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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Even As Victims, Americans Are Exceptional. That Is Sometimes

Having attended to some business matters in New York City, the wife and I decided to play tourists for the time remaining. We eventually ended up at the 9-11 Memorial.

The 9-11 Memorial is a solemn place. It appropriately pays tribute to the victims and shows us some of the remains of the atrocities that took place in Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. The most difficult item to see was that which listed the fire companies and police units lost in the attacks. Their sacrifices should always be honored as should the fate of the civilian victims. The 9-11 Memorial plays appropriate homage to those lost in the attacks.

But unfortunately, the suffering of victims is just another place where we see American Exceptionalism. But it's not in the Memorials to our lost loved ones and heroes where we see our exceptionalism rear its ugly head, it is in the neglect or lack of awareness of the losses suffered by others where we proclaim our exceptionalism.  For where are the memorials built to honor the innocent victims of Chile, Vietnam, Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salavador, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, amongst other places where innocent civilians were slaughtered by either our policies and troops or by those of our allies? Where? Weren't they innocent victims too? Didn't their lives count to their family members and loved ones as much as our lost family members and loved ones mean to us?

If memory serves, one of the tapes playing in the 9-11 Memorial stated that no matter where one was in the world, each of us remembers where we were when we first heard of the attacks. I remember where I was. I was at home listening to Art Tatum as I was grading papers. A student called me to ask if we would be having class because of the terrorist attacks. I had to turn on the tv to find out what was happening. 

See, we call on the world to remember our sufferings and losses. But how many Americans remember where they were during first 9-11 attacks, the ones in Chile where, in a bloody coup which we supported, the democratically elected government of Chile was replaced by a brutal, military dictator who, until his death, was charged with human rights violations and hundreds of crimes. We should note that Pinochet earned support from both the United States and Great Britain for the kind of capitalism he forced on his people. Where were we when we heard of the atrocities of that 9-11? We might even want to ask if we even heard of those atrocities.

And where were we when we heard of the civilian targets in Cuba who were hit by our armed forces before we finally agreed not to attack Cuba again? Do we know how many people our nation slaughtered in those attacks? Do we even know that our nation attacked civilian targets in Cuba? And what do we know about the millions of people killed because we first decided to help France regain control of Vietnam and then later decided to invade the country in order to prevent reunification with North Vietnam? How familiar are we with those losses? And where were we when we first heard of the hundreds of children who were killed in Israel's Cast Lead operation during one of their invasions of Gaza? 

We could go on and on but the point should have been made. While we call on the world to remember the traumas our nation has suffered, we show little, if any, concern for the losses other people have suffered when those losses are at the hands of either our policies and troops or those of our friends.

The 9-11 Memorial was a most appropriate monument to build. It is important that those of us who can visit it, do so. It is a solemn place. But it isn't the tribute we build to the people we've lost which is the issue here. Rather, the issue is the lack of care and concern we have for the losses we've forced on others. 

The idea that those whom we've lost are worthy victims while the losses suffered by others are not is what is at the center of the issue here. This division between worthy and unworthy victims was well described in Chomsky's and Herman's book, Manufacturing Consent. And this idea of worthy vs unworthy victims can even have a domestic slant to it. As I try to tell many of the my friends about the problem with the police shootings of unarmed Black Americans, they show a lack of feeling for the losses of others. It seems that there is a presumption of guilt made by too many Whites on those Blacks who have been killed by the police. And here, this blogpost is not saying that every time a police officer shoots a Black person, that the police have done wrong. But the number of police shootings of unarmed Blacks can only indicate that racism and police abuse of power are major problems in our nation. And Blacks and some other minorities are bearing the brunt of that problem.

Thus, if the fact that America's losses are to be mourned by the whole world while the losses we cause to others are not worthy of grief indicates American Exceptionalism, we could say that the lack of concern many of us have for Blacks who have unjustly died at the hands of the police could indicate an attitude of White Exceptionalism or Supremacy. And considering our history, we should take seriously the possibility that any of us could have this form of exceptionalism residing in our minds and hearts.

The trouble with exceptionalism, regardless of who exhibits it, is that it feeds our conflicts. It causes them to grow. And in feeding our conflicts, not only are all of us eventually threatened, all of us become more qualified to be indicted for the losses suffered by others.



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