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26 December 2011

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Phil Nicolai

But isn't such destruction and chaos exactly what Israel wanted and intended for the U.S. to do?

Gozer

I think the quote in question was from the "Pogue Colonel" in Full Metal Jacket.

As to your central thesis in the piece...how can that aspect of American culture be subverted?

Ole

Amen sir, amen.

At the heart of it all is I believe the American Exceptionalism, which I recall you have touched upon before - an exceptionalism which I don't think is uniquely American.

In this day and age everyone seems to think that she/he's the guiding light for all to follow.

We've had it - and still have it - here in Denmark too (Danish exceptionalism ...) - only problem is, of course, that we haven't got the same weight to throw around to prove our point.

Thank you for your service and please, please, tell Bush's henchmen in no uncertain terms to stay well clear of Iran.

Regards.

Michael

An excellent article Col. Lang, you are absolutely right - not everyone wants a happy meal, an Xbox and an SUV.

David E. Solomon

Colonel Lang,

This is an excellent piece.

This is somewhat off topic, but your article reminded me of an excellent collection of letters by the late Canadian great Pierre Berton.

I believe it was titled "Letters To An American Friend".

Mr. Berton set out to describe to his friend the differences between Canadians and Americans and why Canadians liked the differences and felt that it made for a better country.

He speaks of the Canadian experience as the forging of a "Mosaic" rather than the American metaphor of a "Melting Pot".

The Canadian ideal was a mixture of cultures in which each arriving wave of immigrants could maintain its identity, yet still add to the forging of a commonality north of our border.

It is too bad that we would rather create an homogenized world of McDonalds and WalMarts.

Thanks again for the incisive writing.

Regards,

David

JDL

Pat - That was one of the most insightful commentaries I have read in a long time. I would also add to your mixture that our beief in American Exceptionalism is the driving force behind the concept that other people want to be like us. Some day, we need to wake up and understand we are exceptional in some aspects but not others. That needed dose of humility will ultimately benefit us and the rest of the world.

john in the boro

“Nothing in fact indicates more clearly the political nature of history—its being a story of actions and deeds rather than of trends and forces or ideas—than the introduction of an invisible actor behind the scenes whom we find in all philosophies of history, which for this reason alone can be recognized as political philosophies in disguise.”
- Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, (1958)

I guess "our cultural DNA" is the hidden actor. Gene therapy?

W. Patrick Lang

Gozer

One of my favorite movies. It must have been cold in the fridge.

This is said in both FMJ and AN.

By the way, I preferred my draft to the edited version. pl

Clark

It is serendipitous that your article appears at the same time as Roger Morris's piece on Rumsfeld at TomDispatch. Both cover the same ground. Zeitgeist!

mt

My favorite line from AN, "he was being groomed for one of the top slots in the corporation, General, Chief Of Staff, anything."

Col - Hands down one of the best pieces you have ever written.

arbogast

The more prominence given to the voice of Patrick Lang, the more hope there is for the United States.

Ingolf

Terrific piece. I wonder whether this sort of insight -- for a nation -- can ever be arrived at voluntarily or only, if at all, out of the ashes of defeat?

psd

It's always been quite hard for Americans to believe they're not the center of the universe--we've always like to think of ourselves as the anointed ones....i think "Manifest Destiny" is alive and well and going strong. Our time to be smacked upside the head is coming rapidly, especially if we manage to continue our "missionary work" unabated.

Great writing as usual, Col. (and i bet we'd all just love to see your draft.)

anon

I heard an historian on a radio interview who had just written a history of US foreign relations with the Middle East. He told of Gen George McClellan trying to give the US much the same message upon returning from a trip there: We should recognize other cultures for what they are, and not assume they really are, or really want to be, just like us (paraphrase). I forget the author’s name, and the title. Anyone know?

It is true that many people in foreign cultures admire aspects of US culture, but that does not mean they want to be just like us. Their interpretation and realization of what they admire about us, may look very different from anything we would imagine. We need to respect that.

There are some fundamental human characteristics that are universal, though. For example, the desire for dignity, economic security, personal safety, and accustomed living standards. And the US administration seemed to have ignored those completely. The US acted as though ordinary professional Sunnis would not mind losing their jobs for having tenuous pro forma ties to the Baath party, that the population would not mind losing their previous living standards, clean water, electricity, economic and personal security, and self-respect. The US seemed to believe that well-armed educated and proud people with ample and strong societal organizations would just passively sit by and let others dictate their future to them. Even if the those others promised a truly wonderful US-style neoclassical free market paradise and would be sublime -some day, as soon as the water came back on, the US decided it had gotten enough upaid debts out of Iraq, and the electricity and sewage plants worked again in... oh, a decade or so -maybe someday as soon as the killings stopped! The US seemed to believe that no one would move to take power for themselves or their own group in a power vacuum. The US seemed to believe that no one would use ruthless measures in a power vacuum, even if there was a great deal of mistrust and grievances from decades of dictatorial oppression that was also sectarian. The US could not imagine that groups who recently had been betrayed by the US, might seize their main chance ruthlessly.

So, in many critical ways, the US did not assume that the Iraqis were ‘just like us.’ The US assmed that the Iraqis were like no human beings that ever walked the planet.

We had a bloody and ferocious civil war. If the Iraqis are ‘just like us’ then why couldn’t they fall into a civil war if the conditions were appropriate? Why is that so puzzling to people here in the US?

Why weren't the Philippinos grateful 106 years ago? So many questions!

anna missed

It is an American paradox that a country of such ethnic diversity could be so myopic to the ethnic centrality of other cultures. Perhaps it is in the character of American exceptionalism, or part of the reason for its exceptionalism, that ethno-centricism is something to if not discount, is something to eshew altogether -- and replaced with this "Americanism".

But then there is also the problem with how this administration has played upon this exceptionalism, treating as if it were on par with an historic ethnic identity, tempting all who might disagree with something worse than an unpatrioitic attitude, actual colluson with the designated enemy as a matter of non-identity.

And it does'nt stop there, for also buried within the exceptionalist mantra is ironically, the death of all the Americanisms; individualism, level playing field free markets, meritocratic values, judicial oversight, and the like -- for what this administration has done has been to use American exceptionalism as a tool for exploitation both abroad and at home, in such a way that undermines any pretense to "exceptionalism". Ever since de Tocqueville coined the term, its probably been mostly mythical, but now there can be little doubt.

At any rate, a most timely, long awaited, and spot on post by PL.

walrus

An excellent insightful piece Col. Lang.

One of the things that interests me is how America has gotten the way you portray it.

The ignorance and narcissism one sees on Faux News seems almost deliberately cultivated.

There is even one guy at curevents.com who wants to attack "Australia" for selling sniper rifles to Iran instead of "Austria".

holy_bazooka

not everyone wants a happy meal, an Xbox and an SUV.

Posted by: Michael

actually no one minds economic prosperity.
What people do mind is coercion, occupation, exploitation, meddling. They also like to be the arbiters of their own destinies and independence from foreign influence.

plp

Allow me to respectfully disagree. Reading you article and making comments on the side:

--“How did Americans come to believe that the entire world is embarked on the same voyage, and that we are the navigators showing the way to a bright future?”

The American elite told them so. What did Fukuyama write in the End of History? Let us read again: “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”.

Universialization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government!

For the Soviets the perfect end of history society was communism, which was supposed to arrive inevitably and unstoppably in the due course of history; history that evolved and progressed in accordance with its own hard, almost like Newtonian, laws. This imminent arrival of world communism was called the world revolution. Trotsky was for actively spreading world revolution, Stalin advocated communism in a single country. Fukuyama simply changed the names. Instead of waiting for the triumph of world communism, we are waiting now for the world liberal democracy. Instead of the world communist revolution, we are in the midst of the world liberal democratic revolution. But the two are the same damn thing and signify nothing more than willingness to let thousands and millions of people die for some abstract ideas that may or may not have any basis in reality.

Of course, the perception of superiority is regularly reinforced in the mind of most Americans through observations of tens of thousands of legal and illegal immigrants pouring into America yearly. Indeed, if everyone in the world wanted to live in the US, the country must be really good, why bother look anywhere else.

--“So called “neoconservatism” isn’t some kind of alien ideology; it’s merely a self-aware manifestation of the widespread American belief that people are all the same.”

Neoconservatism is as alien to the American society as alien can get. 1) Neoconservatives are intellectuals, while the American capitalism is pro-scientific but anti-intellectual. An intellectual is someone who spends a good portion of his life studying say inscriptions on tombstones of ancient Greeks. What is profit in that? A true entrepreneur listens to motivational tapes and keeps his eyes on his prize, or locks himself in a workshop inventing the next great innovation.

2) Neoconservatives are cosmopolitan and abstract, while Americans are concrete and particular. Had the American ideology of imperial expansion been formulated by some other than the neocon group it would not be about some abstract and universalistic ideas of bringing the world the inevitable result of world history – liberal democracy, it would have been about spreading the American way of life. Remember John Ruskin and other champions of the British Empire. Their call was to plant the British flag at the furthest corners of Earth. They had unshakeable belief in the Manifest Destiny of the British people. We don’t hear anything like that about America’s manifest destiny. America’s manifest destiny is to become one of the first liberal democracies in the due course of history and not to spread its way of life. It is a misconception to think that we are making Iraqis into Americans; we are making them into a liberal democracy – the final stage in the world history. Thus, why bother learn anything about Iraqis, all we need to do is to give them a little push and they will become inevitably and predictably like us, because that is the “law” of history. (Remember neocon’s assertion that Iraqis will greet us as liberators?)

3) Unlike most Americans especially in the North, neoconservatives are intolerant. You either with us or against us – that is not an American motto. Equal opportunity for all – that is the American way of life. All people are created equal under God – that is the American slogan.

Final comment. There is no need to blame American people. American people are hardworking and orderly people, they wake up and go work, they get laid off from a manufacturing job, they get a lower paid job in services. They learn what they are told and trust their leaders. They hope that tomorrow will be a better day. The problem now is clearly with the elite. The elites, not just the ruling but also those that hide in the Ivy League universities, are clearly unwilling or incapable of policing itself against fringe elements and bad ideas.

arbogast

By God, I will say one thing about Col. W. Patrick Lang. He is exceptionally smart, intelligent, bright, however you want to put it.

To his superb phrase, "the discard pile of intelligence" we now must add "the imaginary Iraq".

This article should be read by everyone who pretends to or wishes to know something.

And when (and may that day come quickly) James Webb runs for President, may Col. W. Patrick Lang be at his side.

These are Virginians who recall the Virginians from an earier time who made our country proud.

Larry Mitchell

COL Lang,

To the extent that the average US citizen thinks about other cultures, I imagine that your assessment is pretty accurate. Since a large percentage of citizens would have trouble locating the rest of the world on a map, I doubt that they spend a lot of time thinking about the cultures. Most of them are probably trying to figure out how to get by on less income and hoping that their job does not go to the lowest bidder in Mexico, China or somewhere else that they can't find on a map. Most do not serve in the military or have family in the military, so they do not have that motivation to learn more. The majority of the military jobs are for the least prominent who continue to serve honorably for the most part.

Most of us do not have the tools to understand world affairs in great depth. I read this blog to try to get smarter, but I don't have the background to know who's right and who is wrong most of the time. But neither does the president whose vision of the world, I believe, is much like you describe. What he does have, however, are vast resources of people like yourself you who do have the understanding to give him good information for decision making. The problem is that he is looking for information to justify his position - his truth. He did not ask me, you or the average Joe for permission to invade Iraq. He asked the Congress, and they gave him permission because of the political climate of the time, in my opionion. I don't think many, if any, of the other presidents during my lifetime would have invaded Iraq in this situation. My judgement is that a unique president and cowardly congress put us in this mess, and the US citizens had little to do with it. The citizens probably would have voted for it, but my point is that we depend on presumably smarter people than ourselves to run the country.

I am curious whether from your experiences with other governments and cultures, you know of citizenry which is considerably more sophisticated and on the ball than ours? If so, what drives that, and how do we get there? It doesn't look like England qualifies.

Thank you for your insight and for providing this exchange.

W. Patrick Lang

All

For the Canadian "set," I think the supposed marvel of Canadian civilized civilization is mostly an aspiration on your part, but, keep at it.

There have been a couple of adverse comments on this post. They are both from people who do not want the American people blamed for policies that I obviously think they supported because of ingrained features of our collective mentality. I posted one of them but did not post a second one because the author asked if I were motivatd by a desire for a position in the next administration. Insults I do not post. pl

Pan

"Mistakes were made." That was also the verdict of the Chinese Communist Party about Mao.

W. Patrick Lang

Larry M.

Without popular support for the invasion and continuing popular support, which has only withered with a lack of success, Bush would have not have done this in Iraq. pl

Mo

"Without popular support for the invasion and continuing popular support, which has only withered with a lack of success, Bush would have not have done this in Iraq."

Surely everything this administrartion has said and done, every disregard it has had for the truth, points to the contrary? The popular support made it easier, as the lack of success has made it harder but all the evidence, from the PNAC decleration onwards, clearly shows they would have gone ahead with this none the less. If they, as many believe, attack Iran, such an action will be done contrary to public wishes. Further evidence is that in the UK a 1 million people march did not sway Blairs commitment to the cause.

I doubt that in the history of the US and the UK, there has ever been 2 leaders less influenced by the beliefs and wishes of their electorate.

Will

the American view of the political world and kernel of human rights is the magick phrase rom the Declaration of Indendence: All men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights... pursuit of happiness." It left out women.

Pint sized Georgian and CSA veep Alexander Hamilton Stephens thought it was fatally flawed b/c it didn't make it explicit that Negroes were not equal. Present day Americans don't believe the dec is true when it comes to the Mid-East. Jews are made by God to enjoy special status. Thus American money goes for settlers in the West Bank, for an Israeli Army to support a band of terrorists in urban Hebron and to disregard UN resolutions since 1967. All this ultimately gave birth to Al-Kaida and the GWOT.

The initiation of the Irak invasion, the WMD hype, the undermanning of the invasion, the disbanding of the Army, the deep de-Baathication, were they intentional or "mistakes?"

There all grades of intent. From pure "acting for the purpose" or conscious design" to criminal negligence" and "substantial certainty." A favorite is "depraved heart murder" illustrated by firing a weapon indiscriminately in a crowded theater.

A key in analysing all of these quasi or near-intents is foreseeability, i.e. - predictiblilty. Sen. Jim Webb D-VA hit the key in S of Union rebuttal speech when he talked about the "PREDICTED AND PREDICTABLE" results of the Irak war.

In this American NeoKon Likudnik Jews were up to their eyeballs. Wolfwits, Scooter Libby, Zellikow, Judith Miller- it goes on and on.

It would be naive to remove them all from foreign policy. The only hope is to finish up Clinton's work on MidEast Peace with the Geneva Accord or Taba Conerence followed up with Beirut Saudi initivative for full peace with trade.

Thus removing these people's motive for never ending war in the mid east without end- always with American blood and treasure.

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