On reading The Imperial Appetite
Submitted by Patrick D.Hazard, Feb 8, 2008 12:03
The Puritan rhetoric (our City on the Hill syndrome) which has kept median Americans from realizing how imperialistic we've covertly been , in the last century especially,makes our interface with the competing imperiums of the twenty-first century difficult to negotiate. I first notice this whistling in the dark that night in 1957 when I was celebrating getting my PhD in American Civilization. The metropolitan press was full of ad exec Fairfax Cone's reassurances that we need not fear an impending recession because America was still the All Time Hit on Humanities Hit Parade. As recently as last night, Mitt Romney sealed his abdication speech with the by now boilerplate assurance that America remains the greatest civilization in the history.
This infantile narcissism amuses thoughtful Europans no end, I've observed in my first decade as an exPat. I finally got. it. This is me protests too much reflex is a dangerous psychiatric tick.. The embarrassing disparities between our official ideals and our initial Amerind genocide and continuing corruption of black slavery persuaded us to assume this mask of the Greatest Ever. In what Studs Terkel has shrewdly called these United States of Amnesia, the yawning gaps between quotidien realities and our high fallutin' self image means that in a literal sense most Americans are schizophrenic.
Mark Twain and William Dean Howells railed against the first emergence of extra-continental American imperialism during the Spanish American War, but Hearst's sanctimoniously sanitized media version prevailed.Later our Marine's fronting for United Fruit anticipates the cruel ironies of today's Blackwater. Ask your average American how many military bases we have in the world, and they will be skeptical about those not immediately involved in an out and out war.Depending on how you define them, they approach a thousand!
If we are to stop stumbling into serial moral and economic disasters like Vietnam and the multiple Midlle East entanglements, the country is going to have to go through an intellectual makeover. Russia and China no longer tolerate our supremacist malarkey. It would be helpful if Hillary and Barack had the courage to begin to straighten us out in the impending election. Four centuries of deluding ourselves is a hard row to re-hoe. Patrick D.Hazard, Weimar, Germany.
Submitted by Patrick D.Hazard, Feb 13, 2008 10:26
I've just now had a chance to read "Frankly Speaking". It is a very thoughtful response for which I am grateful. If I gave the impression of smug condescension from my temporary German roost, I am truly sorry because my convictions are 180 degrees from such a slant. Incidentally, I'm here in Germany to write a book on the historical status of the idealism of the Bauhaus as well as its present influence. I have asserted on more than one occasion that the Germans have done a much better job of owning up to their cataclysmic failures, especially in the twentieth century, than, say, the Japanese or Russians. As a professor of American Lit I know very well how often our major writers warned us of subverting our own values, and, indeed, how widely our great writers have been ignored, even vilified. I am a committed believer in American meliorism. That is why I deplore that historical tick by which we try to ignore our historical failings by mouthing inanely infantile slogans about America as the greatest country in the history of the world. Only psychotic narcissists talk such piffle. The true task of the American clerisy is to put more and more common Americans in fuller and fuller possession of our tradition of meliorism. I'm grateful to "The Sun" for allowing me to clarify my position. Patrick D.Hazard, Weimar, Germany.
Submitted by Patrick D.Hazard, Feb 21, 2008 03:00
Dear Mr. Smith: I came not to bury American Exceptionalism but to raise it:-- from Ideals to Realities. I used to tell my American Lit students that a citizenry that didn't read its great writers slowly loses its collective mind.. That is my sad prognosis of where we now are. Had they injected themselves with Walt and Emily, Melville and Twain, they'd be intellectually healthy, striving without rancor to close the gap between American dreaminess and quotidien reality.
As for patriotism, I enlisted in the U.S.Navy on my seventeenth birthday in 1944 and have spent a life helping people understand the sad reality behind sometimes guiltily puerile rantings--such as that we are the greatest country in the history of the world--Senator Arlen Spector (Rep., PA) brought Exceptionalism up to date this December at the annual Pennsylvania hootenanny at the Waldorf Astoria. Silly twaddle, from a normally thoughtful senator.
As for my European meanness, I'm in Weimar to write a book on the idealism of the Bauhaus. My heart remains in Philly, where I've made my home for the past 50 years, in a pioneer integrated community, trying my bit to make American life exceptionally better little bit by little bit. Patrick D. Hazard.