March, WWII firebombings, and the use of nuclear weapons?

Why do we think people who drink tea are pussies?

These stories and their interpretations permeate our society. They’re our founding myths. They’re our culture. They’re our morality.