Are we really the world’s most moral, honest, democratic nation?
American Exceptionalism is defined by Sensagent as “American exceptionalism is ”the theory that the United States is different from other countries in that it has a specific world mission to spread liberty and democracy.”
When I was a child, back in the 1960s, I learned that the United States was the world’s economic, moral and military leader. I heard from my parents, my teachers, the news, the newspapers, that the United States was the most generous nation on earth. “The greatest country to ever exist,” I was told, “The best place on earth.”
I was taught that the US paid to rebuild Europe after it was devastated by WWII. For that matter, I grew up believing that the US had joined both world wars out of a sense of duty to our allies, with no thought to our own interests.
I accepted all of it.
I was a white, middle-class American kid. This was what I was told, and this is what I believed.
Then I grew up.
When I was 17 years old, I was an exchange student in Tunisia. I lived with a wonderful, funny, highly educated, devoutly Muslim family. While I had come to their home with a deep belief in the sovereign right of Israel, I had my beliefs shaken by my Tunisian Papa. One night, as we were discussing world politics, I made a reference to Israel. My Papa gently corrected me. “Ici on dit Palestine.” (Here we call it Palestine.)
My eyes were opened to the fact that not everyone in the world believed that the US and its interests in the Middle East were based on pure intentions. War broke out in the Sinai Peninsula while I was in Tunisia. I came home to the oil embargo of 1973.
In college, at the very urban UMass Boston, I was introduced to international political history. The development of international relations from the time of the first world war to what was then the present.
I was double majoring in political science and Russian.
Talk about an eye-opener. For the first time in my young life, I started to see that the motives of the US were not always as benign as I’d thought.
During those years, I learned about America’s role in the reshaping of Europe. I learned that the Socialist movement in the US was tied to the rise in industrialism. People were being pulled into factory work that failed to provide a decent living. They demanded both “Bread and Roses.”
It made sense to me.
I was caught up in things like the oil embargo of 1973. I began to understand the impact of oil dependence on American foreign policy. I learned about the connections between American elected officials and the international oil production conglomerate.
So naturally, I looked back at my beliefs. I looked back at my faith in the old story: America is the best! We are special! The rest of the world is just a bunch of rubes trying to survive while we are the embodiment of everything that is good and pure about DEMOCRACY!
This is a huge, ugly, ridiculous lie, my dear fellow Americans.
We are NOT better than the rest of the world.
These are the times when the idea of “American Exceptionalism” has hurt us as Americans.
I’ll start with the Vietnam war because that was the first time that I faced the question of America’s “goodness.” I was told that the US absolutely had the moral and political right to intervene in Vietnam because doing so would stop the “domino effect” of communism sweeping across the world.
People like me, innocent believers in American Exceptionalism, thought that the Vietnam war was making the world safer for freedom and democracy. We didn’t stop to ask ourselves if it was worth nearly 60,000 American lives lost. We never even thought about the more than one million Vietnamese lives lost in that war.
We thought that we were superior. More moral. More honest. We believed that we were more supportive of “democracy”.
We allowed ourselves to look away from almost TWO MILLION DEATHS.
The idea of American Exceptionalism allows us to convince ourselves that we are the moral authority in the world. It allows us to pat ourselves on the back when other people die.
The same belief in our own moral superiority allowed most Americans to simply accept our war with Iraq in 1990. We were there to “protect the sovereign nation of Kuwait.”
Sure we were.
When we attacked Iraq for the second time in 2003, we were told that we did so to prevent their leader, Saddam Hussein, from deploying “weapons of mass destruction.” Never mind that there was no hard evidence of such weapons, or that there was no discernable threat to the US itself. We were there to protect American “interests” and to (cough, cough) liberate the Iraqis from their terrible leader.
He was a bad guy; we were good guys.
In the latest incidence of “American Exceptionalism” has allowed too many of us to accept Donald Trump’s explanation for why our country assassinated an Iranian general.
We killed a man who was a legally appointed leader of his country. We killed him in a country that we’ve been occupying for well over a decade.
We had to do it, we are told, because he was a “bad guy”. He was “evil” and “had the blood of Americans on his hands.”
What would give us the right to commit an assassination in a foreign country?
Why, our duty to keep the world safe for freedom and democracy, of course. Our self proclaimed “American Exceptionalism.”
Trump bragged about the killing, claiming that it was done because of Qassem Soleimani’s past actions as well as the danger he posed to innocent people around the world.
“He was directly and indirectly responsible for the death of millions of people, including the recent large number of PROTESTERS killed in Iran itself. While Iran will never be able to properly admit it, Soleimani was both hated and feared within the country. They are not nearly as saddened as the leaders will let the outside world believe. He should have been taken out many years ago!”
It’s time for Americans to accept the fact that we are equal to every other nation that occupies a space on this spinning blue planet. We aren’t the smartest, the best, or the noblest. We aren’t the policemen of the world and we haven’t been ordained by the deity to spread our ideas with the our drones and our bombs.
It’s time to realize that the very idea of American Exceptionalism is just a fancy way of saying, “American First and to hell with everyone else.”
No wonder Trump is such a fan.