American Exceptionalism

Exceptionalism: the belief that we Americans have been blessed with some sort of gift that allows us to act with impunity by claiming to be only interested in the common good, in democracy and freedom, or in punishing those who violate *international norms*. Of course, part and parcel with this gift is the mandate to be judge, jury, and executioner; a facet of exceptionalism that has become blatant with the use of drones to assassinate not only foreign individuals, but American citizens who are speaking out against the government. In fact, this sense of exceptionalism is so deeply ingrained in us, constantly through the media and the spin placed on news and through the *sanitized* history taught in schools, that you probably have a visceral reaction rejecting this premise that there might be something wrong or inaccurate about this belief. I congratulate you for continuing to read, as most people have already clicked on to some other, more palatable or less challenging piece of drivel.
What is important to note abut exceptionalism is its long history on this continent. The first invaders from Europe felt justified in slaughtering the Native peoples they found already ensconced upon the land because they believed they were exceptional. Our Founding Fathers exemplified a belief in exceptionalism as they granted rights to voting and property to only the few *exceptional* landed white men. Looking at every historical turning point throughout American history, you can smell the reek of white supremacy making decisions for the *betterment* of people who are not white; decisions that only further elevate those in power and grant them the resources they need to remain in power despite those resources having been the property of others. In many cases just in the past century: the two World Wars, Vietnam, Panama, the Philippines, Hawaii, the War on Drugs and the War on Islam Terror to name but a few, racism has been thinly veiled at best, or used to rile up the population into a frenzy of support for the killing needed to plunder other lands.
Some argue that racism should no longer be spoken of, that somehow we have managed to get past that. That sounds just like the average abuser, telling his victim that there is no need to look back, what’s done is done and let’s move forward. That sounds like the abuser who says the victim is lying. That sounds like the abuser who says that the victim *asked for it*. The fact that the current issue surrounding Syria in particular, and Egypt and Gaza and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and Mexico and all the rest, is being fomented by a black President only proves one thing: not that racism is a thing of the past, but rather that racism exists not solely based on skin color, but based also on class. A black President who is firmly entrenched in the upper class will act and respond as any other wealthy white power monger, if only to survive with his own wealth and power intact.
If you truly believe in morality and feel that there are people who need protecting, at least make an effort to be evenhanded and protect everyone. Don’t go along with cruise missile strikes in Syria (especially when the rebels have already been implicated in prior gas attacks without your protest) and drone strikes in Pakistan (that kill unnamed, unknown people who, at the age of 5 and 7, cannot possibly pose a threat to your security here in America) and the building of a wall that claims to be able to stop the refugees undocumented from crossing into the US from Mexico (while leaving the Canadian border in many places even unpatrolled).
If we are to ever see this belief in exceptionalism lead us into another World War, it is easy to see how the Middle East would be the match that lights the explosion. Russia has moved warships in to protect its only foothold in the region; an attack against Syria would be an attack against Russia. This is the part of the whole scenario of a *limited strike* that is the scariest: how personally would Putin take a strike against the weapons Russia has provided to al-Assad? Obviously in his op-ed piece printed in the New York Times, Putin is trying to point out the fallacy of exceptionalism and its potential to lead us into a war we will regret. Is it true that Obama’s credibility is so damaged over the *red-line* issue, that his manhood was so challenged by the refusal of Congress to back his plan for war, that he might act unilaterally and flip us all his middle finger? Is this turning into a desperate fight to burnish his image as a *war President* before he leaves office in two years? How much of this is ego, and how much for the good of all people?
And lastly, before wrapping this up for today, there is one other issue that works to explode the myth of exceptionalism, at least as far as it being a state of mind that we should want: America is demonstrably exceptional in these ways:
• We are the only country to have used nuclear weapons against a civilian population
• We maintain more nuclear weapons than all other nations combined; enough to end life on this planet many times over
• We spend so much on our military that the rest of the world combined does not spend more than we do
• We maintain a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons, and are not in compliance with the same international treaty we accuse Syria of violating, and for what purpose exactly?
• We provide more arms, including chemical weapons, to other nations than any other country on Earth
• We use cluster bombs and depleted uranium, both weapons that are banned by international law, and despite the fact that their use is considered to be a war crime
• Our police, neighborhood watches, and vigilantes still, in 2013, kill a person of color without due process of law every 28 hours.
• The criteria we appear to use when deciding who to help and who to hurt is based on profit or access to resources, not morality or justice as we claim
Sadly, we are exceptional after all.

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2 Responses to American Exceptionalism

  1. jonolan says:

    I’ll not argue with your opinions or biases. I will, however, point out that neither cluster munitions nor depleted uranium ordnance are actually banned by any international law. In the case of cluster munitions, some nations have agreed to not use them but that is not the same as international law.

  2. derektennant says:

    Of course there is bias in my writing; we all are biased, and that is the point of a blog. I empathize with your comment because I too, used to be asleep to what is happening. It is true that the U.S. has not ratified the international treaty banning cluster munitions; although 83 other countries have including most of those in Europe and our major allies: Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. This also conveniently ignores the Geneva conventions, which have been ratified by America and do include prohibitions against weapons that kill civilians indiscriminately, which is the main reason that we use cluster bombs. I am sorry that you are still so much a propaganda slave that your argument is based solely on legality, not morality. I protest the immorality of indiscriminate killing, and the toxic legacy of cancer and birth defects as documented by many studies following the use of depleted uranium munitions. But I am also cheered that there are so many Americans like you who don’t understand what is being done in their name: it means the evil Empire will fall that much faster, and leave more resources for those of us who will build a just and sane society on its ashes.

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