Swans Commentary » swans.com February 22, 2010  



Passport Propaganda


by Jan Baughman





(Swans - February 22, 2010)   I had to renew my passport recently for an upcoming trip to South Korea. The US State Department Web site indicates that it's currently taking 4-6 weeks to process such requests. So as to not be caught short, I paid an extra $130 for an expedited processing, which is supposed to take 2 to 3 weeks, yet it only took ten days -- perhaps a money-making ploy for the deficit-burdened government -- and in true government-efficiency form, I received my new passport in one envelope, and my expired one in another. Upon receipt, I was shocked by the design, introduced in 2007, that consists of a series of propaganda scenes, approved by the discerning art critic Colin Powell, to remind us while we undergo airport body scans and strip searches of all the freedoms and ideals on which the country was founded. The redesigned passport is also now electronic, containing a small integrated circuit that allows for "greater border protection and security."

My previous two passports had simple pages -- the first, from the 1980s, contained watermarks with the US seal; the second, from the 1990s, subtly displayed the state seals. The inside cover of both presented the passport photo and vital stats, which have now been relegated to page 2, as the inside cover of the new and safer book shows a scene from on board a boat arriving on shore, with two men and a young boy anxiously anticipating the flag-bearing land they are approaching, with the words, "O say does that star spangled banner yet wave, O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave." Page one starts with "...AND THAT GOVERNMENT OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE SHALL NOT PERISH FROM THE EARTH. Abraham Lincoln." It then states in English, French, and Spanish [insert irony in these anti-immigrant times] that "The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection."

A recent report on Democracy Now! entitled Authorization to assassinate US citizens abroad reveals that, "The Obama administration has acknowledged it's continuing a Bush-era policy authorizing the killing of US citizens abroad. The confirmation came from Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair in congressional testimony last week. Blair told the House Intelligence Committee US forces can assassinate Americans believed to be involved in terrorist activity against the United States. Blair said, quote, 'Being a US citizen will not spare an American from getting assassinated by military or intelligence operatives overseas if the individual is working with terrorists and planning to attack fellow Americans.' He added, 'We don't target people for free speech; we target them for taking action that threatens Americans.'" Best to keep in mind that the "lawful aid and protection" imprinted on your passport only goes so far. Our legal rights as a citizen become moot if we cross the line when we cross the border, becoming fair game to government snipers.

Page 3, the signature page, reminds us (next to the image of a bald eagle, the flag, and sheaves of wheat), that "We the People Of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." You can see this and another scene from the new passport in the article New E-Passport Is Patriotic, High-Tech and Ugly.

The Important Information pages 6 and 7 are headed with "The principle of free governments adheres to the American soil. It is bedded in it, immovable as its mountains." I wonder if when Daniel Webster uttered these words he foresaw that the Patriot Coal Corporation would be granted a permit by the Environmental "Protection" Agency in 2010 for yet another mountaintop coal mining project, despite the fact that this practice is decimating the once-immovable Appalachian Mountains and polluting the region's streams.

Pages 8 and 9 show the Liberty Bell, the Declaration of Independence, and Independence Hall, with the quote, "Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair. George Washington." Are there wise and honest politicians out there who can repair Washington and raise its standards to ethical service of we the People?

Pages 10 and 11 show a sailing ship passing by a light-house point, exclaiming that "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. excerpt from the Declaration of Independence." More on the Creator below.

The bald eagle reappears on pages 12 and 13 along with a couple of bison and an odd choice of a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.: "We have a great dream. It started way back in 1776, and God grant that America will be true to her dream." No patriotic propaganda would be complete without a mention of God (or 3), whose role in American history was the subject of a troubling article in The New York Times, How Christian Were the Founders? It's not only passport books that are used to indoctrinate citizens -- school textbooks have become a target in Texas for rewriting history to promote a conservative agenda and the notion that America is a Christian nation. The decisions of the Texas school board affect the curricula of textbooks around the country. As the article reports, "Succeeding at [reshaping history] would help [Christian activists] toward their ultimate goal of reshaping American society. As Cynthia Dunbar, another Christian activist on the Texas board, put it, 'The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government of the next.'" Or as Sarah Palin stated at the Tea Party Convention, "It would be wise of us to start seeking some divine intervention again in this country so that we can be safe and secure and prosperous again." God help us all, secularists included.

Mount Rushmore graces pages 14 and 15 with John F. Kennedy's words, "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty." Kennedy's profile in courage did not make Mount Rushmore, and it appears that we are paying every price, bearing many burdens, succumbing to incredible hardship, supporting friends, and opposing foes in order to assure the survival and success of...capitalism.

We move into a new era on pages 16 and 17 with a scene of a steamboat traveling down a river, and Theodore Roosevelt asserting that "This is a new nation, based on a mighty continent, of boundless possibilities." A farmer is tilling with two oxen on pages 18 and 19, and "Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America," according to Dwight D. Eisenhower. One cannot but consider the devastating effects that have come to pass on non-corporate farmers in the U.S. and around the world due to globalization and flawed trade policies.

Cowboys herd longhorn cattle on pages 20 and 21, and Lyndon B. Johnson reminds us that, "For this is what America is all about. It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge. It is the star that is not reached and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed ground. Is our world gone? We say 'Farewell.' Is a new world coming? We welcome it -- and we will bend it to the hope of man." My thoughts turn to Haiti, where the hopes of man is dying and whose history is aptly told in Femi Akomolafe's excellent article on the virtual destruction of this once prosperous nation through French colonization, slavery, and American military occupation -- facts not mentioned in the coverage of the devastating earthquake nor in the CIA World Factbook, which states, "The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has been plagued by political violence for most of its history," thereby attributing Haiti's hopeless condition to its own making.

And on the twenty-second page, God created railroads. "May God continue the unity of our country as the railroad unites the two great oceans of the world." inscribed on the Golden Spike, Promontory Point, 1869.

A black bear with a fish in its mouth and an awkwardly placed totem pole in the foreground grace pages 24 and 25 with, "We send thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are glad they are still here and we hope it will always be so." Excerpt from the Thanksgiving Address, Mohawk version. Perhaps more fitting would have been a scene from an Indian gaming casino and a shout-out to the fishes that are disappearing due to overfishing, water diversion, pollution, and climate change.

Page 26 has a shot of the Statue of Liberty, and page 27 shows a close-up of the tablet she holds that reads "July IV, MDCCLXXVI" with the Anna Julia Cooper quote, "The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class -- it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity." A noble cause indeed, yet CCXXXIV years later, racism, sectarianism, party politics, and classism prevail.

The back cover of the passport book shows two planets in forced perspective; the moon, and behind it the earth with an ethnocentric view of the USA at the center, with a satellite in orbit above them -- probably there to monitor our phone calls and the like.

Yes, the once-discreet US passport book used to be an entrée to travel freely in other countries. Now it serves as an embarrassing historical pamphlet that we can peruse while waiting in airport security lines to forfeit our shoes, toiletries, underwear, and liberties, as we recall the freedoms we have surrendered in the name of security. I'd go on, but I have a flight to catch -- hopefully I won't make a misstep in Seoul and fall prey to my government. God Bless America, and thank you Colin Powell, wherever you are.


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Jan Baughman on Swans -- with bio. She is Swans co-editor.   (back)


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art16/jeb215.html
Published February 22, 2010