Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Unexceptional Americans



...torture has been routinely practiced from the early days of the conquest of the national territory, and continued to be used as the imperial ventures of the "infant empire" - as George Washington called the new republic - extended to the Philippines, Haiti, and elsewhere.... torture was the least of the many crimes of aggression, terror, subversion, and economic strangulation that have darkened U.S. history, much as in the case of other great powers


The quote above is from Noam Chomsky, who in a recent article discusses the amnesia that affects so much of U.S. history. Even as I joined in condemnation of the Bush regime in the past few years, I often found myself disturbed by notions that the misdeeds carried out under that administration were aberrations--horrific in great part because of their seeming uniqueness. For many, it was as if the past few centuries of ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples of North America, the brutal occupation of the Philippines, the violent overthrow of governments (from the Hawaiian monarchy to Mossadeq of Iran), the mayhem of bloodshed throughout Central and South America, a war in Southeast Asia that killed millions and more had been minor blips in our history. Yet for many of the people on the receiving end it has been the defining tragedy and tumultuous markers of their lives, societies and nations. The American view of itself as a nation that is always moral, always right and always just, is a theme of denial that runs deep in our psyche. Its what leads us to label ourselves the "indispensable nation" which the rest of the world cannot do without as they wait in hopes for us to be their eternal leader. And we feel wholly justified in ringing the globe with 737 military bases, yet balk at being called an Empire.

In the article below, Noam Chomsky deconstructs these myths of "American Exceptionalism" and asks us to take a better look at our history with more critical eyes.


Unexceptional Americans

May 19, 2009

The torture memos released by the White House elicited shock, indignation, and surprise. The shock and indignation are understandable. The surprise, less so.

For one thing, even without inquiry, it was reasonable to suppose that Guantanamo was a torture chamber. Why else send prisoners where they would be beyond the reach of the law -- a place, incidentally, that Washington is using in violation of a treaty forced on Cuba at the point of a gun? Security reasons were, of course, alleged, but they remain hard to take seriously. The same expectations held for the Bush administration's "black sites," or secret prisons, and for extraordinary rendition, and they were fulfilled.

More importantly, torture has been routinely practiced from the early days of the conquest of the national territory, and continued to be used as the imperial ventures of the "infant empire" -- as George Washington called the new republic -- extended to the Philippines, Haiti, and elsewhere. Keep in mind as well that torture was the least of the many crimes of aggression, terror, subversion, and economic strangulation that have darkened U.S. history, much as in the case of other great powers.

Accordingly, what's surprising is to see the reactions to the release of those Justice Department memos, even by some of the most eloquent and forthright critics of Bush malfeasance: Paul Krugman, for example, writing that we used to be "a nation of moral ideals" and never before Bush "have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for." To say the least, that common view reflects a rather slanted version of American history.

full article here.


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