Like most American men my age, I grew up watching westerns and war movies. For the most part, things were rather black and white. Good guys wore white hats or American uniforms. Bad guys wore black hats or Nazi uniforms. Naturally, these shows and movies helped shape my conception of good and evil.
The main lesson I learned was that while the good guys could play rough and even kill people, there were certain things that good guys just did not do. The western villains ignored the laws, trampled the weak, locked people up in nasty places, and shot people from ambush. The Nazis tortured people, mistreated prisoners and invaded weaker countries. In contrast, the western hero protected the weak, freed people, and faced the bad guy down in the open. The American soldier did not torture, treated prisoners well, liberated the oppressed and freed countries from invaders.
As I grew up, I learned that worlds of the westerns and war movies were largely worlds of make believe. I learned that Americas had done many terrible things. Despite that, I still believed that Americans mostly wanted to be the good guys and wanted to do the right thing. While that belief faded for a while into cynicism, it never wholly vanished. I still believe in good and evil. I still believe that America can be a great force for good.
Many people talk about America being good and our enemies being evil. In many cases, these people also advocate doing things that would earn them a black hat: torture, spying, suspending liberties, invasions, assassinations, and other terrible things. They justify such things, ironically enough, by claiming that we are in a moral struggle between good and evil.
I do agree that we are in a moral struggle. After all, each day is a moral struggle for each of us. Every day we are faced with choices, however small, that have moral significance. But, doing evil is not the way to win a moral struggle. The way to win a moral struggle, as Dr. Martin Luther King Junior argued, is not by using evil means and giving in to hatred. A moral struggle is won by being moral.
The actions of America in recent years have made me feel shame for what I have, as a citizen, permitted to be perpetrated in my name. Because of this, I would not feel quite right wearing that white hat now. But, I do want my white hat back. Perhaps someday both America and I will earn that right.