Exceptional—Not usual: unusual or uncommon. Unusually good: much better than average. See: www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/exceptional.
America Is Not Unique—
Reading the title of this piece, some of you may be like those ultra-patriotic citizens and politicians in being outraged that someone would dare to challenge such a sacred belief: that the United States is exceptional, that America is pure and generous and doesn’t stoop to the kind of bad behavior that characterizes most other nations on the planet. If so, that outrage is misplaced. America suffers from the same defects as many other nations. It is not exceptional. In fact, it is typical, that is, America is not uncommon.
Dare We Call It “Genocide?”
Here’s a bit of a brief history lesson. Let’s start with America’s beginnings. The people who colonized America stole it from the original inhabitants, the indigenous people we call the “Indians.” We killed them to take their lands. With British support and guidance, our pre-revolutionary colonial ancestors carried out the first biological warfare on the North American continent against the Indians by supplying them with blankets carrying smallpox germs. As hoped, the recipients died in the thousands from smallpox. This crime was repeated time and again against different tribes and using different disease agents by the Americans after it became a nation. Dare we call it genocide? “Well,” you say, “other nations have done the same.” Exactly.
How about torture? Waterboarding was used by American soldiers against the enemy in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War and the Philippine extension of that war. This occurred at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th. Thus, if you think that it first appeared in recent American wars, as documented in Iraq, Afghanistan, assorted black sites or Guantanamo, you are wrong. Torture was used against slaves in America and has been used against African-Americans in more modern times. It has been used by homophobes against gays. “The third degree”, a form of torture, has been used by domestic police against suspects. The Vietnam War produced numerous examples of torture carried out by Americans. You can believe it because it was front page stuff for adults, but kids in school still get the sanitized version of American history in their school books. We don’t want them to know what their “exceptional” country has done throughout its history. Woe be it to the teacher who introduces reality to the students in his/her class.
Foreign Mass Murder—
What about mass murder? Aside from the Spanish-American War in the Philippines and the murders of Philippine native prisoners, World War II history contains numerous mass murders of captured Germans, both soldiers and civilians. My Lai in Vietnam is just one of many instances of mass murder by American soldiers.
Domestic Mass Murder—
What about the mass murders that take place on American soil? The University of Texas? Columbine High School in Colorado? Newtown Elementary School in Massachusetts? While Norway has had its own mass murder, is the United States exceptional? Here, they join some Middle Eastern nations and China, but is this what America’s ultra-patriots mean when they say America is exceptional?
Now let’s move to the domestic scene and just plain American wastefulness, inefficiency, thievery and stupidity in both government and private industry. It is often said by most Republicans and advocates of privatization that American business is more efficient, smarter and less a target for thievery than state or federal government. Some of you have been employed in the private corporate world. Do you have any contrary views about efficiency, petty or major thievery or just plain bone-headed stupidity? Are the private corporations of which you have been a part efficient and immune to greed, waste, thievery and stupidity? Some readers have been teachers in private or public schools. Same question. Some have been in the military? Same question. Some of you have worked in state or federal government jobs. Same question. The point is, Americans are human and subject to the same flaws as people in other parts of the world.
It is said that the United States is a nation of laws. As a lawyer, I can attest that there are libraries full of books filled with laws. Some laws are sensible and clearly written, some are dangerously vague, outdated or simply silly. Many laws are ignored by the people as well as those who are intended to enforce the laws. The same can be said of the laws in other countries, even the so-called “lawless” ones or the laws in the holy books of the world’s religions. And as can be seen in today’s headlines, often a nation’s basic law, its constitution, is ignored or considered merely advisory. The American National Security Agency (NSA), at a minimum, is guilty of this. Given all of this can America brag that it is exceptional? Why, even the president says America is exceptional. Is it true or is it merely political fluff? I say it’s not true. America is NOT exceptional.
What do you say?