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"The Myth of Moral Superiority"

American policy-makers have been making preposterous statements and dreadful decisions for many decades, and especially recently, and a thoughtful person has to wonder what causes such behavior. This may be a helpful clue -- they have been believing the myth of moral superiority. Andy Rooney cries out, from time to time, "Don't forget, we're the good guys here!" It seems to justify remarkably stupid and remarkably harmful policies.

Consider the American arsenal of nuclear weapons. One can wonder why we have them and why we have so many. Everyone remembers, or has heard of, Albert Einstein's letter to FDR, that Hitler's scientists may be on the track of a nuclear explosion, which could become a war weapon. I was just thinking -- say it's 1942, and suppose Hitler could have one by 1944. How would the overall situation be improved if the U.S. had one, or several? It's a crime and a disaster if any one ever goes off, isn't it? Isn't it so, even still, more than sixty years later? So how did we get fooled into thinking that it would be a good and worthwhile thing for us to have one, or several, or several thousand? We were tricked into such insanity by the myth of our moral superiority.

Hitler was a bad person. But we are not bad. We are good people -- in fact, the myth says, we are better than most people. The problem is this -- it isn't true. We are not good people. We are not better than other people. In fact a case could be made out that any country founded on genocide and slavery, which ours was, must be made up of not-good people. Moral superiority, in the light of all that, is ridiculous. But the myth persists.

Some fail to see how incongruous it is, that we have thousands of nuclear weapons, in gross violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which we have ratified, while at the same time we are badly lathered up that Iran may be working on getting one, some years from now. Iranians are bad people, we think. They have no business resenting or even remembering our overthrow and murder of their president, Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. We are good people, the myth insists. We can be trusted to use the bomb in a good way -- [?][!] -- but they cannot.

And still the myth persists. Two instances of it surfaced recently.

[a] The winners of a high school competition of some sort were invited to the White House for a recognition ceremony. Two of the winners prepared a letter for the acting president, and by happenstance, found opportunity to hand it to him. He began to read it. It was appealing to him to close Guantanamo and end the practice of torture. He read a few lines, and stopped and looked the young ladies in the face and said, as he handed the letter back, "We don't torture."

But we do torture. The evidence is incontrovertible, and piled up in huge quantities. Abu Graib, Guantanamo, Padilla, kidnaping, rendition, the labeling of the Geneva Convention prohibitions as "quaint" -- the only way to ignore all that evidence is to believe the myth of U.S. moral superiority, to the point of believing and saying, "Whatever we do is good, so torture is not torture, when we do it."

[b] A prominent pro-war candidate for president was being interviewed on a television news/talk show. "We should be worried about China," he said.
"Why should we be worried?"
"They're thinking of building aircraft carriers?"
"Is that bad?"
"We don't want Chinese aircraft carriers off the coast of Africa."
"Why not?"
"They would be intimidating to the people of Africa."
"What about our aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf?" the newsman asked.
"Oh, we don't intimidate." With a straight face, really meaning it, the candidate said that.

Why would anyone build an aircraft carrier, if he didn't intend to intimidate someone else? The only way a person could make such a ridiculous assertion as, "We don't intimidate," after our active participation in government overthrows in Iran, Guatemala, Congo, Chile, Panama and Iraq, just to name a few, is through believing in the myth of U.S. moral superiority. But all those dead people testify to the falsehood.

Renunciation of the myth, and then reparations, could be first steps in rectifying what has become a very serious world crisis. It has become the U.S. versus the rest of the world.

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Copyright © 2007 Harry Willson

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