On Vladimir Putin on “American Exceptionalism”

 

 

Many people died trying to get over the Berlin Wall. Oddly, though, the traffic was overwhelmingly in one direction.
(Click to enlarge.)

 

There’s a very great deal that could be said about Vladimir Putin’s editorial in the New York Times.

 

It’s a curious experience, for one thing, to be lectured on morality and the rule of international law by Mr. Putin, of all people, and to see him expressing regret about the poor image that the United States has in many countries worldwide.  Can anybody actually take this seriously?

 

But I was struck, as were others, by this passage in his essay:

 

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.

 

I think I understand the danger of imagining one’s own group to be the “chosen race.”

 

But, as a matter of fact, America is, as a matter of fact, exceptional.

 

A scene from the Nazi concentration camp at Mauthausen, Austria.
(I’ve stood, several times, in this very spot.)

 

Within still living memory, for example, Italy, Spain, Japan, and Germany were ruled by aggressive and murderous variations of fascism, while China, even decades after the end of Mao’s regime (which killed scores of millions of people) is still an autocracy.

 

America?  Not so much.

 

A scene in Tiananmen Square — which isn’t in Washington DC
Incidentally, does anybody have any idea where he is now? (Hint: No.)
(Click to enlarge)

 

Take a good look at the brutal record of France in such places as Algeria and Indochina during the time of the winding down of European colonialism, and try, seriously, to argue that the United States did the same thing.

 

And the contrast is extraordinarily clear in the case of Russia.  Even if you factor in such significant embarrassments as the denial of the franchise to women, the mistreatment of native Americans, and slavery, America fares very well in comparison to Russia, which, during roughly the same period, offered anti-Jewish pogroms, serfdom, violent imperial expansion, and czarist tyranny.

 

America had the Great Depression and segregation, but the Soviet Union had the Gulag and the Ukrainian terror-famine and a general economy that made the Depression look downright enviable.

 

For the period immediately following the end of World War Two, the contrast between the Marshall Plan and General MacArthur’s consulship in Japan, on the one hand, and, on the other the “iron curtain” drawn down upon eastern Europe by Comrade Stalin and his successors testifies eloquently of the difference between the United States and the Soviet Union.  Even the Berlin Wall alone should be sufficient evidence of “American exceptionalism” when the alternative for comparison is Soviet Russia.

 

 

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  • Ryan

    Good points, but I wish simply that America had been exceptional in my lifetime as well.

    I’ve heard the bedtime stories.

  • Ray Agostini

    Putin is asking for evidence that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on its citizens. Does he have certified evidence that they *didn’t*? Maybe he should be asked this question, and provide the evidence. Just in: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/arms-plan-must-rein-in-bashar-al-assad-us/story-e6frg6so-1226718000546

    A cynic would think that Assad, realising the consequences of tomahawk cruise missiles fired from American destroyers, could have catastrophic consequences for Syria, and is now agreeing to disband the same weapons he used to kill citizens of his nation. I’m cynical, because this move doesn’t absolve Assad from genocide upon his own people.

    “Russia handed the US a plan for the Syrian regime to give up its
    chemical weapons in four stages, starting with Damascus becoming a
    member of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,
    Russia’s Kommersant said.

    The plan, handed to Washington on
    Tuesday, aims to avert threatened US military action in retribution for a
    chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that the West says was
    perpetrated by the Assad regime.”

    So, we’re going to let Assad off on this? And not punish him for the misery and death he inflicted on his own people? Including children? His aim now is to “avert threatened US military action”, or in popular parlance, “save his own ass”.

    In my view, the US should take out and disable all of Assad’s military functions, leaving him powerless army-wise, because he cannot be trusted. He’s going to “give up” all of his chemical weapons?

    Yeah, right.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    It is an interesting exercise to compare the depravity leveled against humanity by human institutions and the power elite within them who make those decisions. While I would agree that in terms of numbers of humans killed in the quest for national supremacy and control, far fewer have died, on a global scale, by decisions made within the halls of the US government. But I would argue that our record of imperialism makes us anything but exceptional. One could make a long and sad list of national missteps made by our often fallible elites.

    After a decades long war in Afghanistan/Iraq, it seems that the majority of our citizens have grown tired of military engagement. I, for one, hope this sentiment continues and that conflicts such as those in the Middle East, will eventually be resolved politically without the use of massive weapons. If we are truly exceptional, this would be a way of showing it to the world.

    • mike

      You should read Robert Kagan’s recent book, “The World America Made.” The peace among great powers during the last seven decades and the proliferation of democratic forms of government throughout the whole world during that period is completely unprecedented in world history and has largely occurred due to America’s role and influence in the world.

      • Lucy Mcgee

        I would agree that our democracy is an institution which has benefited many in the first world and some in the third. There is another side which can be seen in the imperialistic nature of corporatocracy, aided by world banking institutions, extracting massive profits from many third world nations while leaving them impoverished and deep in debt.

        Our government has been involved in the overthrow of stable governments, and in installing regimes friendly toward wealth extraction. Chris Hedges, an award winning journalist writes of this often. Or read John Perkins “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”. This is a mind blowing account of his career spent trying to influence the heads of state of various third world nations to favor policies which would allow corporate regimes to harvest almost unimaginable wealth at the expense of local populations.

        As our democracy matures, and information is shared, it seems less likely that such egregious behavior will be allowed to exist. We now have the means of getting these once hidden stories out in real time, which forces transnational corporations to act more responsibly.

  • Guest

    I should like to say to Tsar Vlad the KGB Terror, no, America is not excfeptional, we are NORMAL. It is you thugs and serial killers who are exceptional (at least in God’s intention as to How Things Ought To Be).
    Regrettably, we, as a nation, seem to be trying to run with the world crowd these days. Not yet up to their snuff, but, wait.

  • David_Naas

    David_Naas
    • a few seconds ago • 0 0

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    I should like to say to Tsar Vlad the KGB Terror, no, America is not exceptional, we are NORMAL. It is you thugs and serial killers who are exceptional (at least in God’s intention as to How Things Ought To Be).
    Regrettably, we, as a nation, seem to be trying to run with the world crowd these days. Not yet up to their snuff, but, wait.

  • Eric Ringger

    Let’s let Mr. Putin be his best self and see if he lives up to it.

  • dangerdad

    I would argue that America *used* to be exceptional. We now jail scapegoats if the Administration is embarrassed (both this and the prior Administration), the IRS attacks political groups, not with guns but with intimidation, and the spy agencies gather information on citizens while ignoring terrorists.

    And the majority of the country voted for all of this. We are indeed ripe for destruction.


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