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FACTS & COMMENTARY:
The Lies That Bind: American Myth Obscures Murderous Enterprise
The all-pervasive, ever-hardening myth of American Exceptionalism has a death-grip on the American psyche.
First published in Empire Burlesque on 20 July 2010
The longevity and universality of this pernicious mindset is in no way a mitigation of it. It does not reduce by one iota the responsibility -- the blood-guilt -- of any society that adheres to such a myth, and uses it to "justify" (indeed, celebrate) horrendous crimes.
Henry Miller once said that the purpose of the artist is to "inoculate the world with disillusionment." We are in desperate need of disillusionment today -- disillusionment on a vast scale, disillusionment as a constant discipline. Arthur Silber is one of the greatest such artists now at work, and he has just released a remarkable piece aimed at one the deadliest illusions of our time: the myth of American Exceptionalism. I cannot recommend strongly enough that you read the entire piece, but below are a few excerpts to highlight some of the salient points.
Silber writes of the poisonous effects of the all-pervasive, ever-hardening Exceptionalist myth that has such a death-grip on the American psyche. In some ways, of course, this myth is just a variant of the same kind of self-deluding trumpery that powerful nations and tribes have told themselves down through the centuries -- "We are special, we are superior, whatever we do is good and right, because we are the ones doing it, etc." You could find beliefs like this going back to Rome, to Babylon, to Sumer, probably all the way back to Çatalhöyük or the Blombos Cave.
But the longevity and universality of this pernicious mindset is in no way a mitigation of it. It does not reduce by one iota the responsibility -- the blood-guilt -- of any society that adheres to such a myth, and uses it to "justify" (indeed, celebrate) horrendous crimes. It is American Exceptionalism that we must deal with in our time. And although the belief of this particular bunch of bare, fork'd animals that they are special is nothing new, the gargantuan, ravenous military force that backs up this delusion is unprecedented in world history. It is only in its destructiveness, real and potential, that the American system is indeed exceptional.
Silber gives a cogent description of the American myth [and see his original essay for the many important links]:
Silber then points out the sickening consequences of this nationalist fundamentalism:
Silber points to a devastating article by Patrick Cockburn, one of the most experienced and knowledgeable Western writers on Iraq:
As Silber notes, Cockburn has much, much more on the fresh hell that America has inflicted on Iraq. This hell includes not only the million or more innocent people killed as a result of the American military aggression launched in 2003, but, as we noted here this week, the million or more innocent people killed by the American-directed sanctions against Iraq in the 12 years before the invasion.
Silber then goes on to make what is one of his most important observations: how the theoretical freedom of the press in the United States is used to impose a level of censorship on state crimes that the most hidebound totalitarian dictator might envy:
Thus those who have been imbued from birth by the myth of American Exceptionalism become active collaborators in this censorship of state crime. It is actually a form of self-censorship. There is no need for the state to spend a lot of time and energy jailing or killing or silencing or even discrediting those who tell the unpleasant truth; most people, in their blind adherence to the myth, simply will not hear it. As Silber says:
In the murderous rampages of the Terror War (which its own practitioners confess are causing more terrorism), in the vast secret state of oprichniki and mercenaries that have swallowed the Republic, in the ever-more brazen dominance of our neo-feudal oligarchy (with its government retainers and its pathetic army of Tea Party serfs who worship the wealthy oppressors who are degrading their lives), in the thoroughly man-made "natural disasters" that are ravaging the environment, we are clearly seeing just such a national tragedy being played out before our eyes.
Chris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column is republished here with the permission of the author.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on July 22, 2010.