‘That’s not who we are?’ Well, you are what you do, your actions speak for themselves

These attacks on sovereign nations are, without question, illegal, unjustifiable and a stain on America’s reputation. Is that who we are?

Image Credit: Rion Sanders/AP
How often do we hear those words, “that’s not who we are”, uttered in situations when Americans see or hear something extremely troubling or of a tragic event or action initiated by someone in this government or in our society; one that brings great harm to people in America or in some other part of the world?

We hear that phrase so often. It’s like it’s been embedded in our culture. It’s kind of an excuse or a form of self-denial when we see something that is too painful to accept.
Here’s a quote that puts for the truth of the matter: “You are what you do, not what you say you do:” And as the title says, your actions speak for themselves.
Now, in that phrase of self-denial what is the meaning of the word “we?” It’s America the country, made up of its people, this society, and the government. These 4 entities are actually one, inseparable. They are all responsible parties for doing what is right versus wrong based on the principles of ethics and morality.
This government, based on our Constitution, is to follow the will of the people and make policies and take actions that are in the best interests of them and this country as a whole.
Unfortunately, that is not what is happening in America. Why is that? It’s because the people have largely abdicated their responsibility when they, for various reasons, refuse to vote and become no more than bystanders who sit on the sidelines and watch as this government takes the country in directions it should not.
So when the government does things that are unethical or immoral this country ’s reputation suffers and sometimes is stained.in the eyes of the world. In so many cases the people see it take misguided, irresponsible actions within this country or against other countries; actions that trouble them but they feel they are helpless to do anything about them.
That’s when we so often hear the lament of “that’s not who we are.” Here are some examples of situations in which those words have been spoken:
The U.S. military has been using deadly drones and hellfire missiles in attacks on Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan for about 10 years. In the eight years of the Obama administration, there were about 183 of these missions. Under Trump, in only about two years, he is coming close to exceeding that number.
These attacks on sovereign nations are, without question, illegal, unjustifiable and a stain on America’s reputation. Is that who we are?
America has long led the world in the sales of powerful weaponry, employing mega thousands of American workers. We can’t employ workers to produce TV’s, cell phones, appliances, and other major products, and have outsourced them to China. But we most certainly can employ them at generous wages to produce a myriad of weapons of war that are used in various types of conflicts around the world.
After the recent incident in which U.S. resident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents in Turkey, President Trump was asked if he would take actions against Saudi Arabia, including large reductions in arms sales. He was adamant in saying that, even though they may have committed that horrible act, that country was still an ally; and he was not going to do something that would eliminate countless thousands of American jobs.
The U.S. military is supporting Saudi Arabia in its cruel and vicious bombing campaign in Yemen by providing various kinds of weaponry. This tiny country is virtually being destroyed and many people are being killed. Is this who we are?
Mass shootings in America are an ongoing problem, they are like a plague that won’t go away. They occur every so often, and nothing is ever done by our government to try to bring this situation under control.
Do we hear Americans demanding that something must be done? We do not, but after one of them happens, when children are gunned down in their schools, we often hear, “this is not who we are.”
How about what is happening with immigration at our Southern borders? Multitudes of people coming from Central America are fleeing extreme violence and seeking asylum at the border. So what does our government do? It totally ignores their requests for asylum and, then instead of turning them around, it takes them into custody, separating them from their children, including infants.

This is cruelty of the highest order. There are hundreds of children in camps and tent cities who are terrified and are pleading to be reunited with their parents and their cries are ignored. How can a government that claims that America is an exceptional nation do such terrible things? Is this what we are, what we have become as a nation? Well, you are what you do, your actions speak for themselves.

I’ve read that President Obama used that same phrase, “this is not who we are” 46 times. Here are two examples of his statements that appeared in numerous news reports:


“In an emotional moment during his speech at the Islamic Society of Baltimore on Wednesday, President Obama described the sense of alienation felt by young Muslims in America. And the notion that they would be filled with doubt; he said,’questioning their places in this great country of ours’, that’s not who we are.”

Regarding Syrian refugees, he tweeted, “Slamming the door in the face of refugees would betray our deepest values, that’s not who we are.”

In Vietnam, in that totally misguided, unjustifiable, war, the U.S. military used highly destructive chemical weapons, napalm, white phosphorous, and Agent Orange on both Vietcong positions and civilian populated areas. This was cruel and inhuman and it shocked a great many Americans.
They could hardly believe or accept the fact that their government was doing that. They were very troubled and we heard many say, “that’s not who we are.” But, it was exactly who we are.

In the Iraq war, there were between 4 and 5 million Iraqi citizens forced to flee into exile in surrounding countries and up to 1.2 million were killed. Horrific acts of torture took place in the Abu Ghraib prison, and the city of Fallujah was virtually destroyed along with many thousands of its people.  

And, once again, we heard those words, “this is not who we are.”

We saw our military, after the 911 attack on the Twin Towers, invade Afghanistan at the orders of G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney, to go after Osama bin Laden, when they knew full well that 15 out of the 19 hijackers who carried out the attack were Saudi Arabian nationals. If we were going to attack some country shouldn’t it have been Saudi Arabia?

Now, long after Osama was found and killed, our military is still there after 17 years, and occupying a country in which it never had the right to be. But this is not who we are, right?


So, yes, saying that “that’s not who we are” is a form of self-denial and an excuse when we see troubling things happen. Instead of reacting in that manner what we should be doing is refusing to accept these kinds of policies and actions and say, “this just not right and it needs to stop.” But we simply don’t.


We need to strongly dissent, turn out in record numbers to vote in elections to remove incompetent, unethical members of Congress; and reject candidates for the presidency who think that this these kinds of government’s policies and actions should just be accepted and condoned by we the people;that they must never ever be questioned.


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Michael Payne is an independent progressive activist. His writings deal with social, economic, political and foreign policy issues; and especially with the great dangers involved with the proliferation of perpetual war, the associated defense industry, and the massive control that Corporate America holds over this government and our election process; all which are leading this nation down the road to eventual financial ruin if the conditions are not reversed. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois and a U.S. Army veteran.