Monday, November 21, 2011 at 11:33AM
Drew Wolfe

The Myth of American Exceptionalism

My thoughts for years parallel those expressed in Stephen M. Walt's article on The Myth of American Exceptionalsim that appeared in the St. Pete Times and on his blog, My thoughts were the result of being a professor for 45 years and my extensive travels throughout the world. You can read his excellent article by following the above link. I am only going to give my supporting comments below.

So what are these myths?

Myth 1: There Is Something Exceptional About American Exceptionalism.

Walt points out that all nations that have become powerful have claimed being exceptional. It is the product of success. He points out that the US is no different from the claims of the British, French, and Soviet empires. This means that America's claim is just the norm for a world power.

Myth 2: The United States Behaves Better Than Other Nations Do.

Walt states: "Declarations of American exceptionalism rest on the belief that the United States is a uniquely virtuous nation, one that loves peace, nurtures liberty, respects human rights, and embraces the rule of law. Americans like to think their country behaves much better than other states do, and certainly better than other great powers."

I agree with him that this is totally a myth when you consider what Americans did to the indigenous people of North America upon their arrival from Europe. Americans then waged war on Mexico to fill out the western part of the US. We then killed untold thousands in our wars which claimed even more territory and influence. Yes, our leaders would have faced trials for war atrocities if the US had lost any of these wars. How can we say that the US behaves better than other nations when we dropped 6 million tons of bombs and countless tons of Agent Orange in Southeast Asia, mainly Vietnam, and killed millions for no really good reason.

Myth 3: America's Success Is Due to Its Special Genius.

Walt states: "The United States has enjoyed remarkable success, and Americans tend to portray their rise to world power as a direct result of the political foresight of the Founding Fathers, the virtues of the U.S. Constitution, the priority placed on individual liberty, and the creativity and hard work of the American people. In this narrative, the United States enjoys an exceptional global position today because it is, well, exceptional."

Yes, we do many things well, but as Walt states it is mainly due to "luck." We are lucky that we were isolated from the rest of the world, that America has great natural resources, and that the indigenous native population was unsophisticated and could not compete with the more technologically advanced European invaders. We are also lucky that people from other countries have wanted the American Dream. Much of our genius has come from first and second generation immigrants.

Myth 4: The United States Is Responsible for Most of the Good in the World.

Walt states: "Once again, there is something to this line of argument, just not enough to make it entirely accurate. The United States has made undeniable contributions to peace and stability in the world over the past century, including the Marshall Plan, the creation and management of the Bretton Woods system, its rhetorical support for the core principles of democracy and human rights, and its mostly stabilizing military presence in Europe and the Far East. But the belief that all good things flow from Washington's wisdom overstates the U.S. contribution by a wide margin."

You can read his thoughts, but I see this myth from a different viewpoint. As I travel the world I see people lined up at American restaurants like KFC when the food of the country is probably ten times better in taste and nutrition. We have contributed to the obesity of the world. This is not good. We have also projected a good image that is the envy of the world's poor. Today, such people do not have to come to the US to obtain what we have. Presently China is producing a society that has all of the good things of American society. While this is good for the Chinese, it leads to major pollution and political conflict. My point is that you cannot have good without bad, and that good can lead to bad.

Myth 5: God Is on Our Side.

You can read his comments on this myth. I will not comment because I refuse to waste time on anything that relates to the mythology of a supreme being!

Article originally appeared on WorldWideWolfe II (
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