Friday, December 15, 2006

Exception to American Exceptionalism--A response to Howard Zinn:

Dear Prof. Zinn: I read your article “American Exceptionalism” you emailed to me. I do not dispute one fact in that. Of course you are right there have been centuries of brutal behavior by the American government as well as by the western Europeans.

I think what galls you, and me too, as I began to question US Foreign policy, is as you say "The idea that America is different because its military actions are for the benefit of others." It is the fact that we are given American history pablum almost since birth which is supposed to pass off as ultimate truth and upon which our policy both national and international is hewed. It has been responsible over centuries for the death of thousands. There is no question of that.

The problem is I do not possess the reality of what things would have been like IF US foreign policy had been different OR not at all that is even if the west had not colonized the Americas. What would it have been like if people simply left other people alone? What if the western European settlers came peaceably to trade or to live without denying those rights including the right to life to those who were here first? What would have happened if no slave ships arrived?

I think THAT is the apex of the continuing dilemma and conundrum I have had throughout the years. What would it have been like if things historical that were so were not? Would the Indians have lived peaceably, never attacking other tribes or maybe have advanced their culture so that the creature comforts we enjoy now they would have enjoyed as well? Would blacks have remained solely in Africa? How would things have been different?

This sounds perhaps ridiculous because we obviously can never know but I wonder often what things would have been like had the west not imprinted its culture on all those “innocent masses.” Would they have remained innocent? Would they have been benign? Would the world have looked all together different from what it does today if the US and the European west had not placed its hegemonic and cultural stamp on nations? Would Islam have reared its fundamentalist head? Would it have been so bestially violent? Of course, a subject near and dear to my heart: What would have happened to the Jews?

I think those questions are far from being ridiculous. That is why I cannot make a final judgment or assessment of US policy. I do not know what would have happened had the US not happened or if things had been different.

I have suspicions, of course, as I think I have stated in other emails. I believe in the dinosaurs. Watching the Science Channel devoted to the Jurassic and Triassic period looking at what dinosaurs were like gives me a fundamental truth. My partner sums it up by saying: “The dinosaurs stink.” I think that is true they did stink. They were eating and killing machines. I believe, though, they were more than that. I believe they show us a window into the human condition. I think our species is not all that far removed. Salt and pepper in a few million years of evolutionary development so that humans emerge and develop some ethical systems but, generally speaking, I think we still possess a reptilian core.

The program Sleeper Cell on Cable Showtime is riveting. It is about, as you may know, a terrorist cell within the US and the FBI’s never-ending attempt to foil its plots. It is violent indeed but it shows exactly what both sides Islamic and western alike are capable of doing. The brutality of both sides is horrendous. Both sides are two dinosaurs fighting in the same way for the same thing couched in lofty cerebral rationales. They fight brutally, maim, torture and kill each other for the shear acquisition and maintenance of dominance and power. I cannot see much difference between the brutality of yesteryear and the brutality today. The players are different but the reality of what we are in our core is the same.

Even IF all Americans saw the brutality of what our foreign policy has been would they want it to be different? I suspect not. Everyone wants to be on top and everyone is afraid to die. We simply want the other guy to die first. It is truly a tough world indeed. However, when I sleep at night the last thing I think about is I, a Jew, still feel fortunate that blind luck has determined that I live here and not in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, the Sudan, North Korea or Cuba. At least so far I have won the right to life lottery and have the ability to write my thoughts down in this format without fear of a knock at the door. I’ll put my money still on the US with all its faults and hope that the Age of US cultural hegemony will not go the way of the dinosaur but that Darwinian survival prevails.

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