American Exceptionalism, Part Two
It’s understandable why folks would want to talk about American Exceptionalism in these days. We seem to be in a funk. I suspect similar to the Carter era, but I feel it maybe something worse. People know somethings are off track – our economy (i.e. high unemployment), our domestic policy (i.e. healthcare), our fiscal and monetary policy (i.e. debt & deficit), our foreign policy (i.e. Israel), etc.
Many folks are concerned about the world community loosing faith in the U.S. Dollar as the world reserve currency within the next decade or so therefore causing a flip to either the Chinese Renminbi (once it fully enters the international monetary community) or to a basket of world currencies. Many are rightly concerned that China and many Asian Pacific countries are beginning to eclipse the U.S., Europe and the West in general. One might have the perception that our (the U.S.) best days are behind us. Many believe that we have began a downward spiral that all worldly empires eventually face.
Maybe it’s time to look at this concept of “American Exceptionalism” from another perspective, through the eyes of current American minorities, i.e. African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, etc. As Catholics we were once a minority as well. Our American history is a complex one, as all histories are. Let us dig a little deeper to see more of our reality so that we can know how to move forward in these days.
Watch Howard Zinn’s Lecture at MIT entitled The Myth of American Exceptionalism.
A People’s History Of The United States (free online edition) by Howard Zinn
About the Lecture
Americans have long embraced a notion of superiority, claims Howard Zinn. Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony described establishing “a city on a hill,” to serve the world as a beacon of liberty. So far, so good. But driving this sense of destiny, says Zinn, was an assumption of divine agency—“an association between what the government does and what God approves of.” And too frequently, continues Zinn, Americans have invoked God to expand “into someone else’s territory, occupying and dealing harshly with people who resist occupation.”
Zinn offers numerous examples of how the American government has used “divine ordination” and rationales of spreading civilization and freedom to justify its most dastardly actions: the extermination of Native Americans and takeover of their land; the annexation of Texas and war with Mexico; war against the Philippines; U.S. involvement in coups in Latin America; bloody efforts to expand U.S. influence in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The battle against Communism, often bolstered by arguments of America’s divine mission in the world, was merely a convenient excuse to maintain U.S. economic and military interests in key regions.
Today, says Zinn, we have a president, who more than any before him, claims a special relationship with God. Zinn worries about an administration that deploys Christian zealotry to justify a war against terrorism, a war that in reality seems more about establishing a new beachhead in the oil-rich Middle East. He also sees great danger in Bush’s doctrines of unilateralism and pre-emptive war, which mark a great leap away from international standards of morality.