* This article was first published KRWG TV/RADIO (New Mexico’s National Public Radio)
Affirming belief that America is an exceptional nation has become a test of patriotism in American politics. Michael Ignatieff
There is nothing exceptional about America. To believe that our nation cannot go over the moral cliff is utter nonsense. Not only have we gone over the cliff on several momentous occasions, we have perpetrated crimes against humanity that are every bit as depraved as the Nazis.
For example, those who believe that America is not capable of forcing refugees and war victims on a death march have no idea about the “Trail of Tears,” in which 4,000 Cherokees succumbed to hunger, anguish, and death. This campaign of terror was enforced by our federal government and sanctioned by the will of white Americans. (Many whites actually looted the homes of Cherokees forced to join the long trek West.)
Those who believe that America would never build concentration camps have no idea what happened to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Close to 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry who lived on the Pacific coast were sent to these prisons in the middle of the country. The vast majority were U.S. citizens.
Those who believe that America would never kill innocent civilians in war- that somehow Americans are beyond the ability to commit massacres- know nothing of what took place in Vietnam. In the village of My Lai, for instance, U.S. soldiers murdered (over the span of 3 hrs) as many as 504 Vietnamese men, women, children, and babies. Some were ordered into lines in a drainage ditch before being executed by machine guns.
Those who believe that America could never maintain a gulag choose not to know what happens to detainees at Guantanamo Bay. All of them have been tortured in one way or another. Some prisoners have been mutilated to songs such as Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and Drowning Pool’s “Bodies.”
And to those who believe that America would never deploy nuclear weapons are either too young or too feeble minded to know how Japan ultimately surrendered at the end of WWII. After the atomic bombings, at least 150,000 people were wiped out in Hiroshima and around 80,000 people were killed in Nagasaki; about half of the killings in each city occurred on the first day. In fact, America is still the only nation in human history to detonate a nuclear weapon on a human population zone. It is our Shoah. It is our Killing Fields. It is our own Rwanda from the air.
Finally, lest we forget, those who believe that America could never hold people in bondage for economic gain are either too young or two feeble minded to know why the business of North American slavery was so immensely profitable for hundreds of years. Driven by demands from the ever growing cotton plantations in the Deep South, the “Peculiar Institution” was a multi-trillion dollar industry that can only be rivaled economically by Microsoft and Exxon Mobile today. It took a civil war to stop it.
Put succinctly, in the words of esteemed NYT journalist Maureen Dowd: “The idea of American exceptionalism does not extend to Americans being exceptional.”
Yet, even after all that is aid, I can openly admit that I am a proud American. Not only do I love my country, it is the only country that I know how to love. It’s like my father to me. It’s like my mother to me. It’s like my sisters to me. I only have one country. I would not trade it for anything in the world. I would not live without it. I will pray for it and serve it for the rest of my life.
But, my country is deeply flawed, easily corruptible, and perpetually condemned by the horrors of the past. Like all families it has the capacity for monstrous acts of evil, as well as awesome acts of goodness. There is nothing exceptional about it.