America The Exceptional
Wrigley Field Chicago
Little Big Man
I was in Munich a few years ago, crammed into one of those little tobacco shops, buying my wife a pack of American Spirits. An older German man standing behind me leaned in and said to me in English; "American Spirit? Not so much so, eh?"
I thought about this for a moment and looked back at him. "No, not so much so. America has gone crazy." I spun my finger around my head. He nodded and gave me a look of satisfaction and I walked out, wondering what that brief conversation had meant.There are many ways his comment could have been taken, and many ways I could have responded. Some American tourists would have been confused or deeply offended, but I got it. Our Crest has fallen in Europe...
The Germans, though we defeated them in World War II and bombed the hell out of many civillian cities, have come to appreciate what we did for them in the long run. They have prospered and emerged as Europes' greatest economic power. Indeed, Germany and much of Europe emerged from that horrible war with their dignity and identity intact, thanks in large part to the compassionate and generous contributions from America during reconstruction, and our willingness to stand up to the Russians during the cold war.
Understanding this, I could relate to the resigned dissapointment that my older German friend had expressed in the tobacco shop. America has become, in some ways, a rudderless ship. Though some might argue it as earlier, I peg the decline of the American Empire on an exact date: September 12, 2001...
The outpouring of sympathy and worldwide support for the U.S. was tremendous. Even Iran offered help. My initial gut reaction was that maybe it was a good thing that George Bush had beaten Al Gore, as now we had a "tough guy" in charge, someone who would fight back and do the right thing instead of wish-washing the 9-11 attack. Boy, was I wrong about that.
The invasion of Afganistan, with the supposed goal of hunting down and killing Osama Bin Laden, seemed like a good start, but then the Bush administration began to inexplicabley talk about Iraq. The blame had suddenly turned towards Sadaam Hussein and our world support folded quickly, as our European and Middle Eastern alies balked.
In short, Bush and Cheney, et al, lied us into a totally unneccesary war in Iraq and blew up the powderkeg of the Middle East. The implications are complicated and will be discussed for many future generations, but the immediate results are clear. Hundreds of thousands of people are dead, millions of people are displaced and extremely upset with us, and we have spent well over a trillion dollars on the most misguided reaction to an international attack in world history.
This is really shameful, and when I came back to the U.S. from my trip to Europe and kept hearing about "American Exceptionalism" from the conservatives on radio and tv, it made me sick. Yes, we do have many great things that make America exceptional in it's own way. I would personally point out baseball and the movie industry as my first examples. The beauty of the Southwest and the Northwest and the Appalachain Chain is exceptional and unique, but not an American concept. We just got lucky to have them. And that is another issue in terms of Americas' greatness.
While there are many good arguements for why America is 'Great", we have yet to completely reconcile some of the truly despicable things we have done as a country. The conquest of the west and annihilation of Native Americans, slavery, Jim Crowe laws, the Vietnam War, and killing of over a hundred thousand civilians in the firebombing of Dresden, Germany during WWII are but a few of the actions we have to attone for, and until we can, I have to say...
Not so much so.