« Net, schmet | Main | Accessories before, during, and after »

So bad we're good... so good we're bad... or something

By Michael J. Smith on Sunday June 4, 2006 01:23 PM

Peter Beinart, with an ingenuity that would evoke an admiring whistle from John Donne, has figured out that Haditha shows what a good country we really are:

This horrible story... powerfully underscores the liberal vision, which is this. We are not angels: without sufficient moral and legal restrictions, and under conditions of extreme stress, Americans can be as barbaric as anyone. What's makes us an exceptional nation with the capacity to lead and inspire the world is our very recognition of that fact. We are capable of Hadithas and My Lais, so is everyone. But few societies are capable of acknowledging what happened, bringing the killers to justice, and instituting changes that make it less likely to happen again. That's how we show we are different from the jihadists. We don't just assert it. We prove it. That's the liberal version of American exceptionalism, and it's what we need right now in response to this horror.
Another rich text -- every word a profoundly revealing symptom. "Under conditions of extreme stress," Americans can be as bad as the rest of the benighted world -- but not, presumably, otherwise. And of course we don't need to drop the doctrine of American exceptionalism -- we just need to re-emphasize it, with a little moral topspin. And remember, oh always remember, we're better than the "jihadists" -- run that by me again, Pete, I'm not quite sure I got it. They fly aircraft into buildings; we drop cluster bombs. Is it that old wholesale-versus-retail thing?

And then -- "underscores the liberal vision." Well, I'll say. It's a little like My Lai that way.

Exceptionalism seems to be an occupational hazard of empire. The depressing thing is how long it takes to get over it. The Brits still think they're different from everybody else -- well, maybe not the younger generation, but it's still pretty strong among Brits born before, say, 1960. And their empire went up in smoke sixty years ago.

But the Spaniards have recovered, and so have the Portuguese, and the Dutch are doing pretty well. There is hope. I should live so long as to see the day when an American speaker, addressing an American audience, will say, "We're just like everybody else," and get a round of applause.

Comments (5)


A few years ago I had a job where I was studying and analyzing JROTC textbooks, which were basically American military histories. It didn't have much to say about Vietnam, but it did talk about My Lai.

The way the JROTC textbook told it, some Army members were doing bad things, but it took an act of extraordinary Army-like heroism for the pilot above, witnessing and reporting the incident, to do that.

In short, if the military does something good, that's how it always is. If it does something bad, it's ignored that it was the military that did it. Set down in text for the children to learn.


unsent comment
to beinart

"hey mister bubster B

who's sure thisparticular
semper fie blood bath
will end with a proper dose
" self" punishment here ??

last time we votedi recall
we left
the cons running the show

and according to you
amerikan cons
all amerikan cons
with no exceptions
plain gummo

never admit uz yanks
made a..." no no "

yet here you are
writing this up
the purps are already
in leg irons
and on their way to
30 years
in leavenworth

Tim D:

Good lord in heaven. I can't believe Beinart could write that drvel without including the word "sike" at the end. I mean the obvious question here is "When has the American leadership ever been held accountable for wars of aggression and mass civilian slaughter?" Sure, average joe-six packs from Alabama in the Marine Corps are on the ground pulling the trigger, but who gave the order to put them there in the first place? Furthermore, who gave the direct order to American pilots to begin dropping bomb after bomb on Baghdad and various other cities there, which has led to the death of over 100,000 civilians according to the Lancet and John Hopkins University?

Tim D:

By the way, MJS, how do you feel about Howie Hawkins' campaign there in NY against Hillary? I was just reading the press releases on his website and found this gem:

"Expecting the Democrats to end the war is like expecting the crack addicts to turn in their dealers. The Democrats, like the Republicans, are addicted to the political economics of militarism. They depend on campaign cash from military contractors. They are afraid to oppose the military contracts the Pentagon strategically places in every state and congressional district in the name of job creation."

Re the Hawkins campaign, I haven't looked really closely at it, but I guess you could say at this point I'm an Anybody But Hillary kind of guy. This is not to damn Hawkins with faint praise at all, and I'm glad he's out there. The passage Tim quoted certainly covers some pretty important bases -- don't you think?

Post a comment

Note also that comments with three or more links may be held for "moderation" -- a strange term to apply to the ghost in this blog's machine. Seems to be a hard-coded limitation of the blog software, unfortunately.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on Sunday June 4, 2006 01:23 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Net, schmet.

The next post in this blog is Accessories before, during, and after.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Creative Commons License

This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered by
Movable Type 3.31