Sunday, December 18, 2005

American Exceptionalism

American exceptionalism, the belief that America is the best, is such a part of our lives that it goes unnoticed. Once aware of it, however, you hear it shaping the views of liberals and conservatives alike, from leaders in Washington, DC., to commentators in the Lompoc Record.
For example, an English Language student once corrected me for using “America” and “Americans” to refer to the US and US citizens only. Being from Latin America, she was as American as I. Though polite, she clearly resented my self-absorbed disregard of her equal existence on this continent.
One danger of US exceptionalism is that it blinds us to reality. Just as an arrogant individual, who cannot acknowledge his mistakes, will repeat them, so it is with countries. Neocons refuse to admit Vietnam was a mistake so now we’re in Iraq. The quotes from military commanders about “liberation” and “staying the course”, the torture, even the Fallujah atrocities, are all replays of the British disaster there in 1920.
Another danger in believing your country is superior is that it leads to unquestioning, religious patriotism, which is easily manipulated by government propaganda, as we have seen since 9-11. It can lead citizens into self-destructive behaviors, such as a “crusade” (Bush’s word) in the Middle East, or the “Patriot” Acts.
It can lead to a view that US corporations have a right to other people’s resources.
The worst result of US exceptionalism is a rejection of news that doesn‘t fit that world view, making one blind to obvious hypocrisy. Here are some examples:
This administration talks of protecting our liberty while they ram through the Patriot Acts that allow military spying on us and take away our right to challenge our arrest in court or even know the charge. The false claim that Iraq has WMDs is sufficient to bomb it into the Stone Age and invade, never mind that we have 18,500 nuclear warheads and are radiating the Middle East forever with “depleted” uranium dust.
Bush professes we stand for justice at the same time his goons are secretly whisking hundreds of people to old Soviet prisons, or other secret locations to be tortured; not to mention jamming bloody, oversized feeding tubes, unwashed from one prisoner to another, repeatedly down the noses of hunger strikers who have been abused for 4 years without charge at Guantanamo.
Is the US exceptional in supporting democracy? It’s helpful to realize we were founded and expanded West on a policy of Indian genocide. States, including California, with federal funding, offered bounties for Indian scalps. As we expanded into Latin America and the Pacific, the Filipinos lost 200,000 lives struggling for independence, and other national movements were repeatedly, violently suppressed.
After WWII the CIA became more important. Read their own documents on installing the Shah of Iran, or Pinochett in Chile, or how Saddam was a CIA asset for years and how we supplied him with weapons and long lists of people to exterminate.
A UN investigation found Reagan-assisted death squads responsible for 90% of the atrocities in El Salvador’s civil war. This was true throughout Latin America. Today, Rumsfeld and Cheney have adopted the “Salvador Option” in Iraq where death squads are rampant and well funded.
How exceptional are we otherwise? We are ranked 68th in the world in literacy. We spend more than anyone on healthcare but we are 37th in performance. We were 8th for Civil/Political Liberties, before the “Patriot” Act. We rank 15th for the quality of our democratic institutions behind Mongolia and Poland. We are 7th in economic freedom behind Estonia, and that’s according to the right wing Heritage Foundation.
Our military spending is exceptional however, - larger than the next 14 countries combined - approximately the same as all other countries combined!
We could be #1 in all the good things but I guess it takes a really big military to “spread democracy.”

Jim Silva
Lompoc Coalition for Peace and Justice