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  • Kathryn Patterson

The Questionable Morality of America, part 1

  1. principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.

"the matter boiled down to simple morality: innocent prisoners ought to be freed"
  1. a particular system of values and principles of conduct, especially one held by a specified person or society.

  2. the extent to which an action is right or wrong.

"behind all the arguments lies the issue of the morality of the possession of nuclear weapons"


Have you ever wondered how the normal, regular people living in Germany in the beginning of the 20th century followed and supported both the Kaiser and Hitler into brutal, terrifying wars? I'm not talking about the zealots; I mean the average citizens living average lives. 

How could these people reconcile the atrocities done with their own moral code?

I wondered about this since I first learned about Hitler and the concentration camps through reading books by Corrie Ten Boom and Anne Frank. As a child, I assumed that everyone had roughly the same morals as I did, and I could not imagine standing by as people were herded into train cars. 

As a young adult, I traveled to Germany and stayed with friends of my grandmother. This couple was alive during World War 2, young adults during that time, but I never got the courage to ask them what happened. I can tell you that these people welcomed me into their home, showed me around West Germany, and were kind and caring individuals.


Sadly, I think I have an answer now. It's not that the German citizens were temporarily turned into monsters, or had secret brain surgery. They simply were faced with questionable morality of their society, and their own moral spines bent.

It's the same thing that is happening in America today.

I should not say "today" as if this is a new thing. America has never had a shiny moral spine.


It started with our Independence, when our Founding Fathers compromised and allowed slavery even though the majority of them did not feel that slavery was morally correct. 

Our Founding Fathers and Slavery

  1. George Washington: Never made public statements about slavery, he freed all of his slaves in his will.

  2. Benjamin Franklin: Founded the first abolitionist society

  3. Thomas Jefferson: Said about slavery: “we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.”

Our entire country almost split into two with the Civil War, but even that did not stop discrimination against people who are not of European descent.


But racism isn't the only place where America's lack of morality shows. During Prohibition, the federal government poisoned whatever alcohol they could, with the pretense of "stopping people from drinking". But government officials knew that this would not stop anyone from drinking alcohol. They just did not care how many people died from their poisoning.


Then during World War 2, while the Nazis rounded up Jews and shipped them off to concentration camps, the American federal government rounded up people who had Japanese ancestry, and sent them off to concentration camps. To be honest, when I first heard about this, I. Was. Floored.


Because I never heard about this particular atrocity in any of my history classes.

Not. One.

After World War 2, McCarthyism took over during a time we now call the Second Red Scare.




the practice of making false or unfounded accusations of subversion and treason, especially when related to anarchism, communism and socialism, and especially when done in a public and attention-grabbing manner.


That's right, folks. Senator McCarthy used a campaign of fear to temporarily control the American public.


During the 1960s, black Americans finally got fed up with being treated like second class citizens, and pushed for equal civil rights. Instead of supporting what is (in hindsight) a righteous cause, many white Americans either sat by and did nothing to help, or put on white robes and tried to terrify black Americans into being quiet.


In 1964 we also learned about the "bystander effect" when no one intervened to help Kitty Genovese when she was raped and murdered in public. Some people did try to call the police, but no one physically helped out.


I assume I do not need to keep listing the ways in which the American government or the American public has shown immoral activities or beliefs from the 1960s until 2016.


So what happened in 2016?

In 2016 the world learned that a large segment of American society does not have working ethics. These people laugh when someone makes fun of a handicapped person. These people encourage below the belt comments in conversation, and accept having double standards as the norm.

The world learned to be dubious about any agreement with our country, because there is no guarantee that the US will uphold their end. 

The world learned that racism is still a problem here, as a police officer - who is tasked with public safety - knelt on the neck of a black man because he was black. 

George Floyd died. No amount of jail time or fines will bring him back to life.

And the American public stood there and watched.

Police officers lied to a judge to get an arrest warrant and then killed Breona Taylor.

And the American public did nothing.

A group of Americans, emboldened and encouraged by the sitting President, invaded Congress in an act of sedition.

And the American public stood there and watched.

A SWAT team in Albuquerque burned an innocent teenager alive in a house.

And the American public did nothing.


Okay, to be fair, the death of George Floyd and Breona Taylor did cause some uproar afterwards. And there are trials against the people involved in the attempted coup. But even with the uproar and the trials, there have been no substantial changes for the better.


It feels like America not only lost the "moral high ground" in world relations, we lost our morality. Yet if you ask people if they think they have morals, most (if not all) would answer "yes".

Read the next blog post for a discussion on why Americans seem to have lost their morality.

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