Michael Barone writes today in Real Clear Politics about what he labels the ‘default assumption’ of The Blame-America-First Crowd. I find his assumption to be lacking in objectivity. According to Barone:
Where does this default assumption come from? And why is it so prevalent among our affluent educated class (which, after all, would seem to overlap considerably with the people being complained about?). It comes, I think, from our schools and, especially, from our colleges and universities.
I am a non-affluent (RN) educated American. As I sometimes point out, I hold two degrees in BS. I was also raised in the Unitarian-Universalist Church, where you are taught to question and think for yourself. To listen to other ideas. Which leads you to understand there are many ‘inconvenient truths’ in human history and the present. The essence of finding the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is to find the best solutions for the problems we face – many of them unintended consequences of past solutions and actions. The consequences that were ignored due to greed and power issues are a huge concern to those who function on a morality that is blind to color, creed, gender, age, sexual orientation and nation.
Barone goes on to give examples where the educated Americans automatically decide that a problem has been caused by America and why:
On campuses, students are bombarded with denunciations of dead white males…
Very many of our university graduates emerge with the default assumption thoroughly wired into their mental software. And, it seems, they carry it with them for most of their adult lives.
The default assumption predisposes them to believe that if there is slaughter in Darfur, it is our fault; if there are IEDs in Iraq, it is our fault; if peasants in Latin America are living in squalor, it is our fault; if there are climate changes that have any bad effect on anybody, it is our fault.
Let me burst this bubble of ignorant assumption. I did not stop learning when I earned my degrees. If anything, the degree in Sociology was simply to give me a better basis for understanding the world as I learned more about it and provided care to a variety of patients, including veterans. After a ten year hiatus from reading while I was a single parent of two learning diabled children, I went back to it in ’04 with the clear understanding that I was far behind. (And I still have a good 80 books on my must read list.)
First, it is statistically impossible to avoid denouncing dead white males for historical errors since the number of individuals of other gender or race who have held positions of western power are an extreme minority. Not only do Hitler, Lenin, and Mussolini qualify as dead white males, there are some dead Asian males who are denounced by both the America ‘haters’ and ‘lovers’ (Kahn, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, etc.)
Mr. Barone cites several books that supposedly show the side of reality that the unthinking blame America group has clearly not read. Here are some books, articles and ideas Mr. Barone has apparently not read, considered or understood.
Darfur. This conflict is the result of a lot of intervention by many countries, including the US, prior to 2003 when it broke out in full force. America is supposed to be an international leader in peace and the spread of democracy. In 2003, we were becoming militarily involved in Iraq, on top of the existing war in Afghanistan. Did the Bush Administration contribute diplomatic or fiscal resources to aid the UN in resolving the problem? Who said ‘All it requires for evil to prevail is that good men do nothing’?
IEDs in Iraq. Google ‘al Qaqaa’. And please remember: in the decades since WWII deaths from WMD (nuclear, biologic or chemical) are astronomically dwarfed by the deaths and injuries from conventional weapons. Claiming that because there are so many other conventional weapons and materials out there negates the looting of 380 tons from al Qaqaa,* is like saying that if terrorists got one of our nuclear weapons it wouldn’t matter because there are a lot more unaccounted in Russia (and we would still have 9999 left). *Can you say it in person to Iraq vets missing their limbs, eyes, ears, sanity or genitals?
Update: 3/23 WaPo article :“GAO Faults U.S. Military Over Munitions in Iraq”[I would emphasize this was an error of planning at the highest levels, not the troops on the ground].
Latin American poverty. Alternatives to Economic Globaliztion, Cavanagh and Mander, eds.
Overthrow, America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, Kinzer
Sorrows of Empire, Johnson.
Climate change. The absolute companion to An Inconvenient Truth, is Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond. America is not directly responsible for all of it. But the ‘America is the best’ crowd focuses on how much the rest of the world wants to emulate us (or immigrate). Yet our unsustainable consumerism and energy use become an environmental implosion when expanded to the world population. Adding to the tangential deaths, injuries and ecological damage from industrial accidents like Bhopal, the Exxon Valdez, etc.
Barone almost gets it right.
What they have been denied in their higher education is an accurate view of history and America’s place in it. Many adults actively seek what they have been missing…
Except he wants to emphasize the parts of history that America and mankind got right. What he misses is that most of those successes were brought about by ‘the people’ working together, rather than governments. That although governments have done a lot of good (and we should not do away with it as much as some would like) they have done a lot of harm too. America, due to it’s wealth, power and technological innovations, started many of the unwise practices that other countries followed trying to emulate us. Rather than acknowledge that we have made mistakes, identifying them, finding solutions or not repeating them, many of the powerful want to pretend they don’t exist, never happened or aren’t really a problem. Maybe they should check out what the CIA has termed ‘blowback’.
The worst part of all this for those of us who grew up believing in the values and goodness of America before learning her darker ways, is finding out how much of those destructive actions and policies were done under cover of a ‘good’ motives. How many times the truth was withheld and misinformation or disinformation was given out to support our international behavior. The hypocrasy and the taxes we pay that support these actions are too much to let continue.
The default assumption of the Barone mindset is:
“The wrong we have done, or are doing, is insignificant compared to the good we do.”
A) Doing good does not absolve you from correcting what you do wrong.
B) ‘Insignificant’ is not supported by the statistics.
C) The people who are wronged do not find it insignificant.
What those of us who find fault with US actions are willing to ask is: What role has America played, or not played, in this problem? We believe that due to America’s strength, wealth, leadership position and avowed values, we should be willing to find and correct our mistakes. That we should not have double standards in regard to what other countries can do and what we can do. That to pretend we do nothing wrong or don’t need to correct our mistakes – or learn from them and not repeat the same folly – is juvenile irresponsiblity. We fully understand that humans are an irrational, illogical mix of good and bad, even within any one individual. What we don’t understand is not trying to improve on our behavior until it has caused a lot of damage and become a crisis. Do we make some mistakes in our thinking and conclusions? Of course. Does that mean we should stop thinking, or learn to think better?
Has America been better in many ways than many past powerful nations? Certainly. That is what we set out to do and what most of history has shown to be where progress is made. People try to improve on the past. It doesn’t mean we have been THAT much better, haven’t repeated some mistakes and created some of our own variations on how to be a bad citizen of the world – some of the time.
The We-can-do-no-wrong thinkers need to get past their idealistic, adolescent obsession with the holier-than-thou perception of America, history and the world we live in. It’s a planet we share with many other educated, intelligent and clear thinking people.