In the early 1970s, when I was about nine years old and living with my family in suburban New York, my parents decided to purchase new furniture, carpets, and wallpaper for my sister’s bedroom and the room my younger brother and I shared. My brother and I selected a colonial-style desk and dresser, a navy blue shag carpet, and wallpaper that featured red, white, and blue stripes, stars, soldiers, guns, and drums. The celebration of the U.S. bicentennial was approaching, and I suspect that our selections reflected a combination of popular design trends, conventional masculine aspirations, immigrant family identifications, and my own peculiarly strong patriotic fervor, which later found expression in my passionate devotion to the Broadway musical 1776 and the photographic images of the White House, Capitol, and Supreme Court that I taped to the back of our bedroom door. My parents tried to make us understand that we would have to live with our design choices for many years. We persisted, however, and sure enough that furniture, carpeting, and wallpaper remained in my childhood bedroom until 1999, when my parents sold their house. When I traveled from Canada, where I had moved recently, to visit my parents for the last time before their departure, my partner used my brother’s bed, I claimed my old one, and we slept surrounded by the colors and symbols of a country that was no longer my home.
I begin with this story to measure the distance I have traveled in the last few decades and to give my readers a sense of the personal and political journeys that led me to and through this book. All historians bring to their work a set of motivations, interests, and concerns that influence their interpretations. Those who claim to approach the past with disinterested and dispassionate objectivity not only suffer from a lack of honest interest and genuine passion, but also mislead readers into wanting forms of historical analysis that are as unrealistic as they are undesirable.1 I bring to this project the profound disappointments of a U.S. citizen who once believed deeply in the guiding visions of my country but who has lived for much of the last twelve years as an expatriate ex-patriot in Canada.
As is the case with many U.S. Americans, my childhood patriotism was