Posted by: johnhourihan | November 20, 2013

Are Americans exceptional?

Oliver Stone wrote a column in mid-October in which he agreed with Vladimir Putin in saying Americans are not exceptional people, that our uniqueness is just a myth.
I agree with some of what he said, but you have to be careful when dealing with Oliver Stone or others who are bent on marginalizing the American dream. They say a lot of things that make no sense but sound good.
For instance, Stone says, “Whatever moral authority the United States gained for …. Its victory in the cold war has faded in a narrative of unpopular  wars” then he lists a lot of places in which he says we participated in a war. Many of the places I don‘t remember declaring war or even sending troops, and I‘m sure most Americans don‘t remember either. There were other items he cited, such as Vietnam, that happened well before our “victory” in the cold war.
Stone makes a mistake most people make. They equate America with the American people.
The American people are exceptional because we believe we should help other people in our country and in the world, and we will sacrifice to do it.
Sometimes we are sold a bill of goods by the American government. For instance that bill of goods might be that Saddam Hussein is gassing his own people (which he did in the north and killed several thousand Kurds) or that the Vietnamese people are being attacked by the communist North and need our help. The government may have had other motives, but these are what the American people heard as the reasons.
In Iraq, Stone quotes Samuel Huntington who was just paraphrasing something Mart Twain said somewhere around the turn of the century.  Twain said the world would eventually come to the doorstep of the Western world … “not for their religion but for their guns.” When Twain said it he meant it as sarcasm.
Stone also quotes Henry Kissinger saying that, “Americans have always seen their role in the world as the outward manifestation of an inward state of grace,” and Stone dismisses the truth of what Kissinger says by adding that America and Henry had blood on their hands from Vietnam.
Again he is confusing the American people with America the country.
Stone insinuates that in order to be true to history, the Vietnam wall in Washington should be longer and include the Vietnamese dead in the war, but the memorial was  dedicated to the Americans killed. (most of whom were not political and believed we were helping the Vietnamese people.) I am sure there is one in Vietnam for the  Vietnamese killed, and if there isn’t, is that our fault?
I disagree with Oliver Stone, and for that matter Vladimir Putin, both of whom contend that the American people are just run-of-the-mill.
I believe we are exceptional. We the people aren‘t aware of a lot of what our nation does because we aren’t taught the real history. That isn’t our fault. Winners write history. It is most often skewed.
We believe that we are trying to make the world better, the American people, that is.
The government is dealing with an entirely different set of facts.
For example: Yes the United States government went to war against Saddam Hussein mainly for oil and to avenge an assassination attempt on the first President Bush. Those may well be the only reasons the American government declared war. But the American people supported that war because of the horror that Hussein bestowed on his people, and the threat he posed to us, and we believed Hussein would not hesitate to kill more of his own people, and because we were told several lies by the government.
Don’t be confused.
Just look at how our hearts and pocketbooks open to those who face disasters, man made or natural.
The American people are truly exceptional.
The United States government – not so much.
But it is a mistake to equate the two.



  1. A point of view not many see from. I always said it is not so much your words, even though they stand in a class by themselves, but your point of view first. Where you see it from is what makes those words paint such a truthful informative picture of what is.

    • Right, but I couldn’t hit a curve.


  2. Nicely developed. I agree that there is a huge discrepancy between many
    Americans and much of what the American Govt. spokespersons put out
    there for us. There were, as I am sure you know, many , many people who
    did not support the invasion of Iraq. So what? The govt. did it anyway.
    The American people, as you say, are for the most part thoughtful and caring of people in trouble, particularly in other countries. Right now Americans are exceptional for lots of reasons. One is that the majority of us
    are doing ok. This may not last for long, though it does seem that as our
    relative well being fluctuates, so does that of other countries. Too much said .Sorry.

    • That is not too much said. You are absolutely correct. I don’t think we will see the hardest times coming in man-made and natural disasters. But they are coming and a younger generation not too much removed from now will definitely see it.


  3. You know I have been thinking about this article and Vladimir Putin. Two things come immediately to mind. First, I do not think any American would
    take a Super Bowl ring he was shown and put it in his pocket and take it
    away. Nor would an unexceptional football team owner let it go so graciously
    as ” a good will gesture between countries.” I don’t think they make extras
    for such occasions. Something like your story of the 800$ An unexceptional
    father would not have turned that money in.
    All people are exceptional in their own way: the Russians, the French etc. etc. We in America live in a young country. We have had and still do have
    opportunities and environments that help us to do some very exceptional
    things. I do not need to list them. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, and
    as you say, it could be that some very hard times are coming. I think that
    there will still be exceptional people who will do exceptional things. They just
    might be Americans. Who knows?

    • well put


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