Are Americans Really Morally Superior to Everyone Else?

By @CarFreeStpdty

Listening to NPR’s Morning Edition – like I do on a routine basis while at work – has become just one more element in the background of white noise that fills my average day. But yesterday morning someone’s comments caught my attention in an unusual way. One quote stuck in my mind… playing itself over and over again. It wasn’t the shear stupidity of the statement.. but the brazen belief that we – Americans – operate on such a different plane of moral existence than all the rest of mankind. America = pure moral good… the rest of the earth = a world constantly on the search for a way to circumvent the rules of a civilized existence. We of course never cheat, never lie, never try to game the system while our foreign adversaries never do anything but exhibit such behavior. They – whoever we decide to define as that foreign element – that we are currently battling with never play by the rules. Of course the rules are those that we impose, err… unanimously decide upon.

The story Morning Edition featured detailed the tricky legality of Cyber Warfare… as if any warfare can be contained by the niceties of some wishful legal framework.

The quote, in reference to the emerging legal rules of cyber warfare was as follows:

“It is a near certainty that the United States will scrupulously obey whatever is written down, and it is almost as certain that no one else will,” says Stewart Baker, a former NSA general counsel and an assistant secretary of homeland security under President George W. Bush.

Because… you know… we would never violate the Geneva Convention

– or at least try to slyly circumnavigate it – we would never try to enact policies that violate our own Constitution, or basic rights as citizens, we would never put personal gain above moral righteousness and the public good, etc, etc, etc, etc. Because… well… we’re Americans dammit, and no matter how many time we fuck up we are still morally unimpeachable as a nation. So… cyber warfare… we are obviously the only ones that will stay within the bounds of the law on that one…

  1. The Polish Wolf

    Well it is the first Glenn Beck principle : America is Good. If its a principle, it can’t be wrong, you know.

    I mean, to be fair, we sometimes try to punish those who violate the Geneva conventions…provided they are sufficiently low-ranking, of course.

  2. Who are you, masked man? Your observations have a wisdom about them that is refreshing, is if you are looking at old things in a new way. I think the logical next question is this: Do citizens of other nations also look at themselves as exceptions to the general rules of human behavior?

    I haven’t traveled enough to know. But I do suspect this much: Citizens of imperialist nations behave and think differently than those of ordinary countries. We are taught that our evil is actually cloaked goodness, a burden we must bear. So what if millions of Iraqis have died at our hands! Our intentions are honorable.

    • The Polish Wolf

      Imperialists do think differently – they actually think about the rest of the world. Based on my experiences, they think more about their regions than the world as whole – the Portuguese think about Spain (and Brazil), Ukrainians and Poles think about Germany and Russia, etc. The assumption is that the rest of the world is none of their concern.

      In Portugal, they tend to see the US as hubristic and hypocritical; in Poland, they have a more messianic view of America. Ukraine is obviously split depending on what language you speak and which Viktor you voted for.

      That’s my limited experience.

    • CFS

      Thanks for sarcasm Mr T… A blackbirds post wouldn’t be the same without you.

  3. The Lynndie England photo… There is more to England’s role in Abu Ghraib than we have ever been led to believe. It’s a much more tragic, much more nuanced story than could be crammed into the nightly news hour (or, most newspapers for that matter).

    • Big Swede

      Yeah Dugnaz, if the truth be known Lynndie dragged that prisoner outside and had him stoned, in an effort not to be morally superior.

      • BS, if you’d listened to the piece I linked to it talks about how Lynndie England was an underachiever, a girl not too smart, and a girl in love with — wait for it — her superior officer. I do not blame her for anything. I pity the poor girl, and wish that the people behind water boarding prisoners (Dick, Paul, etc.) were punished as they deserve.

        But thanks for putting in absolutely no effort–like the leadership you help elect.

    • Ingemar Johansson

      Ya, I heard Lynndie dragged him outside and stoned him.

      Ya know, to be morally equivalent.

      • Ingemar Johansson


        Can’t ya get me a better avatar than that?

        • With a name like Ingemar Johansson? I’m sorry but pink is perfect!


          • Ingemar Johansson

            Ya, you can laugh.

            But it still looks like my avatar Ike Turnered your avatar’s a$$

            • JC

              You can get your own avatar by getting a wordpress account and setting up the “gravatar” and it will follow you to whatever blog that you comment on (when you login to the site), that accepts gravatars. That’s what I do.

              Though you do look pretty in pink. ;-)

              And Wulfgar’s purple avatar reminds me of the gogol bordello song “Start wearing purple:”

              “Start wearing purple wearing purple
              Start wearing purple for me now
              All your sanity and wits they will all vanish
              I promise, it’s just a matter of time…”

    • CFS

      There is a lot more to the story than the photo… I would hope we all know that by now. Something along the lines of a systematic failure in leadership and having our shit together + take advantage of the person in a position that doesn’t matter to the organization that was just doing what everyone else in organization was getting away with.

  4. mr benson

    This is one of those “hate america first” posts that the clueless left is famous for.

    Yeah, we could be one of those noble savage countries that puts homosexuals to death or cuts the noses off women. Or, we could have Lenin and Stalin as our George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

    We have not found the alternative to consumerism, yet. But I think we are getting there. Otherwise, in my lifetime:

    Equal rights for women, the civil rights movement, the Americans with disabilities act, protections for the environment, real movement towards civil rights for gays and lesbians, the rebuilding of our former enemies’ countries, the triumph of capitalism and democracy in South Korea, the defeat and discrediting of communism, eradication of polio.

    Yes, I do believe in American exceptionalism. Proudly.

    • Ingemar Johansson

      “Homosexuals to death”???

      Their dog collars just got caught on the gate.

    • CFS

      This isn’t a “hate America first” post. It’s pointing out someone’s idea about how America operates that is utterly unattainable. While Americans have accomplished many great things we are not perfect, infallible, nor morally superior and it annoys me when people, especially those in important positions, have their blinders on as to our nature. American exceptionalism is the antithesis to the basis of classical conservative belief regarding man as a flawed, fallen creature that, when left to our own devices is greedy and self serving…. But I guess we’re different.

      Should I sit in my ivory tour and bitch about the behavior of “noble savage”countries I know little about. Would pointing out the flaws, moral laxities, and hate crimes in the “other” make me a good little patriot? Someone you could cheer for as I point out how despicable, dastardly, and dishonest those Arabs are so you can feel good in your moral superiority and once again reaffirm your idea that America’s boot in some other countries ass is the natural order of things?

      I bet you get a raging hard-on when you see clips of muzzle flash and tracer fire emanating from a good ‘ol American m-16.

      • The Polish Wolf

        Wait a second…I think I might have just read a balanced opinion of American moral standing –

        “While Americans have accomplished many great things we are not perfect, infallible, nor morally superior ”

        Where has that been in the past weeks? I would have thought from this blog that America has been a plague on the earth for the past 200 years, or that it is a nation not of men, but of angels. I think perspective is important on both sides – realize our fallibility so we can keep checks on our worst tendencies, and realize our achievements so we don’t lose faith in our ability to do good in the world.

        • lizard19

          Where has that been in the past weeks? I would have thought from this blog that America has been a plague on the earth for the past 200 years, or that it is a nation not of men, but of angels. I think perspective is important on both sides – realize our fallibility so we can keep checks on our worst tendencies, and realize our achievements so we don’t lose faith in our ability to do good in the world.

          where have you been? why don’t you look at ALL the posts. j-girl has one about montana troops being deployed, and one highlighting a bozeman resolution to support same sex couples. problembear has one up about payday predators, and the first comment is one of support from a sane conservative (and that same sane conservative had his comment front paged). and i have been highlighting american poets and their achievements.

          i get you have a hard-on for american intervention. even though we can’t even take care of our own people, you want america to be the global cop. you don’t understand imperialism, that much is clear. and now you want to take a few critical posts and try and tar and feather this blog.

          i don’t think it’s going to work, but have at us, wolf. it’s still a relatively free country, right?

          • The Polish Wolf

            Whoa Liz, cool it. I’m not trying to ‘tar and feather’ anyone. I’m just saying that of late, in the blog posts that garnered extensive comment, opinions have been rather, shall we say, polarized?

            And as for my hard on for American interventionism – I have spoken in favor of one intervention that is trying to finish something we started 9 years ago and which most of the world agreed was justified. I have also spoken in hindsight in favor of WWII. I’m still waiting for any evidence that US inaction in that war would have led to a better outcome, for us or for the world. I suppose I also spoke in favor of intervening in the Yugoslav wars. Considering the 2 American combat deaths and thousands of Albanians and Bosnians who were likely saved, I’ll stand by that one too. If that means I have a hard on for intervention, most Americans must cum watching the evening news.

            • lizard19

              polarizing topics garner more comments. yep. very astute observation.

              i merely pointed out there are other posts, like one acknowledging the actual deployment of actual montanans going to a real war where there’s a good chance they might die, or kill others, or get maimed, and if they are quote “lucky” they will come home, possibly with PTSD (which is a clinical way of saying all fucked up) because we, as a country are fighting terrorists/spreading democracy/saving women from the taliban rah rah rah.

              if you believe that what we’re doing is so noble and necessary, wolf, why don’t you go to your local recruiter and sign on up.

              as for yugoslavia, i suggest you keep yourself open to different possibilities. check out this video

              because i don’t think you have a clue about what’s really going on.

              • The Polish Wolf

                When the army was trying to recruit me, George Bush was president and we were fighting in Iraq (I wish that alone was enough evidence as to when I graduated high school). And if I thought I could do more with a gun than with pen and paper, you bet I’d sign up. But frankly,I have (and lack) experience and skills such that I can contribute more to my country as a civilian than as a soldier. I have the utmost respect for our soldiers, but writing a post about their deployment hardly qualifies as extolling the virtues of America (though it did deserve to be noted.)

                Regarding your film – it does look interesting, but you have to keep in mind that it was made by a Serbian film maker. So to even out that perspective, I suggest you read several books: “How We Survived Communism, and Even Laughed”, as well as “Cafe Europa”, by Slavenka Drakulic, will give you the perspective of what Yugoslavia meant to a Croatian woman, a rather harsher position than a Serbian man. Also read “Love Thy Neighbor : A Story of War” by Peter Maass, a journalist during the Bosnia conflict.

                I respect your viewpoint, but it’s not the only one and its not necessarily less biased than the ‘mainstream’ or ‘Imperialist’ one. Read Chomsky, Huntington, and Hirsi Ali all together, and you’ll open your mind. Read only one (regardless of which) and you’ll get stuck in a rut.

              • lizard19

                so why do you think america intervened in yugoslavia? do you think it has anything to do with our continued imperial posturing against russia? and why build a huge base in kosovo, camp bondsteel (built and run by KBR)?

                the surface-level justification for our intervention is NOT the real intention behind using our military resources. if you take those justifications at face value, you are being naive.

            • …which most of the world agreed was justified.


              • The Polish Wolf

                Even Iran was willing to help us in Afghanistan immediately following 9/11 –

                Russia, the Central Asian Republics, all of them saw our actions as justified and most offered some kind of aid. NATO agreed that it was an attack that warranted mutual defense. So yes, most of the world that had any kind of opinion or stake agreed it was justified. Note I use the past tense.

              • Thought you were talking about Iraq. My mistake.

                I do not think the attacked on Afghanistan was justified then, or now. Nor do I think we were told the truth about the reasons for it, otherwise, we would have long ago left.

          • The Polish Wolf

            And Liz – CFS is one of y’all! If I wanted to tar and feather your blog, I wouldn’t start by complimenting your contributors.

            • The Polish Wolf

              It happens again – I can’t reply directly, Liz, the column is too thin. I don’t believe the US was merely trying to protect human rights – though I wish it would. But the *effect* was a better outcome than no action. We should have intervened earlier, in the early 90’s. Instead we let a hundred thousand people die (that’s equal to Iraq, by the way. Sins of omission, sins of commission). In a Democratic society, the story that convinces the crowd is as important as the real reason, because both rationales make action possible.

              And now its joke time! (This is from one of the books I referred you to, by Maass) – Two Bosnians are digging foxholes during the siege of Sarajevo. One says to the other: “Hey buddy, I think that’s deep enough.” The other replies “Yes, but I’m hoping that if I strike oil, the Americans will care enough to intervene.”

              • The Polish Wolf

                Correction – I was comparing total Bosnia deaths to civilian Iraq deaths. Civilian Bosnian deaths were about 50,000 – no one counted iraqi military dead.

            • When it gets too thin, just say “see below” and go to the bottom.

              I have long been curious about Bosnia and the breakup of Yugoslavia, of which Clinton’s aggressive attack on Kosovo was part. We did secure bases there, and the bases do oversee movement of oil from the Central Asian fields.

              But in the larger picture, Bosnia was merely part of a much larger projection of military power by the US into the vacuum created by the contraction of the USSR. It was ‘on the table’, as were the ‘stans of Asia, and most importantly, Iraq, which though not a Soviet satellite, did rest in the shadow.

              The Soviets imploded in 89/90, and we attacked Iraq in 91. No coincidence, probably.

              • The Polish Wolf

                Those dang central Asian oil fields seem to be a lot bigger than I thought – what with stretching from
                Afghanistan to Croatia. There’s already a land route from the Caspian to W. Europe – it’s called Romania and Bulgaria. And Kosovo doesn’t make that route any easier – it just makes it harder by pissing off Serbia (Montenegro, on the other hand, does allow us to bypass Serbia, if we had some strange affinity for hugging the Adriatic.) Kosova/Bosnia neither secure oil for ourselves (no Caspian country is even on the top 15 sources of US oil), nor can we restrict access to our rivals.

                That’s not to say its unrelated to the Cold War – the US was pointing out that the world order was set, and that the USSR could no longer restrict us from imposing our rules on those who weren’t our friends. Ethnic cleansing and invading other nations were both against those (selectively applied) rules. If every country taking part in ethnic cleansing or invading another nation was held to those rules, the world would be a more peaceful place. Sadly, there’s five countries who are immune, a couple other hangers-on to those countries, and a whole continent no one cares about.

                And Beantown – you may not agree that Afghanistan was justified, but international opinion disagrees. And you really thought I supported Iraq? Really? Have I ever said anything to that effect?

        • to paraphrase something wendell barry wrote once pw….. it isn’t the country that we are disappointed in. it’s the idiots at the top of our government.

          i never confuse love of country with government. government governs because we let it govern. and when it doesn’t govern well, we fire it.

          i owe nothing to government except taxes and my votes.

          our differences are not because we don’t love our country. everybody who comments or posts here does or they wouldn’t be motivated to try to make it better.

          the difference that you speak of is in the we and the our that we talk about. you support the we who run the government much more than i do.

          but we both love our country.

    • lizard19

      guess who is not proud of this country’s behavior. Paul Craig Roberts, former undersecretary of the treasury under Reagan, former editor of the WSJ, and now marginalized for the shift in his opinions regarding American exceptionalism. here is a chunk from his piece today:

      In hopes that I will be permitted to make a point, permit me to acknowledge that the US dropped nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities, fire-bombed Tokyo, that Great Britain and the US fire-bombed Dresden and a number of other German cities, expending more destructive force, according to some historians, against the civilian German population than against the German armies, that President Grant and his Civil War war criminals, Generals Sherman and Sheridan, committed genocide against the Plains Indians, that the US today enables Israel’s genocidal policies against the Palestinians, policies that one Israeli official has compared to 19th century US genocidal policies against the American Indians, that the US in the new 21st century invaded Iraq and Afghanistan on contrived pretenses, murdering countless numbers of civilians, and that British prime minister Tony Blair lent the British army to his American masters, as did other NATO countries, all of whom find themselves committing war crimes under the Nuremberg standard in lands in which they have no national interests, but for which they receive an American pay check.

      I don’t mean these few examples to be exhaustive. I know the list goes on and on. Still, despite the long list of horrors, moral degradation is reaching new lows. The US now routinely tortures prisoners, despite its strict illegality under US and international law, and a recent poll shows that the percentage of Americans who approve of torture is rising. Indeed, it is quite high, though still just below a majority.

      And we have what appears to be a new thrill: American soldiers using the cover of war to murder civilians. Recently American troops were arrested for murdering Afghan civilians for fun and collecting trophies such as fingers and skulls.

      This revelation came on the heels of Pfc. Bradley Manning’s alleged leak of a US Army video of US soldiers in helicopters and their controllers thousands of miles away having fun with joy sticks murdering members of the press and Afghan civilians. Manning is cursed with a moral conscience that has been discarded by his government and his military, and Manning has been arrested for obeying the law and reporting a war crime to the American people.

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