FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Disease of Conceit

by RON JACOBS

 

Any person who is honestly opposed to the US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan has got to wonder why the movement that developed against the US war on Iraq before the March 2003 invasion has faltered so badly and now seems to be caught up in the movement to electorally defeat George Bush, even though that means supporting John Kerry-a politician who not only supported the invasion and occupation, but talks openly about widening the war to include the NATO countries and tens of thousands more US troops. One could place the blame on the failure of the movement’s politics, always more liberal than anti-imperialist. Or, one could place the blame on the leadership. In both cases, one would find some basis for their argument.

When it comes to the bottom line, though, the underlying cause for the US antiwar movement’s current stasis is that most of its adherents believe in one of this country’s basic tenets-a tenet that is ultimately religious in nature. For lack of a more descriptive phrase, we’ll call this phenomenon American exceptionalism. On a basic political level, this phenomenon is the belief that, for some reason (America’s system of democracy, or maybe its economic superiority), the United States system is not subject to the same contradictions and influences as those of the rest of the world. This belief in American superiority finds its foundation in some of our culture’s basic religious and cultural constructs. It’s there in the first settlers’ belief that they were conducting a special errand into the wilderness to construct a city on a hill in the name of their heavenly father and every single president and wannabe always implores this same heavenly father to “bless America” at the end of every one of his speeches. This is no accident.

It is this belief that gave the Pilgrims their heavenly go-ahead to murder Pequot women and children and it was this belief that gave General Custer his approval to kill as many Sioux as he could. It made the mass murder of Korean and Vietnamese civilians acceptable to the soldiers at No Gun Ri and My Lai and exonerated the officers who tried to hide those and many other war crimes from the world. It gives George Bush the only rationale he needs to continue his crusade against the part of the world that stands in the way of the more mercenary men and women behind his throne as they pursue their project for a new American century. And, most importantly for us, it informs a goodly number of decent Americans in their tentative opposition to those men and women. Consequently, while they may oppose George Bush’s approach to Washington’s war on the world, they do not necessarily disagree with its goals.

Therefore, they find themselves making the argument that somehow some way; the United States must repair what it has so ruthlessly destroyed in Iraq. If our friends in the movement did not believe in America’s essential goodness, its exception to the rules that govern power and the desire for power, than how could they believe that the very same agents that destroyed the country of Iraq would be able to repair it? Indeed, why would such a good country have destroyed another in the first place? These questions raise two of the most obvious contradictions governing the major part of the US antiwar forces. In fact, the antiwar movement is only one of the many places in the US cultural and political arena where such exceptionalism occurs.

It can be found in the struggle for equal rights for women, gays and lesbians; and it can be found in the struggle against racism. It is present in the mindset that refuses to support the right to armed struggle by oppressed peoples and it is present in the mindset that perceives other cultures less advanced than that which we have in the United States. . It’s even present in the approach progressives take towards our national elections-it’s as if our electoral system is beyond reproach, fair beyond criticism and impossible to taint. Because of this misconception, we allow our government to force its version of democracy on people around the world. Then, when these folks either reject our high-minded attempts to enlighten them or, even worse, actually use the electoral processes foisted upon them to elect someone who they want but who opposes US designs, the progressives find themselves as offended by this slight as the neocons.

How to change the movement to a movement that is capable of continuing its pursuit of justice once its right flank is co-opted by the system? At the risk of sounding redundant, study the world, not just the US. Develop an understanding of how capital works and forget the idea that capital ever has good intentions. Capitalism is an economic and political system that has no morals. It is not immoral, nor is it moral. It is amoral. In order to survive, it must expand, either by moving its operations into new regions or by taking over other capitalist ventures and their markets. Usually, the most successful capitalists employ both means. In recent history, the most successful capitalists have been mostly American. The fact that the US spends more money on weaponry and war is directly related to that phenomenon.

America is not a better country than any other. Its citizens and residents are as venal and as great as any others in any other part of the world. The only thing that sets us apart is our wealth. The only reason we have that wealth is because we stole it. God didn’t give it to us, nor did any greater American intelligence or know-how. Robbery is what our foreign policy is based on, just like our racial policies. It’s not the policies that need to change, but the foundation upon which those policies flourish. Until US activists accept this and give up their conscious and unconscious acceptance of the myth of American exceptionalism, any movement against war, racism, and other ills of our world is bound to fail. Not because it doesn’t have the right motivation, but because it doesn’t have a radical enough conception of itself and the world it exists in.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: rjacobs@zoo.uvm.edu

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 24, 2017
Paul Street
Beyond Neoliberal Identity Politics
Daniel Read
Powder Keg: Manchester Terror Attack Could Lead to Yet Another Resurgence in Nationalist Hate
Robert Fisk
When Peace is a Commodity: Trump in the Middle East
Kenneth Surin
The UK’s Epochal Election
Jeff Berg
Lessons From a Modern Greek Tragedy
Steve Cooper
A Concrete Agenda for Progressives
Michael McKinley
Australia-as-Concierge: the Need for a Change of Occupation
William Hawes
Where Are Your Minds? An Open Letter to Thomas de Maiziere and the CDU
Steve Early
“Corporate Free” Candidates Move Up
Fariborz Saremi
Presidential Elections in Iran and the Outcomes
Dan Bacher
The Dark Heart of California’s Water Politics
Alessandra Bajec
Never Ending Injustice for Pinar Selek
Rob Seimetz
Death By Demigod
Jesse Jackson
Venezuela Needs Helping Hand, Not a Hammer Blow 
Binoy Kampmark
Return to Realpolitik: Trump in Saudi Arabia
Vern Loomis
The NRA: the Dragon in Our Midst
May 23, 2017
John Wight
Manchester Attacks: What Price Hypocrisy?
Patrick Cockburn
A Gathering of Autocrats: Trump Puts US on Sunni Muslim Side of Bitter Sectarian War with Shias
Shamus Cooke
Can Trump Salvage His Presidency in Syria’s War?
Thomas S. Harrington
“Risk”: a Sad Comedown for Laura Poitras
Josh White
Towards the Corbyn Doctrine
Mike Whitney
Rosenstein and Mueller: the Regime Change Tag-Team
Jan Oberg
Trump in Riyadh: an Arab NATO Against Syria and Iran
Susan Babbitt
The Most Dangerous Spy You’ve Never Heard Of: Ana Belén Montes
Rannie Amiri
Al-Awamiya: City of Resistance
Dimitris Konstantakopoulos
The European Left and the Greek Tragedy
Laura Leigh
This Land is Your Land, Except If You’re a Wild Horse Advocate
Hervé Kempf
Macron, Old World President
Michael J. Sainato
Devos Takes Out Her Hatchet
L. Ali Khan
I’m a Human and I’m a Cartoon
May 22, 2017
Diana Johnstone
All Power to the Banks! The Winners-Take-All Regime of Emmanuel Macron
Robert Fisk
Hypocrisy and Condescension: Trump’s Speech to the Middle East
John Grant
Jeff Sessions, Jesus Christ and the Return of Reefer Madness
Nozomi Hayase
Trump and the Resurgence of Colonial Racism
Rev. William Alberts
The Normalizing of Authoritarianism in America
Frank Stricker
Getting Full Employment: the Fake Way and the Right Way 
Jamie Davidson
Red Terror: Anti-Corbynism and Double Standards
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, Sweden, and Continuing Battles
Robert Jensen
Beyond Liberal Pieties: the Radical Challenge for Journalism
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Extravagant Saudi Trip Distracts from His Crisis at Home
Angie Beeman
Gig Economy or Odd Jobs: What May Seem Trendy to Privileged City Dwellers and Suburbanites is as Old as Poverty
Colin Todhunter
The Public Or The Agrochemical Industry: Who Does The European Chemicals Agency Serve?
Jerrod A. Laber
Somalia’s Worsening Drought: Blowback From US Policy
Michael J. Sainato
Police Claimed Black Man Who Died in Custody Was Faking It
Clancy Sigal
I’m a Trump Guy, So What?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail