Letter 2 America for August 31, 2021

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Dear America,

Now that all American forces have left Afghanistan, we are at peace as a nation, at least in the formal sense.  It is time for our government, and for that matter our historian establishment to harvest the lessons of the last seventy years so as to avoid the catastrophic errors we have made as a function of the conceit that we know what is best for the world.

The first thing to reconsider is the overarching notion of "American exceptionalism."  Ironically, coining the phrase is usually attributed to Joseph Stalin as a function of a schism between Russian communism and the brand of communism that existed here in the United States at that time in 1929, the American branch of the doctrine claiming that American communism was an exception to some of Marx's original doctrine.  It was a term intended to derogate the subscribers to that notion as well as the notion itself, at least as it applied to the claims of Americans that they could not be constrained by strict adherence to dogma.  It was not a complimentary phrase then, and to most of the rest of the world, it is just as uncomplimentary in the context of the past seventy years of American history as it was in 1929 when Stalin first used it.

Second, we should consider the results our philosophical imperialism has achieved.  Starting with Korea, we have habitually traveled to the other side of the world to find morasses in which to involve ourselves, which might be excusable but for this: what we leave behind is always a festering mess.  Korea cost us billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives, not to mention the Korean lives lost, all in the name of interdicting communism's proliferation.  What we left behind was an institutionalization of China's commitment to communist expansionism in the form of a new nation, North Korea.  True, South Korea remained a capitalist bulwark on the Korean peninsula, but North Korea is and will continue to be a communist nation itself intent on expansion, continually menacing South Korea and thus requiring the uninterrupted presence of American troops as a putatively neutral insurer of the endurance of the "demilitarized zone" between the two countries.  Thereafter came Vietnam, which is where impoverished people now make much of our clothing after repelling the American effort to prevent a second "domino" from falling, this time in southeast Asia.  And then of course came the pursuit of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, and shortly thereafter overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.  Now here we are twenty years after the inception of our latest Asian adventures with a result similar to all of its predecessors: institutionalization of what we went to extinguish in the first place: a perpetual conflict between Sunni and Shiite Islam with rabid fundamentalism being the character of the latter. Afghanistan has reverted to Taliban control, which is where it all started in that country, and Iraq is seemingly ineluctably gravitating toward orbit around Iran with no Saddam Hussein, corrupt and brutal as he was, to prevent it.

The ultimate observation that seems to me to be inescapable is that whenever we go to proselytize for our political ethos we wind up insuring that what we went to oppose will prevail.  How and why that happens...the actual mechanism that leads to the failure of American exceptionalism abroad...is not clear, and may not be unitary.  I suppose that in each of these cases, history may reveal mistakes specific to each of the particular campaigns we waged rather than an overarching hubris that galvanizes our oppositions.  And analysis by those who claim expertise in such things might reveal a remedy for our tendency to make those mistakes such as to enable us to persist in our superiority beliefs and succeed when we go out into the world to have our way with it, but I doubt it.

What I think historical analysis will yield is the wisdom to perfect Americanism, not American exceptionalism.  I believe that the perspective of time, if we can swear off interventions abroad when we see something we don't like, will inform us that we should first clean our own house before we presume to clean others'.  In time, America may become the beacon of human virtue that others will themselves seek to emulate, and that will result in an America at peace with itself; an America at peace with the world, with "liberty and justice for all."

Our version of capitalism is as dogmatically flawed as Stalin perceived American communism to be in 1929.  We have allowed greed, prejudice and feigned rectitude to pollute the doctrine so as to allow acquisitiveness beyond conscience or even any practical justification with regard to the common weal.  During this period of "pax Americana," we should use the time to closely examine where we have been, and more importantly, decide where we want to go.

Your friend,


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This page contains a single entry by Michael Wolf published on August 31, 2021 10:33 AM.

Letter 2 America for August 23, 2021 was the previous entry in this blog.

Letter 2 America for September 10, 2021 is the next entry in this blog.

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