Thursday, July 31, 2014
What's wrong with normal?
Odds are that I'll never see the movie -- I don't see many documentaries to begin with, and, given what I know about D'Souza's intellectual laziness, his films are unlikely to make the short list of the ones I do see -- but it sounds like his premise involves a lot of flag-waving and we're so special the whole world wants to be us nonsense. In other words, typical American jingoism and tautological reasoning, i.e., we're the best and the brightest and have never done anything to be ashamed of because we are the best and the brightest and have never done anything to be ashamed of. (I guess D'Souza's reading of American history glossed right over the bundles of smallpox-infected blankets handed out by Indian agents, Jim Crow laws, the Japanese internment camps, the Tuskegee experiments, and other skeletons in our collective closet. Every country, just like every person, has something in its past that inspires a wince and retrospective regret.)
In any case, I happened to catch D'Souza's dog and pony show while I've been reading a remarkably depressing book called Backfire. Backfire, which was published in 1984, makes the case that the reason we screwed up so badly in Vietnam is because too many people in this country, from the President on down to the ordinary person in the street, have internalized the myth of American exceptionalism. We are the shining city on the hill, the ideal, the model of a country that everyone else wants to emulate. And because we are that shining city, we're obligated to try to fix other countries' problems. We are supposed to stand as a bulwark against Evil with a capital E. In the 1960's we were standing strong against Communism. Because we are that shining city, we can do no wrong. We're not allowed to be like other countries; we have apparently become (at least in the minds of way too many people) the only thing that stands between Ultimate Evil and all that is good and true in the world. It is an extremely Manichean view of the world with, of course, the United States being on the side of Light. The fact that a big chunk of the world tends to view the U.S. as having gone over to the Dark side of the force quite a few administrations ago is, of course, irrelevant to D'Souza and his ilk -- after all, who really cares what the less enlightened peoples think? We know what's best for them; they need to just shut up and let us tell them what to do.
The book is remarkably depressing because, among other things, the more I read the more I had a "Christ on a crutch we haven't learned a damn thing!" response. The examples the author provided of the numerous ways we blew it in Vietnam could have been researched and written last year about the debacle in Iraq or the never ending headache that is Afghanistan. Backfire describes the American military's love affair with technology, its over-reliance on heavy bombing, napalm, defoliants, and other technical "solutions" to a military problem while choosing to ignore the fact that when you're fighting an insurgency all those killing-at-a-distance solutions do is create more insurgents. Fast forward 50 years to Afghanistan, Yemen, and other locations in the Arab world: every drone strike is a recruiting wet dream for the Taliban and/or Al Qaeda. Does that register at all with the Pentagon or the idiots in the White House? No.
But that's a digression. Back to D'Souza. After doing a lot of talking that effectively demonstrated an appalling lack of a knowledge of American history, he came out with a line that managed to startle even me. You know what his big fear is? That the United States will turn into a "normal" country, one that doesn't feel the need to serve as the world's policeman. That we'll become diminished by allowing President Obama to lure us into to becoming like . . . brace yourself; this is a frightening prospect. . . Canada.
You got it. Canada. The fate worse than death that D'Souza fears the evil Kenyan socialist in the White House is leading us into is normalcy, becoming like Canada, a country that doesn't feel obligated to meddle in other countries' affairs. Canada, a country with a collective reputation for being "nice." Canada, home of Tim Horton's coffee shops, hockey, and decent beer.
But Canada as the epitome of what we shouldn't be? Words fail me.