3 Σεπτεμβρίου 2014

The Myth of American Exceptionalism by I) Stephen Walt, II) Andranik Migranyan, III) Michael Gene Sullivan and IV) Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick.

Some may disagree, but I believe America is exceptional -- in part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interests, but for the interests of all.
President Obama in Address to the United Nations General Assembly
September 24, 2013. United Nations. New York

The Myth of American Exceptionalism
by Stephen Walt

Over the last two centuries, prominent Americans have described the United States as an "empire of liberty," a "shining city on a hill," the "last best hope of Earth," the "leader of the free world," and the "indispensable nation." These enduring tropes explain why all presidential candidates feel compelled to offer ritualistic paeans to America's greatness and why President Barack Obama landed in hot water -- most recently, from Mitt Romney -- for saying that while he believed in "American exceptionalism," it was no different from "British exceptionalism," "Greek exceptionalism," [2009 News Conference in Strasbourg] or any other country's brand of patriotic chest-thumping [Obama Has Mentioned 'American Exceptionalism' More Than Bush].
Most statements of "American exceptionalism" presume that America's values, political system, and history are unique and worthy of universal admiration. They also imply that the United States is both destined and entitled to play a distinct and positive role on the world stage.
The only thing wrong with this self-congratulatory portrait of America's global role is that it is mostly a myth. Although the United States possesses certain unique qualities -- from high levels of religiosity to a political culture that privileges individual freedom -- the conduct of U.S. foreign policy has been determined primarily by its relative power and by the inherently competitive nature of international politics. By focusing on their supposedly exceptional qualities, Americans blind themselves to the ways that they are a lot like everyone else.
This unchallenged faith in American exceptionalism makes it harder for Americans to understand why others are less enthusiastic about U.S. dominance, often alarmed by U.S. policies, and frequently irritated by what they see as U.S. hypocrisy, whether the subject is possession of nuclear weapons, conformity with international law, or America's tendency to condemn the conduct of others while ignoring its own failings. Ironically, U.S. foreign policy would probably be more effective if Americans were less convinced of their own unique virtues and less eager to proclaim them.
What we need, in short, is a more realistic and critical assessment of America's true character and contributions. In that spirit, I offer here the Top 5 Myths about American Exceptionalism.

Myth 1
There Is Something Exceptional About American Exceptionalism.
Whenever American leaders refer to the "unique" responsibilities of the United States, they are saying that it is different from other powers and that these differences require them to take on special burdens.
Yet there is nothing unusual about such lofty declarations; indeed, those who make them are treading a well-worn path. Most great powers have considered themselves superior to their rivals and have believed that they were advancing some greater good when they imposed their preferences on others. The British thought they were bearing the "white man's burden," while French colonialists invoked la mission civilisatrice to justify their empire. Portugal, whose imperial activities were hardly distinguished, believed it was promoting a certain missão civilizadora. Even many of the officials of the former Soviet Union genuinely believed they were leading the world toward a socialist utopia despite the many cruelties that communist rule inflicted. Of course, the United States has by far the better claim to virtue than Stalin or his successors, but Obama was right to remind us that all countries prize their own particular qualities.
So when Americans proclaim they are exceptional and indispensable, they are simply the latest nation to sing a familiar old song. Among great powers, thinking you're special is the norm, not the exception.

Myth 2
The United States Behaves Better Than Other Nations Do.
Declarations of American exceptionalism rest on the belief that the United States is a uniquely virtuous nation, one that loves peace, nurtures liberty, respects human rights, and embraces the rule of law. Americans like to think their country behaves much better than other states do, and certainly better than other great powers.
If only it were true. The United States may not have been as brutal as the worst states in world history, but a dispassionate look at the historical record belies most claims about America's moral superiority.
For starters, the United States has been one of the most expansionist powers in modern history. It began as 13 small colonies clinging to the Eastern Seaboard, but eventually expanded across North America, seizing Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California from Mexico in 1846. Along the way, it eliminated most of the native population and confined the survivors to impoverished reservations. By the mid-19th century, it had pushed Britain out of the Pacific Northwest and consolidated its hegemony over the Western Hemisphere.
The United States has fought numerous wars since then -- starting several of them -- and its wartime conduct has hardly been a model of restraint. The 1899-1902 conquest of the Philippines killed some 200,000 to 400,000 Filipinos, most of them civilians, and the United States and its allies did not hesitate to dispatch some 305,000 German and 330,000 Japanese civilians through aerial bombing during World War II, mostly through deliberate campaigns against enemy cities. No wonder Gen. Curtis LeMay, who directed the bombing campaign against Japan, told an aide, "If the U.S. lost the war, we would be prosecuted as war criminals." The United States dropped more than 6 million tons of bombs during the Indochina war, including tons of napalm and lethal defoliants like Agent Orange, and it is directly responsible for the deaths of many of the roughly 1 million civilians who died in that war.
More recently, the U.S.-backed Contra war in Nicaragua killed some 30,000 Nicaraguans, a percentage of their population equivalent to 2 million dead Americans. U.S. military action has led directly or indirectly to the deaths of 250,000 Muslims over the past three decades (and that's a low-end estimate, not counting the deaths resulting from the sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s), including the more than 100,000 people who died following the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. U.S. drones and Special Forces are going after suspected terrorists in at least five countries at present and have killed an unknown number of innocent civilians in the process. Some of these actions may have been necessary to make Americans more prosperous and secure. But while Americans would undoubtedly regard such acts as indefensible if some foreign country were doing them to us, hardly any U.S. politicians have questioned these policies. Instead, Americans still wonder, "Why do they hate us?"
The United States talks a good game on human rights and international law, but it has refused to sign most human rights treaties, is not a party to the International Criminal Court, and has been all too willing to cozy up to dictators -- remember our friend Hosni Mubarak? -- with abysmal human rights records. If that were not enough, the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the George W. Bush administration's reliance on waterboarding, extraordinary rendition, and preventive detention should shake America's belief that it consistently acts in a morally superior fashion. Obama's decision to retain many of these policies suggests they were not a temporary aberration.
The United States never conquered a vast overseas empire or caused millions to die through tyrannical blunders like China's Great Leap Forward or Stalin's forced collectivization. And given the vast power at its disposal for much of the past century, Washington could certainly have done much worse. But the record is clear: U.S. leaders have done what they thought they had to do when confronted by external dangers, and they paid scant attention to moral principles along the way. The idea that the United States is uniquely virtuous may be comforting to Americans; too bad it's not true.

Myth 3
America's Success Is Due to Its Special Genius.
The United States has enjoyed remarkable success, and Americans tend to portray their rise to world power as a direct result of the political foresight of the Founding Fathers, the virtues of the U.S. Constitution, the priority placed on individual liberty, and the creativity and hard work of the American people. In this narrative, the United States enjoys an exceptional global position today because it is, well, exceptional.
There is more than a grain of truth to this version of American history. It's not an accident that immigrants came to America in droves in search of economic opportunity, and the "melting pot" myth facilitated the assimilation of each wave of new Americans. America's scientific and technological achievements are fully deserving of praise and owe something to the openness and vitality of the American political order.
But America's past success is due as much to good luck as to any uniquely American virtues. The new nation was lucky that the continent was lavishly endowed with natural resources and traversed by navigable rivers. It was lucky to have been founded far from the other great powers and even luckier that the native population was less advanced and highly susceptible to European diseases. Americans were fortunate that the European great powers were at war for much of the republic's early history, which greatly facilitated its expansion across the continent, and its global primacy was ensured after the other great powers fought two devastating world wars. This account of America's rise does not deny that the United States did many things right, but it also acknowledges that America's present position owes as much to good fortune as to any special genius or "manifest destiny."

Myth 4
The United States Is Responsible for Most of the Good in the World.
Americans are fond of giving themselves credit for positive international developments. President Bill Clinton believed the United States was "indispensable to the forging of stable political relations," and the late Harvard University political scientist Samuel P. Huntington thought U.S. primacy was central "to the future of freedom, democracy, open economies, and international order in the world." Journalist Michael Hirsh has gone even further, writing in his book At War With Ourselves that America's global role is "the greatest gift the world has received in many, many centuries, possibly all of recorded history." Scholarly works such as Tony Smith's America's Mission and G. John Ikenberry's Liberal Leviathan emphasize America's contribution to the spread of democracy and its promotion of a supposedly liberal world order. Given all the high-fives American leaders have given themselves, it is hardly surprising that most Americans see their country as an overwhelmingly positive force in world affairs.
Once again, there is something to this line of argument, just not enough to make it entirely accurate. The United States has made undeniable contributions to peace and stability in the world over the past century, including the Marshall Plan, the creation and management of the Bretton Woods system, its rhetorical support for the core principles of democracy and human rights, and its mostly stabilizing military presence in Europe and the Far East. But the belief that all good things flow from Washington's wisdom overstates the U.S. contribution by a wide margin.
For starters, though Americans watching Saving Private Ryan or Patton may conclude that the United States played the central role in vanquishing Nazi Germany, most of the fighting was in Eastern Europe and the main burden of defeating Hitler's war machine was borne by the Soviet Union. Similarly, though the Marshall Plan and NATO played important roles in Europe's post-World War II success, Europeans deserve at least as much credit for rebuilding their economies, constructing a novel economic and political union, and moving beyond four centuries of sometimes bitter rivalry. Americans also tend to think they won the Cold War all by themselves, a view that ignores the contributions of other anti-Soviet adversaries and the courageous dissidents whose resistance to communist rule produced the "velvet revolutions" of 1989.
Moreover, as Godfrey Hodgson recently noted in his sympathetic but clear-eyed book, The Myth of American Exceptionalism, the spread of liberal ideals is a global phenomenon with roots in the Enlightenment, and European philosophers and political leaders did much to advance the democratic ideal. Similarly, the abolition of slavery and the long effort to improve the status of women owe more to Britain and other democracies than to the United States, where progress in both areas trailed many other countries. Nor can the United States claim a global leadership role today on gay rights, criminal justice, or economic equality -- Europe's got those areas covered.
Finally, any honest accounting of the past half-century must acknowledge the downside of American primacy. The United States has been the major producer of greenhouse gases for most of the last hundred years and thus a principal cause of the adverse changes that are altering the global environment. The United States stood on the wrong side of the long struggle against apartheid in South Africa and backed plenty of unsavory dictatorships -- including Saddam Hussein's -- when short-term strategic interests dictated. Americans may be justly proud of their role in creating and defending Israel and in combating global anti-Semitism, but its one-sided policies have also prolonged Palestinian statelessness and sustained Israel's brutal occupation.
Bottom line: Americans take too much credit for global progress and accept too little blame for areas where U.S. policy has in fact been counterproductive. Americans are blind to their weak spots, and in ways that have real-world consequences. Remember when Pentagon planners thought U.S. troops would be greeted in Baghdad with flowers and parades? They mostly got RPGs and IEDs instead.

Myth 5
God Is on Our Side.
A crucial component of American exceptionalism is the belief that the United States has a divinely ordained mission to lead the rest of the world. Ronald Reagan told audiences that there was "some divine plan" that had placed America here, and once quoted Pope Pius XII saying, "Into the hands of America God has placed the destinies of an afflicted mankind." Bush offered a similar view in 2004, saying, "We have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom." The same idea was expressed, albeit less nobly, in Otto von Bismarck's alleged quip that "God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States."
Confidence is a valuable commodity for any country. But when a nation starts to think it enjoys the mandate of heaven and becomes convinced that it cannot fail or be led astray by scoundrels or incompetents, then reality is likely to deliver a swift rebuke. Ancient Athens, Napoleonic France, imperial Japan, and countless other countries have succumbed to this sort of hubris, and nearly always with catastrophic results.
Despite America's many successes, the country is hardly immune from setbacks, follies, and boneheaded blunders. If you have any doubts about that, just reflect on how a decade of ill-advised tax cuts, two costly and unsuccessful wars, and a financial meltdown driven mostly by greed and corruption have managed to squander the privileged position the United States enjoyed at the end of the 20th century. Instead of assuming that God is on their side, perhaps Americans should heed Abraham Lincoln's admonition that our greatest concern should be "whether we are on God's side."
Given the many challenges Americans now face, from persistent unemployment to the burden of winding down two deadly wars, it's unsurprising that they find the idea of their own exceptionalism comforting -- and that their aspiring political leaders have been proclaiming it with increasing fervor. Such patriotism has its benefits, but not when it leads to a basic misunderstanding of America's role in the world. This is exactly how bad decisions get made.
America has its own special qualities, as all countries do, but it is still a state embedded in a competitive global system. It is far stronger and richer than most, and its geopolitical position is remarkably favorable. These advantages give the United States a wider range of choice in its conduct of foreign affairs, but they don't ensure that its choices will be good ones. Far from being a unique state whose behavior is radically different from that of other great powers, the United States has behaved like all the rest, pursuing its own self-interest first and foremost, seeking to improve its relative position over time, and devoting relatively little blood or treasure to purely idealistic pursuits. Yet, just like past great powers, it has convinced itself that it is different, and better, than everyone else.
International politics is a contact sport, and even powerful states must compromise their political principles for the sake of security and prosperity. Nationalism is also a powerful force, and it inevitably highlights the country's virtues and sugarcoats its less savory aspects. But if Americans want to be truly exceptional, they might start by viewing the whole idea of "American exceptionalism" with a much more skeptical eye.
Stephen M. Walt
Foreign Policy

The Myth of American Exceptionalism
by Andranik Migranyan

When the Soviet Union collapsed, America loomed as the gleaming superpower. It looked like the country had solved all of its problems. It was the envy of the world. An end of history loomed. No longer. History has come back with a vengeance. And today, after a decade of ruinous wars, the only things worth copying are the memories.
Americans are only beginning to comprehend their difficulties. Perhaps this should not be surprising. For Americans have long been weaned on the notion that they represent an exceptional nation. And, to be fair, the American belief in exceptionalism is not exceptional. Quite the contrary. Throughout history, countries and peoples have believed that they were exceptional. The ancient Greeks believed it, and called everyone else “barbarian.” So did the Romans, who conquered the world and believed they were gods. In more recent history, we had the Anglo-Saxons, who built the British Empire, which, in its expanse, spread further and wider than any previous imperium. Russia, too, is intimately acquainted with the idea of its own exceptionalism. We need only recall Hegumen Philotheus of Pskov, who talked about Moscow being the third Rome and that there would not be a fourth one. The idea of Russian exceptionalism was even more strongly expressed in Marxist-Leninist ideology, when Moscow created a denationalized ideological empire with a calling to free mankind from the tyranny of capitalism, and believed it had a historic mission to bring happiness to the entire world through a global victory of socialism, and later communism. It claimed that all people in the world would enjoy not only equality of opportunity, but of results. As a rule, all these ideas of exceptionalism rested on the twin pillars of ideology and myths.
Myths and ideological impulses abound in American history, too. The uniqueness of the country, its isolation from the rest of the world, and the unprecedented opportunity for growth and prosperity created the myth of the U.S. as a promised land that bestows upon its people unlimited room for development, personal freedom, entrepreneurship, and wealth. The American people, as the myth goes, enjoy and possess a global leadership mandate to enlighten the rest of the world and spread democratic values and institutions. At certain stages, when countries and people seem to be experiencing progress, they believe in their own myths as it seems fate itself is leading them forward and reality appears to bolster their claims to exceptionalism and a special place in the world. In this sense, American exceptionalism as a part of the American dream has long received confirmation in the continued development of both American society and the American state.

One of the main ideas of the American dream and American exceptionalism is that of freedom of the land, in which free people arrived and settled, and by the strength of their honest labor and the Protestant Ethic, achieved great results in their work, bringing prosperity to themselves and others. At the heart of this American dream and exceptionalism, lay the foundational notion that people have unlimited possibility to move up the social ladder without regard to national origin, starting social stratum, ethnic, religious or other association by birth, because society provided unlimited opportunity for economic, socio-cultural, or other advancement.
Another, very important feature of American exceptionalism was the certainty of Americans that they had the best Constitution--one that was created by a single stroke, thanks to the genius of the Founding Fathers, regarded by many as legendary demi-gods. Then there is the belief that American society is a nearly classless one. Here is a society that effectively battled poverty and created just relations between classes and social groups.
The problem comes, however, when these idealized myths run up against bleak realities. Consider the Soviet Union. For Russians remember very well that the worse the economy got in the Soviet Union and the weaker our international positions grew, the louder, intensively, and even angrily the Kremlin’s octogenarian leadership chanted the mantra of its own exceptionalism—the liberating mission of the Soviet Union, the historic significance of Marxist ideology and the inevitability of the triumph of socialism and communism worldwide. I believe that when Vladimir Putin wrote in his New York Times essay [A Plea for Caution From Russia. What Putin Has to Say to Americans About Syria] that it is very dangerous to foster the idea of exceptionalism among Americans, he spoke from the point of view of someone whose country had already suffered the collapse of such illusions. It is perilous for politicians and society to fail to notice the moment in which the gap between ideology and reality becomes an abyss. In our case, such failure led to the collapse of the USSR. And, if I understand Putin correctly, he is calling on Americans not to repeat our mistakes. This is why, I think, many American politicians, analysts and journalists, instead of thanking President Putin for the friendly piece of advice, wrongly took offence. Putin was not disparaging America; he was warning it. And for a number of reasons his concerns are not unwarranted.

First, how true is it still that the vast majority of Americans believe in individualism, try to rely exclusively on their own labor and creative energy to reach prosperity for themselves and their families, as well as for society as a whole? We can immediately see how much individualism still lives in American society. What happens today is a far cry from the minimalist government of old and the weight of individual efforts on behalf of most of Americans. As Mitt Romney mentioned during his presidential campaign in 2012, 47 percent of Americans do not pay income taxes, but believe the government must help them with health care, nutrition (by providing food stamps), pay for their living, and help them in a number of other spheres, because they are, on their own, unable to take care of themselves and their families, and depend on the government to a great extent. Some estimates put the figure of such people even higher, at 49 percent, but this figure includes people who rely on the government due to old age, and receive Social Security and Medicare. Even more modest estimates put the proportion of dependents on the government at 35 percent. Many conservative analysts and politicians believe that this has already led to America losing its way of life, turned it into a socialist country akin to those of Western or Northern Europe, and made it a de facto “nanny state” that provides for an ever-increasing proportion of Americans.
The next important notion at the foundation of American exceptionalism and the American dream is that of unlimited vertical mobility. The situation here is similarly divorced from reality. Among the developed countries, the U.S. ranks close to the bottom on vertical mobility, while the smooth work of social advancement powered for a long time the myth of American exceptionalism. In a recent article in Izvestia, the American author Edward Luttwak, either due to naivete or because he hopes that no one in Russia has any idea of what is happening in the United States, pointed to the rise of Senator Menendez, whose parents were poor Cuban immigrants. Menendez, with his somewhat questionable reputation, is perhaps not an example of meritocracy at its best, and it is a pity that Luttwak did not think of someone else. One of my American colleagues—a former high-ranking official of the presidential administration—sardonically noted that Menendez’s case is hardly proof of exceptionalism, as nowadays any fool in the United States can become a Senator. To be fair, we have to say this is not unique to the United States—nowadays, just about anyone in any country can become a deputy in its parliament. According to Pew Research Center, data for the past few decades shows an increasing tendency of social class to influence the prospects of the next generation (income and education of parents are a stronger predictor of social class in the U.S. than in Canada, and Western or Northern European countries). In other words, we can see a dampening of social mobility, but the myth of it is still alive and well, and constantly parroted by politicians, analysts and journalists.
The near classlessness of American society is another prominent myth. Since the 1970s, the middle class has not only failed to grow, but has shrunk. Poverty is not only not being alleviated despite the constant fight against it, but since the time of Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s, it has claimed more people. Recent data shows that American society added fifteen million more people to the ranks of the poor in the twenty-first century. At the same time, for the first time in U.S. history, the top 1 percent of earners received 19.3 percent of total household income, which shows that social stratification is increasing rapidly. It is no accident that, during the last presidential campaign, Democrats claimed Republicans represented the “1 percent”—millionaires and billionaires in the country, while the Democratic Party claimed to represent the other 99 percent, who constantly seem to lose on the free market and need government support.
There is another circumstance indicative of the fact that the myth of American exceptionalism is in deep crisis. It is the fact that, while once many countries tried to copy the American political system and enviously read the U.S. Constitution that had persevered intact for so long, it is increasingly evident that this Constitution, written in the eighteenth century, is increasingly antiquated. The government only grows more dysfunctional. The shutdown has not been shut down. A default on the government’s debt looms in just a few days, threatening both the American and the world economy. The problem is that the division of power and checks and balances system ordained by the eighteenth-century Constitution as well as a few other conditions that now aggravate the situation, is presently creating a mechanism of power that cannot function in the changing political climate without one party being in control of both houses in Congress, as well as having a supermajority in the Senate of sixty or more Senators, in addition to controlling the White House to be able to adopt any serious decisions. Otherwise, any decision can be blocked by the excessive checks and balances.

One last word on American exceptionalism is in order. The global economic crisis of 2008-2009 showed that the American economy had fewer levers of handling the crisis than did, as believed, the Chinese economy. The political system, as we already said, demonstrated its extreme dysfunctionality in decision making. In international relations, the sole superpower made a series of crucial decisions in the wake of September 11, which led to prolonged and torturous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, negatively affecting not just the U.S., but also the region.
The Obama administration’s decisions about Libya, Egypt, and Syria were not marked by deep wisdom either. The U.S. left Iraq without having accomplished its goals, without leaving a democracy, or any sort of order and stability in their wake, and without even a U.S.-friendly government there. They are leaving Afghanistan with unclear consequences for the future of the country. Together with the French, Italians and other countries, American interference destroyed Libyan governance and no one can guess what will happen next. Washington is at a loss as to what to do with Egypt, which it has significantly destabilized. The United States is mired in difficulty with regard to Iran, Syria and other problematic situations. We can thus conclude unequivocally about Washington’s global role that American politicians need to wake up to the fact that the epoch in which American strategists believed they could rule the world has come to an end. A new era has begun, in which the U.S. must negotiate with its partners and allies, learn to take into account their interests, and create coalitions to solve pressing problems that cannot be solved single-handedly even by such a powerful country as the United States. The United States remains the preeminent economic powerhouse despite its colossal government debt and acute social and other problems. The defense spending in all other leading countries combined cannot reach American levels, while all the same the U.S. seems to be on a downward path. The country is shedding more and more elements of its exceptionalism both domestically and internationally, while they are still being cultivated in American mythology and ideology repeated daily by politicians and neocon analysts.
This, friends, is why I think that the last paragraph of Putin’s article in The New York Times provoked such a violent reaction among the American establishment. Though Putin did not explicitly say that the emperor has no clothes, he hinted that the emperor does not know very well what his garb is. When I discussed this notion with a friend of mine who is an American pundit, he noted very cleverly that even though the emperor is not fully naked, he has failed to notice that his clothes have begun to slip off.
Andranik Migranyan
The National Interest
My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
Vladimir V. Putin
The New York Times

The Myth of American Exceptionalism
by Michael Gene Sullivan

"Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it..."
George Bernard Shaw

Vladimir Putin recently said America is not exceptional, and the flag-draped idiocracy has gone nuts. How dare he! And Putin's history of brutal lawlessness became hotly discussed, which is what's called an "Ad Hominem" attack -- rather than argue the point, attack the speaker. And with Putin there is so much to attack! The guy is a jerk. But what about the whole "exceptionalism" thing?
Now, I've never understood the concept of "American Exceptionalism." What is it, exactly, that we are an exception to? It seems to mean, basically, that whatever rules apply to all other countries should not apply to us. No one should have nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons -- except us, and we can use them whenever we like. Offensive military action, attacking a country that has not attacked you, is absolutely wrong... except when we do it. Then it's unquestioningly hunky-dory. No country should interfere with the internal political workings of another country, try to influence its elections, or assassinate its elected leaders without declaring war. Except the United States, which has used all those weapons and more to undermined every government -- democratically elected or not -- that we cannot profit from. "American Exceptionalism" is simply the belief that internationally recognized rules, morals, and ethics should apply to everyone - except the United States. I'm sure every country would love to have the same exceptionalism, but they are not strong enough to impose their will on just about everyone else. So instead we are despised for openly demanding that every other country accept that the U.S. is special, exceptional, and fundamentally better than they.
The U.S. has always had two things that make us special, and have dictated our rise to dominance -- the Atlantic and the Pacific. That's it. We have oceans that divide us from our major industrialized enemies. This means that in both of the major wars of the 20th century our factories didn't get bombed. Really, that's it. Every other industrial nation had their factories destroyed, and lost a lot of their skilled workforce. The U.S. -- which also entered both wars after much of the damage had been done -- didn't suffer industrial collapse, and after each war benefitted by becoming the factory for the rest of the world. Basic consumer items were "Made in America" because it was very difficult to make them anywhere else, and the world was happy to buy them from us. Our economy boomed because our factories hadn't been bombed, and they hadn't been bombed because we have these two big oceans on either side. It's nothing inherent in the American soul or mind, no special spirit, no divine providence, no exceptionalism. Our factories didn't get bombed, and theirs did. And our economic slide began in the late 60s, when they finished rebuilding their factories. So there is nothing exceptional about our economy, or our economic theories, or our way of life.
Υπάρχουν πολλές απαντήσεις στο ερώτημα για ποιόν λόγο η οικονομία των ΗΠΑ είναι τόσο ισχυρή, αλλά η πιο απλή απάντηση είναι η στρατιωτική ισχύς. Οι Ηνωμένες Πολιτείες κυριαρχούν ολοκληρωτικά σε μια ήπειρο που είναι απρόσβλητη από εισβολές και κατοχή και στην οποία ο στρατός τους υπερισχύει του στρατού των γειτόνων τους. Σχεδόν όλες οι βιομηχανικές δυνάμεις στον κόσμο βίωσαν κάποιον καταστροφικό πόλεμο των εικοστό αιώνα. Οι Ηνωμένες Πολιτείες διεξήγαγαν πόλεμο, αλλά η ίδια η Αμερική δεν τον βίωσε ποτέ. Η στρατιωτική ισχύς και η γεωγραφική πραγματικότητα δημιούργησαν μια οικονομική πραγματικότητα. Άλλες χώρες έχασαν χρόνο πασχίζοντας να συνέλθουν από πολέμους. Οι Ηνωμένες Πολιτείες όχι. Στην πραγματικότητα αναπτύχθηκαν χάρις σε αυτούς. Αναλογιστείτε αυτό το απλό γεγονός... Οι Ηνωμένες Πολιτείες ελέγχουν όλους τους ωκεανούς του κόσμου... Η ναυτική ισχύς όλου του υπόλοιπου κόσμου μαζί δεν μπορεί ούτε καν να πλησιάσει εκείνη του Ναυτικού των ΗΠΑ...
Όλοι μας θυμώμαστε τον όρο Δανεισμού -όπου οι Ηνωμένες Πολιτείες προμήθευαν τη Βρετανία με καταστροφείς και άλλα υλικά για να πολεμήσουν τους Γερμανούς- αλλά ο όρος Εκμισθώσεως συχνά λησμονείται. Με τον όρο Εκμισθώσεως οι Βρετανοί παρέδωσαν στις Ηνωμένες Πολιτείες σχεδόν όλες τις ναυτικές εγκαταστάσεις τους στο δυτικό ημισφαίριο. Με τον έλεγχο αυτών των εγκαταστάσεων και τον ρόλο που έπαιζε το Ναυτικό των ΗΠΑ στις περιπολίες στον Ατλαντικό, οι Βρετανοί αναγκάστηκαν να δώσουν στους Αμερικανούς τα κλεδιά του Βορείου Ατλαντικού, ο οποίος άλλωστε ήταν η δίοδος της Ευρώπης προς τον κόσμο.
Μια λογική εκτίμηση του κόστους που είχε ο Δεύτερος Παγκόσμιος Πόλεμος για τον κόσμο ήταν περίπου πενήντα εκατομμύρια νεκροί (στρατιώτες και πολίτες). Σ' αυτόν τον πόλεμο η Ευρώπη είχε κομματιαστεί, και τα έθνη είχαν ρημαχτεί. Αντίθετα οι Ηνωμένες Πολιτείες έχασαν γύρω στο μισό εκατομμύριο στρατιώτες και δεν είχαν σχεδόν καθόλου απώλειες πολιτών. Στο τέλος του πολέμου, η αμερικανική βιομηχανία ήταν πολύ πιο ισχυρή από ό,τι πριν από τον πόλεμο. Οι Ηνωμένες Πολιτείες ήταν το μοναδικό εμπόλεμο έθνος για το οποίο ίσχυσε αυτό. Δεν βομβαρδίστηκε καμμία αμερικανική πόλη (εκτός από το Περλ Χάρμπορ), δεν υπήρξε ξένη κατοχή σε καμμία αμερικανική περιοχή (εκτός από δύο μικρά νησιά στς Αλεούτιες Νήσους), και οι Ηνωμένες Πολιτείες υπέστησαν λιγότερο από το 1 τοις εκατό των απωλειών του κόσμου. Με αυτό το τίμημα, οι Ηνωμένες Πολιτείες βγήκαν από τον Δεύτερο Παγκόσμιο Πόλεμο έχοντας όχι μόνο τον έλεγχο του Βόρειου Ατλαντικού αλλά και ως κυρίαρχοι των ωκεανών [και άρα του εμπορίου] όλου του κόσμου. Επίσης κατείχαν τη Δυτική Ευρώπη, διαμορφώνοντας τις μοίρες χωρών όπως η Γαλλία, η Ολλανδία, το Βέλγιο, η Ιταλία, ακόμη και η Μεγάλη Βρετανία. Ταυτόχρονα, οι Ηνωμένες Πολιτείες κατέκτησαν και κατέλαβαν την Ιαπωνία, σχεδόν ως αποτέλεσμα των ευρωπαϊκών εκστρατειών...
Να μια ερώτηση: Η ξεκάθαρη ανάδυση των Ηνωμένων Πολιτειών το 1945 ως η αποφασιστική παγκόσμια δύναμη ήταν ένα ιδιοφυές μακιαβελικό παιχνίδι; Οι Αμερικανοί πέτυχαν παγκόσμια υπεροχή με κόστος 500.000 νεκρούς, σε έναν πόλεμο όπου χάθηκαν πενήντα εκατομμύρια άλλοι. Ήταν ο Φραγκλίνος Ρούζβελτ ιδιοφυώς αδίστακτος, ή το γεγονός ότι οι ΗΠΑ έγιναν υπερδύναμη ήταν κάτι που απλά συνέβη κατά τις προσπάθεια του Ρούζβελτ να επιβάλει τις «τέσσερις ελευθερίες» και την Χάρτα των Ηνωμένων Εθνών;...
And, despite our militarism, our military isn't exceptional, either. Historically the U.S. has actually been very select about waging war. History: In WWII England declared war on Nazi Germany, France declared war on Nazi Germany, the U.S.... didn't. We waited until Germany declared war on us, years later, after our "allies" had been devastated. That's how important defeating fascism was to America. In WWI we didn't enter it until the war was almost over. In the war against Spain we declared war on a poor nation whose empire was collapsing as colonial rebels fought for freedom... and the U.S. spent more time and money fighting against those Freedom Fighters than we did against the Spanish. The war on Mexico? We took land from a poor, weak country. Vietnam? Somalia? Iraq? Afghanistan? And don't get me started on the Indian Wars. I'm no militarist, but Alexander the Great took on the freakin' Persians! Rome fought Carthage, the Moors took on the Mediterranean Basin, the Irish took on the British, the British took on Napoleon, and Napoleon took on the rest of Europe. Geronimo took on the United States. The Mongols took on the world.
American military prestige is built on not fighting major powers at their height, on fighting small powers, or coming into major wars late.
And with our history of spying on, blacklisting, jailing, and killing law-abiding unionists, civil rights activists, environmentalists, feminists, Anarchists, Communists, and Socialists, and with the evolving story about how extensive the NSA's spying on us has been, how craven our elected officials have been in the face of it, or how journalists have been and continue to be jailed for reporting on our government's misdeeds, one certainly can't say our freedoms are exceptional. They can be ignored by the government just like the rights of the citizens of every other country.
And in a time of monarchy was our democratic founding exceptional? Remember: the Founders didn't want independence right off the bat, they wanted something like Home Rule. And when they did get independence there was a movement to make Washington "President for Life," i.e. king - like so many other countries had. Except the Swiss. They've had democracy for almost 800 years. If our democracy makes us exceptional should that make them extra-super exceptional?
No, it shouldn't, because no country is exceptional. America is just another country which benefitted from an accident of geography. Heck, if the colonies had been a bit closer to England the American rebellion (I can't say "our rebellion" since my ancestors were, at that time, enslaved by those fighting for "freedom") probably would have been crushed like the rebellions in Scotland and Ireland. So jumping up and down about how "exceptional" America is strikes my as pointless. Egypt thought it was exceptional, so did Persia, so did Rome. So did England at their height, and so did Japan before their fall. So did Germany. So did the U.S.S.R.
I'm not saying the United States isn't neat, or that I'd want to live anywhere else. I like lotsa stuff about my country! I like the free public schools, the clean water, and the clean-ish air. I like the lack of dead bodies in the street. Of course right now there are those want to privatize education, de-fund the whole water and air cleaning thing, and give everyone guns, but that's beside the point. There are a lot of great things about my country, but insisting on being exceptional isn't one of them. In fact, given the history of Great Powers, our trumpeting our exceptionalism is, ironically, rather typical.
Instead of demanding special treatment from the world, perhaps we should focus on making this country the best we can, helping those most in need, investing in creating an environmentally sustainable economy to hand on to our children, and emphasizing peaceful conflict resolution rather than threatening to hurl missiles at anyone we don't like. That is how we can be, if not exceptional, at least admirable.
Michael Gene Sullivan
The Huffington Post

The Myth of American Exceptionalism
by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick

When Vladimir Putin chastized Barack Obama for invoking "American exceptionalism" to justify a unilateral military strike against Syria, Americans protested vehemently. Putin's dismal human rights record made many join Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez in wanting to "vomit."
But Americans ought not dismiss this message. Whatever moral authority the United States gained for helping the Soviets defeat Germany in World War II or for its "victory" in the Cold War has faded in a narrative of unpopular wars and repression that includes Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Greece, Indonesia, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan.
As Samuel Huntington aptly reminded readers in a statement of particular relevance to the United States,
"The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion … but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do."
Americans, however, can't forget what they never learned in the first place. The National Report Card issued in June 2011 found that high school seniors tested worse in U.S. history than in any other field, including math and science. Only 12% were judged "proficient."
Devoid of historical knowledge, Americans substitute myths like exceptionalism -- a belief that dates back to John Winthrop's 1630 declaration that the new colony will be a "city upon a hill" for all the world to follow. Exceptionalism underlay embrace of "manifest destiny." Woodrow Wilson stated it most directly when he gushed after the Paris Peace conference, "At last the world knows America as the savior of the world!"
The belief in America's unique altruism and single-minded commitment to freedom and democracy propelled the early Cold War, despite George Kennan's top secret 1948 memo explaining:
"We have about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. . . . We cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. ... To do so, we ... should cease to talk about vague and ... unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization ... we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts."
Since the 1980s, exceptionalism has become American leaders' mantra. Henry Kissinger, despite having blood on his hands from Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, Bangladesh and East Timor, wrote that the U.S. acts for "the well-being of all mankind," explaining that "Americans have always seen their role in the world as the outward manifestation of an inward state of grace."
Ronald Reagan propounded this repeatedly, even while supporting death squads in Central America and unleashing the tides of Islamic extremism across Central Asia.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had the temerity to declare, "If we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation."
Earlier this year, Hillary Clinton stated, "We are the indispensable nation. We are the force for progress, prosperity, and peace," which might seem an odd statement from a woman who supported the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya as well as the bombing of Syria.
But even more galling was Obama's Fort Bragg address to troops returning from Iraq. He commended their willingness to sacrifice "so much for a people that you had never met," which, he insisted, was "part of what makes us special as Americans. Unlike the old empires, we don't make these sacrifices for territory or for resources. We do it because it's right ... a unique willingness among nations to pay a great price for the progress of human freedom and dignity. This is who we are. That's what we do as Americans." Towards the end Alan Greenspan, the long-serving chair of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, thought such statements absurd. "I am saddened," he wrote, "that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."
But when viewed through the lens of exceptionalism, even the worst atrocities can become tolerable to the historically challenged. The U.S. invasion of Vietnam is the most egregious case of external aggression by any nation in the post-WWII era. Martin Luther King, America's greatest moral voice since the Second World War, said, "If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam." However, a recent Gallup poll found that 51% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 believe the war was "not a mistake." In May 2012, Obama announced a 13-year "commemoration" of the Vietnam War, honoring those Americans who fought "heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans."
We wonder which ideals, exactly, Obama was referring to. A few years before his death, former secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told students at American University that 3.8 million Vietnamese died in that war. Most college students, when asked in informal surveys, place the number at a quarter of that amount or less. The Vietnam Memorial Wall in D.C. contains the names of 58,272 Americans who died in the war. Its message is that the tragedy of that wretched war was that 58,000 Americans died. The wall is 146 feet long.
Imagine a wall that also contained the names of all the Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, and others who died. Such a wall would be over 4 miles long. It would not only be a fitting memorial to all the victims of "American exceptionalism," it would be a perfect tombstone for that most dangerous of American myths.
Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick

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