I was at an afterschool activity when a couple students took “Make America Great Again” hats out of their lockers. This bothered me. Recently, the MAGA hat has become an extremely controversial topic. MAGA hats were involved in a racial standoff between a native man and high schoolers recently.
What bothers me about the hat in the last word on the message: Again. It’s suggesting there was a time when the United States was a better nation, a time we’d like to imitate. That’s unsettling. Because although the US has done a lot of good, it did a lot of terrible things that usually aren’t thought about.
World War Two, an extremely proud moment in American history, was marred by horrendous acts that go unnoticed. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the government forcibly put 117,000 ethnic Japanese people in concentration camps, most US citizens, for three years. None were, even afterwards, convicted of espionage against the United States. We were also at war with Germany and Italy, but only Japanese citizens were prosecuted.
Other minorities have been targeted too. Overdue civil rights laws weren’t passed until 1964, and until then, even public phone booths were racially segregated in Oklahoma. A ban on segregation was even declared unconstitutional in 1883. Most of this racism spawned from slavery, which was around on American soil for 246 years, while America has been around for a mere 242. Out of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 40 were slave owners.
Another group that the United States targeted was the native americans who lived in America. Before white settlers arrived, there was an estimated 10 million natives in the current US, but by 1900, there were less than 300,000. A British visitor remarked that “White Americans have the most rancorous antipathy to the whole race of Indians… hear them talk of extirpating them totally from the face of the earth”.
The American foreign policy wasn’t much better, propping up brutal foreign dictatorships. In the 1950s in South Korea, CIA-backed Syngman Rhee targeted communist sympathizers. A later investigation found that Rhee brutally killed over 100,000 civilians during the Korean War. In Uzbekistan, dictator Islam Karimov boiled opponents alive, with support from the US until 2005.
This is why I worry about the MAGA hat. If the country blindly believes the past was better for America, without thinking about the horrible things the country has done, history will repeat itself. It’s fine to “Make America Great.” But if you want to “Make America Great Again,” you aren’t thinking. And people need to think, so they don’t follow a phrase on a hat, but they pursue a better future for everybody.