from Schlattenblick, published on Black Agenda Report, August 21, 2019
Danny Haiphong and Roberto Sirvent analyze the “dual fantasy” that has ideologically upheld white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism, and the American war machine.
“It remains taboo in the USA to describe America as an imperialist state.”
A Review of American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News -From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror.
The idea of being “the light among nations” has been part of the USA’s DNA since its foundation in 1776. 150 years earlier, the Puritans, having landed in the Bay of Massachusetts, thought they had come to the New World “on behalf of the Lord” to build a “New Jerusalem” and to save the souls of those indigenous people willing to convert. In 1862, during the Civil war, President Abraham Lincoln declared the United States of America, whose northern part was fighting against the secessionist south for the preservation of the Union and the liberation of the slaves, to be “the last best hope on earth.” Whereas the Founding Fathers had originally thought that democracy and civil rights would spread worldwide by the exemplary actions of the USA alone, this was no longer enough for America’s captains of industry and robber barons in the 19th century. Parallel to the territorial drive to the Pacific coast and the violent annexation of the northern half of Mexico under the ideological pretext of Manifest Destiny, Central and South America were proclaimed to be the “backyard” of the USA, whereby, according to the Monroe
Doctrine, no major European power had even the slightest claim.
By the middle of the 19th century the U.S. Navy had forced imperial Japan by threat of force to “open” itself politically and economically. In 1898 the USA took control of Cuba and the Philippines from Spain by military means, killing at least one million “insurgents.” A mere one year later, they forced access to the Chinese market by invoking an “open door” policy. The USA thus entered the 20th century as a fully developed imperial power and grew, by means of clever tactics in the First and Second World Wars, to become an absolute superpower, which only the Communist Soviet Union and its allies could resist for several decades — see Vietnam. After the end of the Cold War’s bloc confrontation in 1989, the USA’s imperial reach continued to increase by means of NATO’s eastward expansion, the war in Yugoslavia and various “color revolutions.” While the “Global War on Terror” (GWoT) served as the justification for a myriad of foreign interventions from 2001 onwards, today the rivalry with China and Russia is at the very top of the priority list of the Department of Defense, which maintains more than 800 bases around the globe and alone is responsible for half of all global military expenditure.
“The USA took control of the Philippines by military means, killing at least one million ‘insurgents.’”
Yet despite all this, it remains taboo in the USA to describe America as an imperialist state.The term empire seems to be reserved for use in connection with former European colonial powers or Asian despots. If American troops go ashore somewhere, the suggestion is that they do so purely to solve a crisis, to rescue Western hostages, to liberate a subjugated people or to overthrow a dictator who has gotten out of control. If people are killed and the situation after the U.S. military intervention is considerably worse than before, then Washington claims that it had the best of intentions and that things developed differently than what was originally planned. The military interventions in Afghanistan in 2001, in Iraq in 2003 and in Libya in 2011 are prime examples of such proceedings, all of which created chaos and human suffering on an unimaginable scale.
The almost pathological idea of America’s uniqueness and its permanent innocence explains how Bill Clinton’s U.S. ambassador to the UN Albright could maintain in a 1996 television interview, that the death of 500,000 Iraqi children as a result of U.S. economic sanctions was “worth” the “price” of Saddam Hussein’s containment. It was the very same Albright who, in 1998, after becoming the first female Secretary of State in the history of the United States, also declared on television regarding the subject of continuing tensions between Washington and Baghdad over “weapons of mass destruction”: “But if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and see further into the future than other countries, and we see the danger here for all of us.”
“The USA thus entered the 20th century as a fully developed imperial power and grew to become an absolute superpower.”
Whereas in the rest of the world, whether in the covert wars in Indochina in the 1960s and in Central America in the 1980s, the question arose as to how much longer the Pentagon and the CIA would carry out senseless murder abroad and what could be done to stop it. The undeniable counterproductive character of the global anti-terror crusade has forced this question upon American society front and center. It is no accident that Barack Obama and Donald Trump — as different as they may be politically — both successfully ran for the office of president anti-war candidates in 2008 and 2016 respectively. Both the Democrats and the Republicans found themselves accused of failing to take a positive enough stance with regard to America’s civilizational missionary wars due to provocative statements in the election campaign: Obama, when he said in a television debate, that all countries, not only the USA, were “unique” in and of themselves; Trump, when he defended Russia against the accusation of being particularly vicious and therefore despicable actor on the world stage with the objection that Americans can also be “killers,” when it counts. The self-proclaimed guardians of the grail of American Providence in the New York Timeseditorial board were, as expected, more than appalled by Trump’s clumsy reference to the all too obvious.
With their book American Exceptionalism and American Innocence , Roberto Sirvent, professor of political and social ethics at Hope International University in Fullerton, California, and Danny Haiphong, commentator for the left-wing U.S. magazine Black Agenda Report, meticulously analyze the “dual fantasy,” which for more than 200 years has ideologically upheld “white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism, and the American war machine.” Sirvent and Haiphong begin their impressive work of demythologization by examining the insurrection motives of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson et al, which were based far less on any repressive measures by British King George III than on the justified fear that London could free their black slaves and protect the Indians west of the Appalachians from the theft of their lands and the destruction of their culture.
“Barack Obama and Donald Trump both successfully ran for the office of president anti-war candidates.”
The authors rip the “American dream” to shreds. They show to what degree the chance of participating as a fully-fledged human being in the blessings of the American world power has always been conditional upon racist and other neo-Darwinian criteria — to this day, as Trump’s recent incitement of his white, reactionary electorate against four congresswomen of color, two of whom are also Muslims, shows.
In the course of 21 chapters, the four main elements of the interwoven ideology of American exceptionalism and American innocence are illustrated. Sirvent and Haiphong list these aspects as follows: first, the fundamental assumption of American innocence in the manner in which U.S. society reflects upon Indian genocide, slavery, and past wars; second, the myth of meritocracy inherent in the American Dream; third, the pursuit of military conquest around the world; and fourth, the continuing drive to expand imperialism or monopoly capitalism in the implementation of the civilizing mission of the United States.
To assist the reader towards a less euphemistic perspective on U.S. history, Sirvent and Haiphong draw primarily on the writings and testimonies of historians and contemporary witnesses who have consistently stood up for the oppressed, often, but not always, because they were born and lived under conditions of racial and economic depravity. The books references famous Black American scholars and activists like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, but also James Baldwin, Claudia Jones and Eslanda Robeson, wife of the famous singer and civil rights activist Paul “Ol’ Man River” Robeson.
“Colin Kaepernick drove Trump and his chauvinistic supporters crazy.”
The book’s examination of the many forms of Americanism in the USA of the 21st century — not despite, but precisely because of all the setbacks on the “anti-terror” front — is also highly stimulating. It deals with, among other things, the Broadway musical “Hamilton” and the praise of the financial press for the rise of rapper Jay-Z on becoming the first “ghetto billionaire,” along with the transformation of professional sport, American football in particular, into a technicolor recruitment trap for the Pentagon. The latter phenomenon explains why the actions of Black San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose 2016 refusal to stand for the playing of the national anthem pre-game ceremony, drove Trump and his chauvinistic supporters crazy.
All those who had hoped that with Barack Obama’s election as the first Black president the USA had entered a post-racism era were soundly disabused of that notion by the election eight years later of the Klu Klux Klan sympathizer Trump. The USA remains by far the country with the highest percentage of its population behind bars. Young black men are extremely over-represented in U.S. jails – a consequence of the anti-drug war, which uncoincidentally was the response of Richard Nixon’s “Silent Majority” and the successful civil rights protests of the 1950s and 1960s. To this day, numerous political dissidents languish in U.S. prisons, with the names Leonard Peltier or Mumia Abu Jamal being the most prominently known if they are known at all. Sirvent and Haiphong have in their joint work made a highly topical and important contribution towards the dismantling of the highly destructive myth of America. That is the least a country, whose most important symbol, the Star-Spangled Banner, is based upon the piratical flag of Britain’s infamous East India Company, deserves.
This review originally appeared in the German online newspaperSchattenblick.de
Schattenblick was established in 1994 as an online collective newspaper. For more information, visit http://www.schattenblick.de/ .