America, Shed Your Exceptionalism


I’ve never thought of writing an article that might be read as a version of a home movie from trips overseas.  Hopefully these “pictures” will be of interest to readers of CounterPunch.  My wife Marion was invited as a guest of  Mahidol University in Bangkok  to help with the first hospice in Thailand. I tagged, along dusting-off my expertise with grief.

Given our emphases on topics of interest to medical caretakers, we spent most of our time speaking at hospitals, doing workshops for hospitals, and visiting palliative and ICU wards.  We are overwhelmingly impressed with the quality of the medical service for patients.  The public and teaching hospitals in Thailand are comparable or even better than the best hospitals and hospital systems we knew in America:  the Texas Medical Center in Houston and the grand hospitals in Boston and in San Francisco.  The average Thai, from what we’ve seen, gets much better care than the average American. The only place I believe the Thai hospitals lag is in research.   From the view of the patients whom the hospitals serve, that is a positive.  The hospital doesn’t have a split mission.  Physicians don’t get caught up in doing research.

In the USA, a lot of medical “research” uses public moneys to develop drugs that the pharmaceutical industries sell for a financial killing.    It’s a shame no one in the US is looking at this issue—or at least no one except those in the pharmaceutical industry who know they benefit immensely from their hold on the US government and from their influence on mainstream propaganda which does not let this issue come up.  But… back to Thailand.

Given the impressive growing medical services and facilities in Thailand, we might wonder if there are other areas in which America lacks the #1 status our politicians and media try to make us believe.  And yes, there are other eye-opening “pictures” I have to share.

The early pictures come from our living in Ireland for almost five years. The public education system in Ireland puts the US to shame—can you imagine our high school students being required to memorize poems and comment on them intelligently?  That’s part of the high school education in Ireland, even today.  Looking at Irish media, we get news about the whole world, including the rest of Europe.  As people who want to vacation or retire in Europe know, Europe has much to offer that is socially and culturally superior to what we experience in mainstream USA.

While Ireland and Europe were eye-opening, Thailand and  Asia are a total surprise.  We’ve come to realize, both from our Thai hospital experiences and Thai television news (which covers the world) that the US is falling behind in education, in medicine, in industrial innovation, and in caring for its people.  The US still dominates in “brand names” like CocoCola, Starbucks, MacDonalds–but somehow that does not bring up a swelling of national pride.  The USA is the world’s greatest exporter of weapons–hardly a meritorious achievement.   We used to have a lot of “soft power,” the ability to attract and co-opt rather than coerce or buy allegiance with money.  This is the power the US had when JFK was president.  We lost that power and the moral high-ground during the horrific Vietnamese war. After the Vietnam war ended, we began gaining back some of our “beacon on the hill” influence, but we soon lost what little we had re-gained when Clinton began the no-fly zone in Iraq and imposed sanctions which killed between 500,000 and 1.2 million Iraqi children.  The world was well aware of this, as were our leaders, even if most of us were not.   The Iraqi war, the war in Afghanistan, the drone murders–all have put our Founding Fathers’ values of justice, respect for sovereignty, equality, and democracy on a back burner.  Around the world the US propaganda about “democracy” rings hollow.  We have become the most hated and feared nation in the world.

Domestically we know that our nation is not guided by the great values of our Founding Fathers or Abraham Lincoln, but by the interests of the 1% and the Almighty Dollar.  The dollar, re-election, and the 1% are what most of our so-called leaders permit to guide their creation of public policy.   There’s a great book title—“The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.”  I am NOT recommending the book, but the title is worthy of our reflection.

In Thailand we only have had a couple of TV stations that we were able to get in English (if we had a full service, we could have gotten the usual hundreds).  What we have seen is truly astounding.  Japan has pretty much rebuilt after the disasters of the earthquake, tsunami, and the radioactive disaster.  Bangkok, which suffered intense floods about a year ago, has rebuilt.  Yet the effects of Katrina are still experienced in the New Orleans area, people are still in temporary housing, and there are reports that some people still are unable to return to their homes and the rebuilding of homes continues, more than seven years after the hurricane struck.  The slow and uneven (wealthy and corporations first) recovery from  hurricane Sandy’s disruption of the New York region was pitiful.

The USA, which is often called America (how arrogant—as if Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil didn’t exist),  is not #1–except in arms shipments and the number of our own citizens in prisons.   America is just another country and political claims to  exceptionalism, including president Obama’s, are just an excuse for military atrocities overseas under the hoax of spreading democracy and liberty (read: inserting corporations and developing markets).  US voting is so corrupt that one president was elected by the Supreme court and the UN monitored our most recent presidential election. Our own politicians fight like dogs, taking money from corporate interests and making promises to the 99% that they do not keep. Poverty is officially at 15%–that’s almost 50 million people in poverty.  The USA, like China, still executes prisoners, as do Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran,  Iraq, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Yemen.  “Birds of a feather flock together.” This is not a flock that should make us proud.  The flock of nations that does not have capital punishment includes Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bhutan (which uses happiness as the criterion of public policy), Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany,  Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, and even Russia.  It doesn’t get any better when we view US foreign policy, including US torture actions, policies in Iraq, and killing people with drones

The USA could learn from other nations—about becoming more peaceful, supporting those who are poorer, a true universal healthcare system (the public option which the Obama administration and cohorts condemned to oblivion).  We are just another nation and it behoves us and our leaders to begin learning from other nations and cooperating with them.  The continuation of a planet that supports life forms we know them—bears, deer, redwoods, elephants, humans–depends on serious cooperation.  No nation is exceptional—they’re all just governments with people, with land, and with both domestic and foreign public policies.  They all need to cooperate.

No nation is exceptional, including the USA.

Bart Gruzalski a professor emeritus of philosophy from Northeastern University.  He co-edited Value Conflicts in Health Care Delivery and published On The Buddha, as well as On Gandhi.

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