He notes the mini-tempest that brewed up a day or so ago about both Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama having (separately) used the word "wasted" in connection with the American legionaries whose lives have -- in fact -- been criminally wasted in Mesopotamia. Apparently, that's the height of impiety -- the correct word is "sacrificed." Mr. Silber writes:
But it is almost impossible to deal with the fact that so many Americans, almost all our political leaders, and our media virtually without exception are so relentlessly stupid, and so resolutely determined to remain so. As this latest episode in national idiocy proves yet again, and for the millionth time, this laughably pathetic state of affairs certainly would appear to be the unalterable truth of where we are.It seems to me that the central dogma in the maniacal religion to which Mr. Silber refers is that America is always right. Or, at the very least, America is usually right and is always well-intentioned ... the most that America could be guilty of might be a blunder.
And so we debate whether these lives were "wasted." With the blind ferocity of religious maniacs, we enforce our new Puritan code, which demands that certain prohibited thoughts may never be uttered. Violation of this code means banishment from public life and from further "serious" consideration. Every matter of importance is reduced to the intellectual level of a remarkably backward house pet.
Rationally considered, the notion instantly and resoundingly fails the giggle test. But it's very seldom rationally considered. Instead, American exceptionalism is the prevailing myth in which we're raised. It's our intellectual and spiritual atmosphere, and we tend to be as little aware of it, consciously, as a fish is of the water in which it swims.
Now, let me approach the thing I'm wondering about. Our country maintains more than 700 military bases in more than 130 countries, worldwide. It does not hesitate to invade, occupy, and destroy other countries -- countries half the world away, countries that never attacked it, nor possessed any credible means of doing so. Surely, we would instantly denounce any other country that operated in this way as a hegemonic empire. But a huge majority of Americans honestly do not recognize the US in that description. It is, seemingly, impossible for most of us to entertain the idea that our own country willfully does wrong. My question: is this failure the real American exceptionalism? Have the majority of the people living in past "bad-actor" states been similarly blind? Did most Germans, circa 1939-45, think of the Thousand-Year Reich as being a great benefit that their Vaterland was bringing to an ungrateful world? Did the typical Frenchman of the early 1800s sincerely believe that Bonaparte's forceful, unifying leadership was exactly what those recalcitrant Spaniards and Britons and Dutchmen were really lacking? Did the British, in the 1850s and 60s, feel genuine anger at the "insurgent" Chinese who foolishly resisted the British East India Company's opium monopoly in China? I do not know; but I wonder.