BENEATH THE SPIN • ERIC L. WATTREE
America: Are We Really that Exceptional?
Well, there's that arrogant, xenophobic, and divisive phrase again - "American Exceptionalism."
President Obama is being roundly criticized by many conservatives for refusing to go around the world promoting the conservative vision of American superiority. Their shortsighted idea of effective American diplomacy is for the President of the United States to trot around the globe telling the people of the world that we're better than they are.
Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, has been all over the media complaining that "We've now seen several different occasions where he's [Obama] been on international trips where he's not willing to say, flat out, 'I believe in American exceptionalism.'"
I expect such nonsense from GOP demagogues - they consider the Republican rank and file stupid, so they say whatever comes to mind to appeal to their unthinking emotions. But now I find that thoughtful conservatives have bought into this ridiculous concept, and frankly, I find it not only shocking, but frightening, how easily the minds of highly intelligent people can be manipulated through their emotions. It goes a long way towards explaining how millions of God-fearing German people could just stand in silence while Hitler carried out the holocaust.
Ari Noonan stated the following in his article, The President's Difficult Relationship with His People at Home:
"Consider that President Obama, the most powerful multiculturalist in the history of the world, truly believes that the United States did not have a manifest destiny, that we are no better, no worse, the utter equal, of Bulgaria, Cuba, Hungary, Venezuela, Belgium — pick any land on the globe."
I couldn't believe that I was reading anyone in the 21st Century actually glorifying the manifest destiny. I thought the doctrine of Manifest Destiny was discredited in the 19th Century. If it is indeed possible for us to still have people among us who actually believe that it was God's will for Europeans to come to America and slaughter an entire civilization of people because he wanted the Europeans to have the land, then the horrors of the holocaust is far from behind us, and another one is just waiting in the wings for the next demagogue.
While I love this country, I love it in spite of its shortcomings. I love it because of its potential - because of the vision of its founding fathers, and the documents that they left behind outlining the American ideal. But I am under no illusions. America has never lived up to those ideals, and I have a fundamental problem with anyone who says it has.
The doctrine of Manifest Destiny is, in fact, the most profound argument against American exceptionalism. What took place as a direct result of that doctrine clearly documents that America has been any and everything but exceptional.
The only way that one can believe in American exceptionalism is to view the missteps of every other country in the world through a magnifying glass, while turning a blind eye to all the atrocities against humanity that the United States has committed. The fact is, America has committed more atrocities against mankind in its short 233 year history, than it took many other countries millennia to accomplish.
For example, while we demonize Nazi Germany for the extermination of 6 million Jews, we have very little to say about the 8 million Native Americans that the United States exterminated just to establish the nation. The fact is, the Nazis' could have taken a lesson from the United States, because there is still a thriving Jewish culture left, while the Native Americans have been all but wiped out as a people.
Then there's the issue of slavery. American slavery was one the most brutal atrocities of one culture against another in the entire history of mankind. The effects of slavery are still being felt by the families of its victims close to 150 years after it came to an end.
Then there was the Jim Crow environment that took place once slavery ended. Even in my lifetime, I remember standing up in school reciting the Pledge of Allegiance - 'One nation under God with Liberty and JUSTICE for all' - even as children younger than myself were being blown up in church, and people in the South were bringing picnic baskets to watch Black men being tortured and lynched in the town square after church.
Then there was the humiliation of Black war heroes. The Tuskegee Airman were among the most effective fighter pilots during WWII. They never lost one bomber that they were charged with escorting across enemy lines. At first the White Bomber crews refused to fly with them, but by the end of the war, those same White crews said that they didn't want anyone else to escort them to their targets - they wanted to make sure they got home safely. But after the war, as these Black heroes traveled by train through the South, they were forced to give up their seats to Nazi Prisoners of war.
Then there's the issue of terrorism. While we maintain that terrorism is when a malevolent group kills innocent noncombatants for political purposes, we turn a blind eye to the fact that we dropped not one, but two atomic bombs on the innocent men, women, and children of Japan. We try to justify it by saying that it saved thousands of American lives. The only problem with that argument is that it suggests that terrorism is justified under certain conditions.
Then when we consider the millions of people that we killed, mutilated, and displaced in Vietnam, then during "Shock and Awe" (translated: terrorism), when we invaded the sovereign nation of Iraq for no other reason than monetary gain and a photo op, by our own definition, we're the most prolific terrorist state in the history of mankind.
The only difference between the United States terror under George W. Bush and Al Qaeda terrorist is that we have a more efficient delivery system. We've made Hitler look like a wannabe. The only difference between Hitler and what the United States has done over the years is that the people Hitler killed were White, so it was considered more horrendous.
So tell me about American exceptionalism, but pay no attention to my gritting teeth, because by telling me that America is exceptional, you're also telling me that the annihilation of Native Americans, the brutal enslavement of African Americans, the killing of Black children in church, the lynching of Black citizens, the humiliation of Black American war heroes, the incineration of Japanese men, women, and children, and the slaughter of millions in Vietnam and Iraq should all be fluffed off as simply, growing pains.
Yes, America is exceptional all right - it's been exceptionally brutal in its hypocrisy throughout its short 233 year history. But, believe it or not, I still love this nation. My eyes still grow moist when I hear the Marine Corps hymn. But I certainly don't love what it's been - I love it for what it's striving to become. For that reason, I've dedicated my life to fighting the Cheneys of this world, who yearn for, and even cherish, the illustrious brutality of our past.
Eric L. Wattree
Religious bigotry: It's not that I hate everyone who doesn't look, think, and act like me - it's just that God does.