About Giuliani calling Obama ‘anticolonial’

Tout le monde is distancing itself from Rudy Giuliani’s recent comments about POTUS at the 21 Club, including fellow Republicans.

And let me display my right-thinking bona fides by saying, Bad Rudy — BAD!

But I think he probably hit the mark, in one small respect, when defending himself later:

We are at risk of running out of dead horse to flog, but there’s one more aspect of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani’s anti-Obama comments that’s worth isolating. Speaking with reporters from the New York Times, Giuliani denied that his statement that President Obama doesn’t love America was related in any way to the president’s race. “This isn’t racism,” Giuliani said. “This is socialism or possibly anticolonialism.”…

Not on the “socialism” part, but on the “anticolonialism” bit.

We’ve been here before. We had one heck of a lively discussion of this point back in 2010.

And on another occasion, I referred to it in the next-to-last bullet of this list I composed explaining all the ways that Obama is different, way different, from any previous president (in a piece headlined, “It’s not just that he’s black, because he isn’t“):

  • His name. “Barack Hussein Obama.” It’s extremely foreign. Set aside the connection with Islam and Arabic, and all the freight those carry at this point in history (such as the uncanny closeness to the name “Osama”), for a moment. Just in terms of being different, it’s easily light years beyond the name of anyone else who has even come close to occupying the Oval Office. The most exotic name of any previous president, by far, was “Roosevelt.” I mean, “Millard Fillmore” was goofy-sounding, but it sounded like an English-speaker. And I don’t think it was a coincidence that the first Catholic to receive a major party nomination had the vanilla/whitebread name “Al Smith.”
  • His father was a foreigner, regardless of his race. He was a man who spent almost none of his life in this country. He came here briefly, fathered a child, and went home. Show me the parallel to that in the biographies of former presidents.
  • While he never really knew his father (he had to learn about him at a distance, the way we learn about figures in history), he did know his stepfather, who was Indonesian. Young Barry spent a goodly portion of his childhood in Indonesia. In my earlier column I drew a parallel to my own childhood sojourn in South America, but I was there undeniably as an American. Barry Obama lived in SE Asia as an Indonesian, or as close to it as someone of Caucasian/African heritage could.
  • The fact that, to the extent that he is connected to African roots, it is a heritage that is totally divorced from most presidents’ sense of connection to Europe. I didn’t fully realize that until the Churchill bust episode, which caused some Brit to note something that hadn’t fully occurred to me: This is the first president the modern UK has had to deal with who doesn’t have the Special Relationship hard-wired into his sense of self, if not his genes. In fact, quite the contrary: Unlike any previous president (except maybe Kennedy, who spent his adult life living down his father’s pro-German sympathies leading up to WWII), Obama’s grandfather actually experienced political oppression at the hands of British colonialists.
  • His unearthly cool. His intellectual detachment, the sense he projects that he takes nothing personally. Weirdly, this takes a trait usually associated, in most stereotypical assumptions, with Northern Europeans, and stretches it until it screams. He looks at problems the way a clinical observer does. Probably more maddeningly to his detractors, he looks at his fellow Americans that way — as though he is not one of them; he is outside; he has something of the air of an entomologist studying beetles with a magnifying glass.

When I say different, I’m trying to explain the visceral response that so many have on the right to this president. You can see their brains going, he’s not one of us, and it’s something that goes way beyond his being biracial. He just has a really, really different background from any other American who has risen up to lead the country. And people who have more conventional, staid, less-interesting, dare I say boring, backgrounds can be put off by it. (Actually, much of Obama’s background causes me to identify with him — see, “Barack Like Me.” But my personal story isn’t nearly as interesting and unusual as his…)

Back to anticolonialism… While many top American political leaders may look askance at the colonial era, and sympathize with the colonized, none before now had VERY recent ancestors who were colonized, and therefore an identification with the nonEuropean point of view. And I think that makes a difference, for good or ill.

So I don’t think Giuliani was off the mark on that point, however bad what he did with it may be…

93 thoughts on “About Giuliani calling Obama ‘anticolonial’

  1. M.Prince

    In any event, your riff on Giuliani’s use of the term “anti-colonialism” is more interesting than Guiliani’s original rambly rant.

    1. Mark Stewart

      More interestingly, all the jockeys are white. In the South, the statues weren’t – I would say aren’t but you hardly ever see them unless tucked away somewhere private.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, I wasn’t all that interested in it until the “anticolonialism” remark.

      But Giuliani DID cross a line, he DID say something meant to strike a nerve — even though he may have thought it wouldn’t get out of the room. He indicated he knew that by prefacing it with, “I know this is a horrible thing to say…”

      It’s not standard political rhetoric to say the president of the United States doesn’t love his country… Even The Guardian gets that, since they published a headline that says, “Rudy Giuliani says he ‘didn’t intend’ to question president’s patriotism“…

  2. Bryan Caskey

    And then it somehow morphed into a debate about whether Obama was “a Christian”. I must of missed the link there, but it seemed like for a few days everyone was discussing whether the President “loved America” and whether he was “a Christian”. When did that become a thing?

    Maybe some other time, when Europe isn’t on the brink of all-out war and the middle-east isn’t in flames from one end to another, maybe then we can really explore these important issues of the President’s core beliefs.

    1. bud

      When hasn’t Europe been on the brink of war? When hasn’t the Middle East been in flames? Seems like we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        Well, I’d say “Europe” has certainly not been on the brink of war since the Balkans died down, until now, with Putin’s imperialist/deflectionary annexations and other incursions into Ukraine.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Indeed. War in Europe has definitely not been the norm since 1945. In fact, aside from that period of madness in the Balkans, it’s been the one war-free part of the Old World.

          For those of us born since 1945, war in Europe is a bizarre concept. I’m still reading “The Guns of August,” and it’s so hard for me to wrap my head around how easily Europe leaped to arms in 1914. When I was a kid, I thought of WWI as ancient history. But it happened less than 40 years before I was born. And folks, 1975 was 40 years ago — and that JUST HAPPENED. I mean, it’s five years after the Beatles broke up. It was post-Watergate. It was two years after Roe v. Wade. We were post-feminist and post-Vietnam (in terms of U.S. involvement). Except for personal computers, smartphones and drones, it was pretty much the world we live in now.

          Yet, Europeans were so different then in their assumptions about war and peace and attitudes toward each other.

          Everybody KNEW the Germans were going to start a war the first chance they got, and that they were most likely violate Belgian neutrality to do it. Or at least, they sort of did. There was a lot of denial going on, but everything that happened was envisioned. Everybody had plans for how they’d react when they did, and so war was triggered in multiple places like a roomful of mousetraps going off to bouncing ping-pong balls.

          Its amazing to read the things that the Kaiser SAID to emissaries from other countries, the bald threats, YEARS ahead of war. It was all so transparent, at least in retrospect. And everybody was so bloodyminded about it all. It’s hard to believe that the Europeans of today are in any way related to the ones of 100 years ago….

          And yet… at the time, it was very popular to believe that there were so many economic and other ties between nations that it was not in anyone’s interest to wage war — pretty much today’s attitude. That idea was swirling around even as all these traps were being set that would set the continent aflame.

          In fact, everyone, including the Germans, ASSUMED that the war would be over in a couple of months, because anything longer would be so economically harmful. How could they have thought that? Sure, a conventional war between a U.S. and an Iraq can be over in three weeks (which it was; it’s the aftermath that got bungled), but between Germany and Austria on one side and the Russians, French and British on the other? A clash between empires, that none could afford to lose? How could anyone be so myopic as to think it would end soon?

          It’s just all so bizarre….

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            OK, now my mind is boggling over how little the world has changed since 1975, compared to how it had changed between 1914 and 1953. Considering how much our culture and politics changed between 1960 and 1975, it’s astounding how little we’ve changed — outside the digital revolution.

            The patterns of political arguments that we have today were pretty much set by then. OK, so partisan competition got a lot nastier. But we still argue over pretty much the same things, particularly when it comes to America’s role in the world…

          2. Bryan Caskey

            The same line of thinking was present on both sides of the Civil War. Everyone in both the North thought that one quick clash would bring the rebels back into the fold, while the rebels thought that one victory would persuade the North to let them go.

            It seems that we are always confident that one brief clash of arms will decide matters, but that seems to be very much the exception.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              There was at least SOME basis for Southerners to think that. There was always so much antiwar sentiment in the North, so many people searching for an excuse not to fight — a category in which I’d include Gen. McClellan.

              It’s a miracle — actually, a long string of miracles — that Lincoln was able to keep it going until full victory.

          3. M.Prince

            ”It’s hard to believe that the Europeans of today are in any way related to the ones of 100 years ago….”

            The “Europeans of today” are a direct product of the “ones of 100 years ago,” that is to say of their experience in the First World War and the lessons they took from it (lessons hammered home in the Second). That’s the short answer. For the longer answer, see Samuel Hynes’s A War Imagined; Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory; James Sheheen’s Where Have All the Soldiers Gone: The Transformation of Modern Europe, among many others.

  3. Mark Stewart

    Rudy has had a long history of pushing stupid comments way too far. When he screws up, he doesn’t walk back his comments, he doubles down. He’s done this at least since he kicked Yasir Arafat out of the UN’s 50th year anniversary party in 1995 – and probably for a long time before this as a federal prosecutor.

    Basically, he’s got a humanity problem; its hard to believe any one pays him for his advice on anything.

  4. Phillip

    No presidents “before now had VERY recent ancestors who were colonized, and therefore an identification with the non-European point of view. And I think that makes a difference, for good or ill.”

    I’m still trying to figure out how there could be any “for ill” aspect to an American President having an identification with the “non-European point of view” well into the 21st century. Let’s turn the phrase on its head and think about it this way: was it for good or ill for the United States to have had NO presidents who had an identification with the non-European point of view as late as 2009?

    And if Rudy, or Dinesh D’Souza, or Newt Gingrich, are going to prattle on about Obama’s supposed “anti-colonialism,” then they must own up to their beliefs and speak openly of their “pro-colonialism”, and their belief in the destiny of some nations to rule others (presumably, I guess, meaning us doing the ruling). Maybe they have and I just missed it.

    And then, finally, isn’t the founding tale of American “exceptionalism” a tale of anti-colonialism, throwing off the yoke of our colonial rulers? Isn’t anti-colonialism, the belief in people’s right of self-determination, a fundamentally American belief?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Phillip, I think anticolonialism IS a significant part of the American character. Except for that Teddy Roosevelt stretch. And some of our little banana wars in the early part of the 20th.

      But I don’t think “throwing off the yoke of our colonial rulers” is the founding tale of exceptionalism. I still struggle with the question of whether it was completely necessary to oppose British rule with violence. (Canada and Australia managed pretty well without warfare.) I’m not as bothered by the latter parts of the war as I am with how it started. I really have trouble justifying the Minutemen firing on the redcoats, who were the duly constituted authority and were acting to enforce the law. Had I lived then, I fear I would have said, “Really, guys? We’re shooting British soldiers because we’re ticked off about TAXES? Let’s step back and have a sense of perspective here…”

      American exceptionalism has to do with people coming here for a better life — religious freedom, greater economic opportunity, what have you — and then founding a country upon the bedrock principle of freedom of conscience, and then standing for the next couple of centuries and well into a third as champions of liberal democratic principles. And we’re the one nation that will most readily spend blood and treasure for the cause of helping OTHER people live free of tyrants — which to me is nobler than tossing out the redcoats.

      My friends on the left worry about the morality of Vietnam and Iraq. I worry about Lexington and Concord….

      1. bud

        Seriously Brad. You are kidding aren’t you? We’ve been attempting a sort of neo-colonialism our entire history. Just read about the invasion of Canada in 1812. Or how about the conquest of Mexico in the 1840s. The Civil War was largely a conquest of one section of America over another. Justify it by declaring it as a war to keep the nation together but in fact it was a conquest. (If it had strictly been about eradicating slavery that would be another story but it was not about that. That came later). Move on to the 1890s with the Spanish American War predicated on a bogus sinking of an American warship. That was followed up by a takeover of the Philippines.

        Now we’re up to the 20th century. We somehow managed to get involved in WW I even though it could not have had any less to do with our security. That led to WW II where we established ourselves as a quasi colonial power with “neo-colonies” in Germany and Japan. Then we established a beach-head in Korea. And there was the first attempt to control Iran with the atrocious Shah. The “colonization” mania finally hit a speed bump in Vietnam (again based on a bogus attack on a US warship) which seemed to quell some of these imperialist urges, at least for a while.

        But this bow to common sense didn’t last long. Ultimately Reagan gets caught up in an attempt to influence affairs in Latin America with his adventure with the Contras. And of course we couldn’t let tiny Granada avoid all the fun. Bush Sr. couldn’t resist incursions into Iraq and Panama. Clinton got caught up in the Balkans. And the champion of the neo-colonialists was Bush Jr. with his failed effort to conquer Iraq. Yet again based on a bogus threat. This time it was phony WMD claims.

        And now we have Obama. I like the guy and he’s done a lot to steer this country in a positive direction but he too can’t resist a good ole foray into the foreign quagmire arena. Drones, Libya and more Iraq will forever stain his legacy. At least he has the common sense to stay out of the Ukraine quagmire. Indeed the American story is very much one of colonialism even if it isn’t quite the same as the British experience. But if it quacks like a duck … Well we know the answer to that.

        1. Mark Stewart

          I am not sure how the Balkans was anything but an unmitigated humanitarian and geopolitical success.

          Had we stood up to Putin’s meddling in Syria, where his ability to shape the conflict would have been severally restricted, we may not have the Putin of today who is running the tables in the Ukraine and embarrassing the Europeans who continue to believe that Putin will act with “honor” if they ask him politely enough. We will also have Putin propping up North Korea which will add more agita to our world. At least Obama found a more sensible way to deal with Cuba; one that will hopefully be a more attractive option than being Putin’s Caribbean lacky. Putin is a bad guy. Period. The world is going to have to get in sync about that. Convincing China of that is probably our most important task ahead.

          This whole Mideast medieval jousting is just a distraction. That’s a game we can and should avoid. Stick it back on the Saudis. They started it all anyway.

  5. Kathryn Fenner

    Okay, I am not sure I “love” my country. I love my husband, family, dogs. I love people and animals….but even though I get kind of choked up whenever I’m back on US soil, I don’t “love” my country, or my house, or chocolate or bourbon (well, maybe bourbon). My country stands for a lot of good things, but has also done a lot of bad things. I wouldn’t change my citizenship for anything (except maybe Sarah Palin’s becoming VP. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DIc8jdra0o), but….

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Oh, I definitely love my country. And I can’t imagine what “My country stands for a lot of good things, but has also done a lot of bad things” has to do with it.

      The PEOPLE you love haven’t done a lot of bad things? If so, that’s amazing.

      And, blast it, give me a break here — you look at all the countries in the history of the world, or just at all existing today, and you look at the United States, and you don’t think it’s just a little bit DISPROPORTIONATE to mention that it’s “done a lot of bad things,” as though the country has done so MANY bad things, or that the bad things are so awful, that they have the same weight as “stands for a lot of good things”? Really? REALLY?

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        I just don’t love anything that can’t love me back. I might like it very much. I might admire it, crave it, serve it, but love? Nope.
        My follow-up sentence was a response to the old bumper stickers: “My country, right or wrong”–except I’m not sure they actually deployed the comma. I do not support my country when it does wrong things. I do not leave it, as the other bumper stickers used to demand, but I don’t love it, either. It’s just a country. It has no feelings. It doesn’t have a personality. What’s to “love”? I like, respect, admire, believe in the founding principles and the Constitution, for the most part–Citizens United and Hobby Lobby aside.
        I love my people and dogs, and actually, no, they haven’t done a lot of bad things. No one has invaded a country on a poor pretext. No one has assassinated other countries’ politicians. My dog did eat an expensive Henle edition of Mozart Sonatas, and the other ate a $200 sonic face brush, but I still love them. My family annoys me, sure, but….

        Honestly, I don’t know if I could love someone if I found out they had killed someone without any justification in cold blood, or done some other cold-blooded violence. Fortunately, my loved ones do not have the sort of tempers that would cause them to be violent in anger, either.
        And I did not say America was in any way the worst country out there, or even one of the worst, or even a bad country, but surely you can admit America has done some bad things, some less-than-admirable things. You’re just inflating what I said for rhetorical ends.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          and as a German-American, who likes a lot about her ancestors’ country and culture, I am loathe to profess the sort of unconditional love I might have for a child for a country.

          Apropo your Guns of August comment above, Germans seldom displayed the national flag until a few years back when Germany won (?) the World Cup. More than 60 years after the Nazis….I am sure my German friends “love” their country just as much as you or I do ours, but they have to readily acknowledge the limits of patriotism and nationalism. Perhaps we might take a page from their book?

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Yeah, you know, because we started two world wars and tried to kill all the Jews and other Untermenschen, right?

            You seriously, honestly, actually think that we have a reason to be ashamed of national symbols, like the Germans?

            You really, truly think this country has those kinds of sins on its head? How do you get there?

            1. Doug Ross

              Slavery, genocide of the Indians, Japanese internment camps, treating women and gays as second class citizens for the majority of its history, numerous wars-that-weren’t-wars, incarcerating millions of people for victimless crimes, a political history rife with corruption and abuse of power.

              Other than that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

            2. bud

              Brad, Germany is just a collection of people just like the US. So what we’re really talking about is people who came to power and committed atrocities. Same with the US. Slavery and Jim Crow were pretty awful events that were sanctioned by politicians and implemented by human beings. Lynchings were done with impunity in the old south. Perhaps the number of atrocities doesn’t add up to the level of the Nazis but that’s just a matter of degree not a difference in moral terpitude. Not sure this artificial passion for a grouping of people in an arbitrarily draw set of boundaries should rise to the level of “love”. Kathryn has it about right.

          2. Kathryn Fenner

            When do Germans, the people of Goethe, Bach, Beethoven, Schiller….get to be proud at all? Never? Why should I not be a bit reserved in my “pride” over my country, when it does not ensure that the weakest have at least a decent safety net?

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Here’s the problem: When you speak of national pride in a place like Germany, or Japan, or France, it’s impossible to purge it completely of a racial, cultural sort of pride. Ein Volk and so forth.

              I’ve mentioned this a number of times and wish I could find the source, but there was this leader in The Economist 10 or 15 years ago that made a big impression on me. It was comparing Japan and the U.S. It examined the stark difference between what it means to be Japanese and what it means to be American. A Japanese person is ethnically Japanese. Their parents and grandparents were Japanese. Everybody else is is gaijin.

              But you can be a little green man from Mars, and as long as you subscribe to a set of principles set out by some middle- to upper-class English colonials in the 18th century, you’re an American.

              And that’s what makes us, you know, exceptional among the great countries of the Earth.

              So love of country and patriotism and the like mean something else in an American context from what it means in a German context. That’s just a fact, based in our very different histories.

              Of course, it means something different to each American, and sometimes people twist it so that it becomes like the racial and cultural pride that one sees in, say, the Balkans. Nativism has been a problem in this country from the beginning, and we must guard against it, because it is a denial of what makes this country special.

              At the same time — and this is the tricky part — our heritage of ideas owes so much to the Anglosphere that it’s very important to respect that and stay in touch with it. But we have to remember that it’s about the IDEAS we got from England, not the pasty complexion of our majority or even this maddeningly wonderful language….

            2. M.Prince

              I’m hesitant to wade into this particular discussion, because so many cans of worms have been opened already. But I have to push back a little against Mr. Warthen’s blanket comment regarding national pride/identity in France, Germany and Japan. While ethnic identity apparently still plays a significant role in Japanese national identity and used to in Germany (jus sanguinis), French identity, at least since the Revolution, has been based primarily on allegiance to the French Republic and its secular institutions, along with a certain amount of identification with French cultural traditions. So it really doesn’t differ that much from the US in that regard. And that includes the culture part, because I wouldn’t rule out a certain vague sense of cultural identity as part of the American national ethos – which immigrants are expected to conform with to one degree or another if they want to be considered “real” Americans. It’s the basis of the “melting pot” idea – and source of the country’s darker, nativist tradition, as well. Germany, too, has changed a good bit in this respect – though their new-found sense of self is still rather delicate (and they still sometimes fall back into the habit of defining themselves by what they’re not). Since the fall of the wall, Germany has seen a sizable influx of peoples from all over – most recently from Asia. So I think your categorical assumptions are a bit out of date. Oh, and let’s not forget Canada and Australia. Their identities aren’t based on ethnic background either.

            3. Brad Warthen Post author

              Was just reading another passage in Barbara Tuchman’s book, and am reminded again that Hitler didn’t invent the ugly attitudes that he exploited.

              When the English came in on the side of France — which was entirely to be expected, especially given the blatant German violation of Belgian neutrality — the Kaiser immediately accused them, in the most hateful terms, of Rassen-verrat.

              That’s race-treason, for non-German speakers.

              Fellow Teutons weren’t supposed to side with Gaul.

            4. M.Prince

              Well, this brings up something else that’s a bit outdated, namely Tuchman’s book. That’s how many historians see it anyway. Along with the bumbling into war thesis, her book places practically all the onus on Germany for turning a local conflict into a big war. Much of that is warranted. But as Christopher Clark argues in his new history — The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 — other actors also played very significant roles in that process, particularly Russia and France.

              On the larger issue: If your comment is meant to suggest that Germans are still as ethno-centric as the Kaiser was in 1914, I can only repeat: that view is rather outdated.

            5. Brad Warthen Post author

              Nope. It’s not meant to suggest that. It’s meant to say something that’s not terribly surprising — that Hitler didn’t invent German race consciousness…

            6. M.Prince

              Yeah, that’s the “bumbling into war” thesis I mentioned. Other historians have said she gets that more wrong than right ad point out that Europe didn’t stumble into war so much as seek it intentionally. The only thing they perhaps didn’t foresee was just how destructive it would become.

            7. Brad Warthen Post author

              Or how long it would take.

              Tuchman has been bad-mouthed by professional historians since the book was published, on account of her not being an academic type. They dismissed her as a “housewife.”…

              As for the “name” military historians… I never finished reading John Keegan’s history of the war — it wasn’t as engaging as this — but I seem to recall him saying similar things about a world that fell suddenly into war because of the web of alliances that set up tripwires that made it happen.

              That said, there’s a contradictory thread in what I’m reading. Supposedly, Europe saw itself as being too modern and economically entwined to go to war. And yet, Tuchman traces all the preparations the various nations made for this very conflict for years and even decades, ever since the French had lost Alsace-Lorraine in 1870.

              And everybody had made a big deal about Belgian neutrality, apparently because it was so obvious that the Germans were likely to want to come that way.

              Sure, they stumbled into it. Sure, they thought war too atavistic for their “modern” economies. But they sure did a lot of preparing and planning for it…

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          I’ve always found it interesting that anyone would understand “my country, right or wrong” as some sort of blindness to the wrong, or a lack of caring about it.

          I don’t know exactly what Decatur meant when he said it. Perhaps, given the time when he said it, it was more along the lines of the way you take it. But I take it as an acceptance of responsibility.

          Of course, you consider a lot of things “wrong” that I do not. Such as the affirmation of individual conscience that is the Hobby Lobby decision. And while I’m probably in agreement with you on Citizens United, I don’t think it’s a black mark against America that a majority of the court disagreed with me. There’s no huge moral issue at stake; I just disagree that spending equals protected speech.

          Even Roe v. Wade, as awful as I think it was and is (I would hate it if only for the way it has distorted and polarized our politics, let alone the deeper issues), I don’t think it’s a black mark against our country. Wrong as they were, the justices were TRYING to expand freedom of conscience. I just think they were shockingly mistaken. To assert that the Constitution contains a blanket “right to privacy” when it does not is bad enough; to assert that that right is so absolute that it empowers an individual to unilaterally kill, without due process, just blows my mind.

          But I don’t think the country is bad because it produced that decision. There is just far, far too much that is noble about the American experiment for that.

          For “bad,” you pretty much have to go back to our wrestling with the country’s original sin, slavery — which still today produces ignoble strains in our politics.

          Dred Scott — that was bad. Plessy was bad. The refusal to make separate-but-equal actually EQUAL was bad. The movement that started abandoning public schools after Brown was and is bad.

          What was done to the Indians was bad — I mean the intentional stuff, not the most horrible thing, which was unintentional (the deaths of untold millions through the introduction of European and African diseases.

          But the entire story of this country from the beginning has been one of redressing wrongs and correcting injustices. I rejected Phillip’s assertion that through off colonial control is what made us exceptional. It’s what we did after THAT that causes America to be a beacon of hope to the world.

          I mean, the French and the Russians had revolutions. But the French had how many failed republics after that (not to mentions slides back into monarchy)? And what the Russian revolution led to is nothing to brag about?

          We’ve built something that was pretty awesome from the start, and not only have maintained it ever since, but have steadily improved upon it…

          1. Doug Ross

            “But the entire story of this country from the beginning has been one of redressing wrongs and correcting injustices. ”

            Been to an Indian reservation lately? I guess they are on the to do list.

            1. Rose

              The folks attacking AP US History curriculum would prefer to erase those pesky things like Indian reservations, WWII internment camps for Japanese Americans, and other mentions of the oppressed and marginalized and just focus on American exceptionalism.

          2. Rose

            I prefer Carl Schurz’s take on it. From Bartleby:

            Carl Schurz (1829–1906)
            QUOTATION: The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming, “My country, right or wrong.” In one sense I say so too. My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.

            Schurz expanded on this theme in a speech delivered at the Anti-Imperialistic Conference, Chicago, Illinois, October 17, 1899: “I confidently trust that the American people will prove themselves … too wise not to detect the false pride or the dangerous ambitions or the selfish schemes which so often hide themselves under that deceptive cry of mock patriotism: ‘Our country, right or wrong!’ They will not fail to recognize that our dignity, our free institutions and the peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: ‘Our country—when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right.’”—Schurz, “The Policy of Imperialism,” Speeches, Correspondence and Political Papers of Carl Schurz, vol. 6, pp. 119–20 (1913).

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              I’m referring to the pugnacious bumperstickers of the 60s and 70s that were often featured on pickup trucks with Confederate flag stickers and gun racks.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                There was a good piece today in the WSJ on love of country and exceptionalism. It quoted Decatur and others on the subject. I found this passage on God’s Chosen People provocative:

                In the Bible, God warns his cho­sen peo­ple through the prophet Amos not to ex­pect spe­cial treat­ment: “To me, O Is­raelites, you are just like the Ethiopi­ans, de­clares the Lord. True, I brought Is­rael up from the land of Egypt; but also the Philistines from Caph­tor and the Arameans from Kir.” By the same to­ken, no one is ex­empt from judgment—or pun­ish­ment. Is­rael surely was not.

                The He­brew prophets are the clas­sic ex­am­ples of what the po­lit­ical the­o­rist Michael Walzer calls “con­nected crit­i­cism.” This is crit­icism from in­side a tra­di­tion, not out­side, moved not by mal­ice but by spe­cial af­fec­tion for the ob­ject of crit­i­cism. Its ob­jec­tive is Burke’s: to make a lovely coun­try love­lier still. In that spirit, Mar­tin Luther King Jr. ap­pealed to Amer­i­cans not to live up to oth­ers’ stan­dards, but to their own, set forth in the De­c­lara­tion of In­de­pen­dence and nourished by the Bible. In that same spirit, on the first day of his pres­idency, Bill Clin­ton de­clared his convic­tion that “There is noth­ing wrong with Amer­ica that can­not be cured by what is right with America.”

            2. M.Prince

              The Burke quote actually reads: “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.” He didn’t begin with the assumption that a country is necessarily lovely to begin with.

              The line about “crit­icism from in­side a tra­di­tion, not out­side” reminds me of something a member of East Germany’s state communist youth organization (the FDJ) once said to me: “Criticism IN socialism, yes. Criticism OF socialism, no.” So the same applies to other “traditions”. It’s principally a matter of WHICH tradition we’re talking about.

            3. M.Prince

              This why I would have to conclude that while I feel a general affinity for my country, having been born and raised there and not somewhere else, I cannot say that I love “my country,” but rather certain things about it.

            4. Doug Ross

              “This why I would have to conclude that while I feel a general affinity for my country, having been born and raised there and not somewhere else, I cannot say that I love “my country,” but rather certain things about it.”

              Excellent point. Why should I just assume America is exceptional when I haven’t had the life experience in other countries to compare it to?

              I’ve spent several months or years in many states (at least 18 by count) and have visited all but two (Hawaii and North Dakota). That has given me a much better perspective when I compare South Carolina to other places.

            5. Brad Warthen Post author

              Doug, I don’t think my impression of America and what makes it special is based in personal experience. It’s not something I pick up walking down the street. I form impressions mostly from the written word. And I read a great deal about many countries.

              My main limitation is that I only read fluently in English.

              But I’m confident that I’m able to assess the things I’m talking about dispassionately, to the extent that I have the information at hand.

              I think a lot of countries do certain things better than the U.S. Health care accessibility, for example.

              As for my English bias — I think it’s a magnificent language, but in some ways I prefer Spanish. For instance, it’s generally more logical — like Latin, but simpler and more naturalistic.

            6. Brad Warthen Post author

              I’m reminded of an Italian gentleman who came to see me and complain because, in an editorial, I’d said something about how fortunate we are not to have Italy’s corruption problems related to the Mafia.

              He came to me making the same sort of assumption you’re making — that since I was not Italian, had never so much as visited Italy and didn’t even speak Italian, I didn’t know any more about the subject than I had gleaned from watching gangster movies.

              He brought me a couple of Italian newspapers so I could wise up. “See? No headlines about Mafia! It’s just not the problem you think it is.”

              Unfortunately, he didn’t read the papers very closely. The first one he handed me had a refer at the very top of the page to a story inside about this huge Mafia court case that was having a big impact on the nation.

              No, I don’t speak Italian, but my background in Latin and Spanish make it possible for me to suss out what is being said, at least in general terms. And this story made it clear that, at least in the view of this Italian newspaper’s editors, the Mafia influence in the country was still a very serious problem.

              I saw this after my visitor had left. We had parted on good terms, and I never called to point out his mistake. He was happy believing what he believed, and also believing he had set me straight. Everybody was happy…

            7. Brad Warthen Post author

              Of course, experience in a place is valuable. But it helps to have absorbed a wealth of info about a place before you go.

              For instance… when we went to England several years ago, it was exactly what I expected, in every respect. And I loved that about it, because I loved all of the things that I had absorbed from all the books and other reading material and films and TV shows that I had devoured my whole life.

              Oh, there were DETAILS that I hadn’t known beforehand — such as the fact that the London Tube was even nicer than I expected. But most things, even the way the air felt, was expected, and did not disappoint. We were there in late December and early January, and if it hadn’t been chilly (but not TOO chilly, as Tacitus noted a couple of thousand years back), and if there hadn’t been an almost constant mist falling, and if the sun had been out and shining in my eyes, I’d have wanted my money back.

              This upcoming trip to Thailand — we leave in 9 days — will be different. I expect every moment to be a revelation. I’ve been exposed to so little about Thailand in my life that I know I’ll be constantly surprised. I’ve learned a lot since my daughter has been over there, but that’s no substitute for a lifetime of soaking up everything about the place, as I’ve done with Britain and (to a lesser extent) other Western countries.

              In fact, one of the few things I DO know is to disregard what little I’ve been exposed to. “The King and I” is pretty useless, and not just in the sense that “Pride and Prejudice” is a poor preparation for modern Britain. I know that it is considered terribly bad form even to mention that film, because Thais revere the royal family and Yul Brynner’s depiction is seen as very disrespectful to the Crown. I know I must not say anything that could be construed by anyone as less than respectful to the King and Queen.

              I know that everyone smiles all the time, and that if I’m my usual grouch self, I’m likely to offend people. I’ve studied up on exactly how to bow to a monk when I meet one, which I know is a common experience there.

              I know a bunch of stuff, and I know nothing. This will be quite an adventure…

          3. Doug Ross

            I watched the Oscar nominated documentary “Last Days in Vietnam” last night. If you ever want a counterpoint to the mythical American exceptional-ism, that movie provides ample evidence. Our entry into and exit from Vietnam was a complete disaster. And while we eulogize and lionize Chris Kyle, the documentary offers a different version of heroism in retelling the story of the Americans who helped save thousands of Vietnamese from imprisonment or death during the fall of Saigon. There is amazing footage in the documentary of a Vietnamese pilot who commandeers a helicopter to rescue his family and transport them to an American ship out at sea. With no room to land on the ship, he hovers low enough so his wife and kids can drop to safety on the deck. With no other option, he flies away from the ship, then while hovering over the ocean, somehow removes his flightsuit, and ditches the helicopter into the sea while jumping out at the last second. He was rescued and reunited shortly afterward with his family. That’s a hero.

          4. Kathryn Fenner

            You read a great deal about other countries? wow.
            How many other countries have you spent more than a week in?

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Four. If you let me count Peru, which was right at a week. Maybe five, but I’m not sure about how much time I spent in Panama.

              But my point is that it doesn’t matter.

              I don’t get my sense of American exceptionalism from walking this country’s streets, attending its schools, shopping in its supermarkets, gazing soulfully into the eyes of my fellow citizens, etc., or whatever else you can’t get any way but by being there.

              It has to do with policies and laws and how they are carried out. It has to do with the system of laws a country adheres to, and how justice is administered. It has to do with the course the nation has followed through history, and how it conducts itself in relation to other countries. It has to do with the ideals a nation espouses, and the degree to which it lives those ideals through its actions.

              I can’t think of how I’ve learned about any of those things by LIVING here. I don’t know of any opinion I’ve formed about this country in those regards that I could not have formed from any place else in the world with a library and access to the Internet.

              I suppose it helps that I’ve had the opportunity to interact with thousands of Americans over the years, but what is that, really, but a lot of anecdotal evidence?

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              I SUPPOSE that I have a clearer understanding of what freedom of the press is from having worked in newspapers all of those years.

              But I think I would have held the same basic idea that press freedom — and other forms of freedom of conscience and expression — is really important, and that a country with such freedom is a better place to live than one without, and a greater champion of liberal values, without that.

            3. Brad Warthen Post author

              The two-and-a-half years I spent living in Ecuador — easily the longest I ever lived in one place growing up — made a strong impression on my. There was a lot about that country that I LOVED, and I’m sorry I’ve never been able to go back.

              Of course, I loved being back in the U.S. way MORE. I’ve written in the past about the way I was practically intoxicated by American culture when I first came back here after all that time cut off from U.S. media, entertainment, consumer goods and water you could drink right out of the tap.

              But as awesome as all that stuff was, those would be pretty shallow reasons to love this country. Material goods and enjoyable stimulation of the nervous system are great, but I prefer to judge on the basis of loftier stuff…

  6. Phillip

    Brad, I agree very much with you that to whatever extent we are “exceptional” as a nation, it was not (just) the throwing off of colonial shackles that made us so (although, of course, the American idea is enshrined in large part in these founding efforts, the Declaration, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights). But, yes I strongly agree with you that “it’s what we did after THAT that causes America to be a beacon of hope to the world.” But surely the “what we did after” is all about our fairly steady ability to course-correct, to self-examine, and to be unafraid that such self-awareness and objectiveness will undermine our national morale, as Giuliani seems to think.

    What I find curious about so many on the neocon right, like Giuliani, like Lindsey Graham too to a great extent, is their seeming lack of confidence in America, in American ideals, their only source of comfort American military might and military action rather than bedrock American principles. As Daniel Larison put it recently in the American Conservative, “the assumption seems to be that Americans are so feeble and easily discouraged that some partially critical statements will undermine their confidence unless they are balanced by even more heavy-handed statements of praise. Americans shouldn’t need the president to lead them in regular hand-holding sessions to tell them how great their country is. They should be able to cope without being shielded daily from the country’s flaws, and they ought to be able to manage without exposure to constant, ridiculous hosannas to how “exceptional” we are.”

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      That’s not fair to Lindsey — the part about “their only source of comfort American military might and military action rather than bedrock American principles.”

      Lindsey Graham is the guy who said all along that Iraq — to use an example — was a long and difficult haul with all sorts of things against us. He would go on and on about the need to foster basic civil institutions there, with honest courts impartially administering the rule of law. In other words, he believed that no amount of military might would heal Iraq after Saddam without the inculcation of “bedrock American principles.” Which was always going to be really, really hard. He saw it as a process that, even with everything going right, would take a generation. People needed to experience fair and honest government to believe in it.

      And of course, lots of people will say “You’ve got no business going into another country and trying to remake it in your image.” But once we had gone in and toppled Saddam, we had every obligation to try to make what followed as good as we could.

      But what we got was the Maliki government, which was partial to Shi’ites, and Iran flowing into the vacuum left by the U.S., and the rise of ISIL…

      1. Bryan Caskey

        “And of course, lots of people will say “You’ve got no business going into another country and trying to remake it in your image.” But once we had gone in and toppled Saddam, we had every obligation to try to make what followed as good as we could.

        But what we got was the Maliki government, which was partial to Shi’ites, and Iran flowing into the vacuum left by the U.S., and the rise of ISIL…”

        What we needed in Iraq after we toppled the government should have looked more like MacArthur in Japan in 1945.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Or the Marshall Plan…

          Instead, we got this race to get out as soon as possible and pretend that by doing so, we had undone our going in in the first place.

          The biggest beef I’ve had with my antiwar friends over the past 12 years is this: Argue all you want over whether we should have gone into Iraq. I’ll respect your opinion, and after we have that stimulating conversation, we can go on to discuss whether Caesar should have crossed the Rubicon, and other things that we can’t do anything about now.

          But once we had gone in and created a power vacuum, we were responsible for what filled it. It was grossly irresponsible to just pack up and leave and congratulate ourselves (as the president does) for having “ended the war.” Yeah, I get it that you WISH we hadn’t gone in, but once we did, the moral and responsible options were limited. And they did not include ditching the whole enterprise…

          1. Doug Ross

            You make the assumption that we have the power to fix Iraq. That’s where your argument fails. We can’t change a culture. We can’t magically reverse the ill will felt toward the U.S. just by throwing more money at Iraq. We can’t even fix our own country’s problems and yet you think we can fix a country on the other side of the globe?

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              I make no assumptions about our ability to do anything. I do make assertions about our obligation to try our best.

              Doug’s fatalism is a close match to many people’s attitude about public schools.

              Which is why, back in the day, I wrote a column about all the naysayers who said we should quit trying in Iraq, and the other naysayers who said we should give up on public schools, in order to make the point that no matter how hard it was — and it was, and is — we had to keep TRYING.

              The set of things that we should do is not limited to “things that are easy”…

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              That was of course my hamhanded attempt to shame people on the left by telling them that in wanting to give up on Iraq they were like the people on the right who wanted to give up on public education, and vice versa.

              Because you know how partisans HATE being like “those other people”…

            3. Doug Ross

              Because “we have to keep trying” whether it is in Iraq or in public schools doesn’t require YOU to do anything. You can keep trying to accomplish a futile mission or you can allocate resources where they can be be utilized more effectively. For Iraq, get out. For public schools, help those who want help.

              The dead horses you prefer to keep beating ain’t coming back. There will never be a fix to the poverty and the mindset that creates poor schools. And there will never be a fix to the religious fundamentalism and sectarian culture that permeates the Middle East.

            4. Brad Warthen Post author

              Saddam had a fix for it — a police state. Oppressive regimes can do wonders for intractable situations, which is why Yugoslavia wasn’t nearly the mess under Tito that it was after the Soviet Union fell.

              Trouble is, we don’t believe in oppressive regimes…

            5. Doug Ross

              Just because we don’t believe in oppressive regimes doesn’t mean we are obligated to fix them… we certainly don’t try to fix the tough ones. What makes Iraq more worthy of our tax dollars than North Korea? Oil? Israel? It’s not just about fixing oppression, is it?

            6. Mark Stewart

              We believe in Saudi Arabia. We are getting better over time, but we still back some regimes we should probably be actively undermining instead.

              In fact, the danger of the House of Saud falling is reason enough to support the Keystone XL pipeline. When we have other options, there is no reason why we should leave ourselves reliant on one of these regimes. We can work with them, for sure, but we should not have to convince ourselves that they are our “friends”.

      2. Doug Ross

        “Which was always going to be really, really hard. He saw it as a process that, even with everything going right, would take a generation.”

        We’re a half a generation in now. How’s it going?

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          You may not have noticed, we quit trying several years back. So the Iranian influence increased, and the Iraqi government was less and less fair to Sunnis, and ISIL took over a huge portion of the country, and we dithered while the Iranians plunged in to pump up the Shi-ite militias and further increase their influence, and things generally got worse.

          And then our SecDef held a summit among allies in Kuwait yesterday, which surprised everyone because it meant leaving his wife back in Washington at the mercy of Whisperin’ Joe Biden.

          OK, just kidding on the last part. Interesting thing, though — to find stories about Carter’s war council in Kuwait, I had to filter out the word “transgender” from my Google News search, because that was what most of the media are writing about with regard to Ashton Carter. Which kind shows you where our heads are at in America these days…

          1. Bryan Caskey

            I kinda thought this was the best thing the SECDEF has done so far:

            “Before meeting on Monday with top officials in Kuwait to discuss Islamic State threats, Carter banned the use of PowerPoint presentations ‘to challenge his commanders’ thinking,'”

            1. Doug Ross

              Too bad we can’t ban them in public schools. Powerpoints replaced actual writing when my kids were in school. Fonts + graphics = knowledge apparently.

          2. Doug Ross

            “You may not have noticed, we quit trying several years back”

            Oh, I notice we still have a huge unnecessary embassy in Iraq. And spend who knows how many millions there even today. Close the embassy, cut off the funding, bring everyone home and let them fight it out til they annihilate each other.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              “An unnecessary embassy?” So now you want to cut off diplomatic relations as well?

              I hesitate to ask this, since it seems likely that the answer will be “yes,” but just for the record, do you want to close all those other “unnecessary embassies” around the world, starting maybe with that big, expensive one at the Court of St. James’s?

              Is it OK if we keep the one in Bangkok open for the next three or four weeks? Just in case I get in trouble in Thailand and need a helping hand?

              Speaking of which — my daughter’s in Bangkok today for the Thai Youth Theater Festival. And I want to thank Doug again for his generous donation to that project, which just goes to show that he isn’t as much of a grumpy isolationist as he makes himself out to be… 🙂

            2. Doug Ross

              Close the ones in the places we are not welcome. If our citizens can’t travel there, we don’t need an embassy larger than a small post office there.

            3. Doug Ross

              And I’m not an isolationist, I’m a realist. I don’t want to go where I’m not wanted and I don’t want to break things so I have to pay even more to fix them.

            4. bud

              Doug I almost agree 100% with your comment except for the last part. I think that without our meddling they will sort it out much faster rather than annihilating each other. Our presence mostly serves as a catalyst for the violence. Without it some strong man will eventually prevail and some degree of order will be established. That’s essentially what happened in Iran. Hate them if you must but there isn’t a huge amount of carnage there like there is in Iraq.

      3. bud

        Lindsey Graham is the guy who said all along that Iraq — to use an example — was a long and difficult haul with all sorts of things against us. He believed that no amount of military might would heal Iraq after Saddam ”without the inculcation of “bedrock American principles.” (quotes added)

        Let’s not mince words here. IF Lindsey really believes that (Brad certainly does) then what we have here is a perfect example of IMPERIALISTIC COLONIALIZATION. It’s pretty simple really, Brad and perhaps Lindsey want to convert another country, starting with a MILITARY invasion, into an American outpost. How can you interpret that sentence ANY OTHER WAY. Perhaps “bedrock American principals” are not what the people of Iraq want. And that’s the problem. We are somehow trying to “civilize” those people. This is not the Marshall Plan in the middle east. It’s conquest. And it blew up in our face in a spectacular fashion.

        All you folks in the neo-con camp can continue with this Pollyannish belief that if we had only stayed in Iraq 5, 10 or 20 years they would have become ‘enlightened’ by our superior way of viewing the world. History suggests otherwise. Remember, we had the Shah doing our bidding for 20 years in Iran and it ultimately failed. Now we view them as an enemy. The British tried in all sort of places, Iraq (1923), South Africa, India, and all ultimately had to find their own way with their own values.

        Let’s at least be honest about what Iraq REALLY was. Brad has let a bit of light shine on his true beliefs on the matter. Defend that belief if you must but do so in an honest, forthright manner without all this jingoistic nonsense about draining swamps and comparing the ME to post WW 2 Europe. This was a conquest, mostly about oil, and the welfare of the Iraqi people wasn’t really much of a consideration. If it was Donald Rumsfeld would have never been seen shaking hands with Saddam Hussein at the very time he was gassing his own people. Sometimes facts can be damning things. In this case they damn sure are.

      4. M.Prince

        There you go toting water for Lindsey again, Mr. Warthen. Now, just to be clear, I don’t think the senior senator from Seneca is the worst of his stripe on Capitol Hill – though that’s not saying much, I’m afraid. But there is some merit to the criticism that he’s not always shown proper respect for American principles or ideals. I take as an example his view of the revelations about domestic spying by the NSA. His response was, “If you got nothing to hide, you got nothing to fear.” That sort of blithe dismissal of the creeping excesses of the national security state demonstrates little to no confidence in American resilience – the kind of resilience that holds fast to American freedoms even in the face of threat.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Well, I may not use such a flippant expression, but his attitude and mine are pretty much the same when it comes to the “shocking” revelations of Edward Snowden.

          Expressions about what I think of all that can be found here and here. And here….

          1. M.Prince

            Actually, the previous posts you reference do sound rather flippant, even snide. Definitely not among your best. They consist mainly of ad hominem attacks on Snowden actions (and the language he uses) rather than a serious consideration of the larger issues. It’s quite possible – though you don’t attempt it – to separate those issues from Snowden himself. Especially since he was not the first to raise them and those who did have included other former members of the national security apparatus who did not leave the country.

  7. M.Prince

    As someone who actually supported the going into Iraq, I have to say (again) that I disagree with those who say, as you do, that we should’ve made an open-ended commitment to staying. In the past you’ve referenced the so-called “Pottery Barn Rule” (You broke it, you fix it.) Well, there’s something to that, of course. We owed it to the Iraqis to help them get their country up and running again. BUT there are limits to our liability. The problem with your view is that it doesn’t accept that there is one. To draw on the Pottery Barn analogy, your view appears to be that we should not only fix or replace what we broke, but fix or replace everything that was broken before we entered the store — as well as everything other folks broke, including stuff the store owners and staff broke — and kept on breaking while we were busy trying to fix what was already broken. Plus, while trying to fix that stuff, we also kept bumping into other stuff and breaking that, too. So at some point it’s best we get our big hind end out of the store. Instead, send some glue and instructions, maybe some experts at fixing stuff and whatnot, but don’t hang around trying to fix it all ourselves.

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