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The nobility of the "defender of freedom" is also standard intellectual fare. Thus, according to Michael Howard, Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford, "For 200 years the United States has preserved almost unsullied the original ideals of the Enlightenment: the belief in the God-given rights of the individual, the inherent rights of free assembly and free speech, the blessings of free enterprise, the perfectibility of man, and, above all, the universality of these values." In this nearly ideal society, the influence of elites is "quite limited." But the world, he laments, does not appreciate this magnificence: "the United States does not enjoy the place in the world that it should have earned through its achievements, its generosity, and its goodwill since World War II"11 -- as illustrated in such contemporary paradises as Indochina, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, El Salvador and Guatemala, to mention a few of the many candidates, just as belief in the "God-given rights of the individual" and the "universality" of this doctrine for 200 years is illustrated by a century of literal human slavery and effective disenfranchisement of Blacks for another century, genocidal assaults on the native population, the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos at the turn of the century, of millions of Indochinese, of some 200,000 Central Americans in the past decade, and a host of other examples. Again, mere fact is an irrelevance in the domain of pure thought.
To take another example from the field of scholarship, consider the study of the "Vietnam trauma" by Paul Kattenburg, one of the few early dissenters on Vietnam within the U.S. government and now Jacobson Professor of Public Affairs at the University of South Carolina.12 Kattenburg is concerned to identify the "salient features central to the American tradition and experience which have made the United States perform its superpower role in what we might term a particularistic way." He holds that "principles and ideals hold a cardinal place in the U.S. national ethos and crucially distinguish U.S. performance in the superpower role." These principles and ideals were "laid down by the founding fathers, those pure geniuses of detached contemplation," and were "refined by subsequent leading figures of thought and action" from John Adams to Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. The principles were "tested and retested in the process of settling the continent, healing the North-South breach, developing the economy from the wilderness in the spirit of free enterprise, and fighting World Wars I and II, not so much for interests as for the survival of the very principles by which most Americans were guiding their lives."
It is this unique legacy that explains the way Americans act "in the superpower role," which they approached "devoid of artifice or deception," with "the mind set of an emancipator":
In such a mind set, one need not feel or act superior, or believe one is imposing one's ethos or values on others, since one senses naturally that others cannot doubt the emancipator's righteous cause anymore than his capacities. In this respect, the American role as superpower, particularly in the early postwar years, is very analogous to the role that can be attributed to a professor, mentor, or other type of emancipator.
Thus, "the professor is obviously capable" and "he is clearly disinterested." "Moreover, like the American superpower, the professor does not control the lives or destinies of his students; they remain free to come or go." "It will help us understand America's performance and psychology as a superpower, and the whys and wherefores of its Indochina involvement, if we bear in mind this analogy of the American performance in the superpower role with that of the benevolent but clearly egocentric professor, dispensing emancipation through knowledge of both righteousness and the right way to the deprived students of the world."
This is not intended as irony or caricature, but is presented seriously, is taken seriously, and is not untypical of what we find in the literature, not at the lunatic fringe, but at the respectable and moderately dissident end of the mainstream spectrum. That being the case, it is only natural that James Reston, long the leading political thinker of the New York Times, should say at his retirement that "I don't think there's anything in the history of the world to compare with the commitments this country has taken in defense of freedom." While at his post, Reston had performed yeoman service in the cause of freedom, as when he took pride in the U.S. contribution to the huge slaughter in Indonesia in 1965, and explained in properly somber tones, as U.S. military force was demolishing what was left of the South Vietnamese countryside in late 1967, that this was being done "on the principle that military power shall not compel South Vietnam to do what it does not want to do," out of our loyalty to "the deepest conviction of Western civilization," namely, that "the individual belongs not to the state but to his Creator," and thus has rights that "no magistrate or political force may violate."13
The official doctrine as provided by government spokesmen, the media, political commentary, and a broad range of scholarship is illustrated, for example, in the report of the National Bipartisan (Kissinger) Commission on Central America: "The international purposes of the United States in the late twentieth century are cooperation, not hegemony or domination; partnership, not confrontation; a decent life for all, not exploitation." Walter Laqueur and Charles Krauthammer write that "Unlike the Soviet Union, the U.S. does not want to convert anyone to a specific political, social, or economic system." Samuel Huntington informs us that "The overall effect of American power on other societies was to further liberty, pluralism, and democracy... The conflict between American power and American principles virtually disappears when it is applied to the American impact on other societies." Krauthammer, a much-respected neoliberal, assures us further that every U.S. President from FDR to LBJ aimed at "promotion abroad of both freedom and world order," a mission revived in the Reagan Doctrine, which provided a "coherent policy" of support for those who "are risking their lives on every continent from Afghanistan to Nicaragua to defy Soviet-supported aggression" (Ronald Reagan, quoted with admiration and approval), and which committed the U.S. not only to freedom and human rights, but also to constructing American-style sociopolitical systems in the Third World -- though without wanting "to convert anyone to a specific political social, or economic system," consistency being as important as fact for the vocation of the commissar.14
These conventions are so widely observed that further citation is unnecessary. A notable feature throughout is the lack of any felt need to justify the flattering doctrine that in the Third World, the U.S. has sought only to thwart the Russians and their totalitarian goals while upholding its lofty principles as best it can in these grim and trying circumstances. The reasoning is that of NSC 68: these are necessary truths, established by conceptual analysis alone. Scholars who profess a tough-minded "realistic" outlook, scorning sentimentality and emotion, are willing to concede that the facts of history hardly illustrate the commitment of the United States to, as Hans Morgenthau puts it, its "transcendent purpose" -- "the establishment of equality in freedom in America," and indeed throughout the world, since "the arena within which the United States must defend and promote its purpose has become world-wide." But the facts are irrelevant, because, as Morgenthau hastens to explain, to adduce them is "to confound the abuse of reality with reality itself." Reality is the unachieved "national purpose" revealed by "the evidence of history as our minds reflect it," while the actual historical record is merely the abuse of reality, an insignificant artifact.15 The conventional understanding is therefore self-justifying, immune to external critique.
Though the sophistication of traditional theology is lacking, the similarity of themes and style is striking. It reveals the extent to which worship of the state has become a secular religion for which the intellectuals serve as priesthood. The more primitive sectors of Western culture go further, fostering forms of idolatry in which such sacred symbols as the flag become an object of forced veneration, and the state is called upon to punish any insult to them and to compel children to pledge their devotion daily, while God and State are almost indissolubly linked in public ceremony and discourse, as in James Reston's musings on our devotion to the will of the Creator. It is perhaps not surprising that such crude fanaticism rises to such an extreme in the United States, as an antidote for the unique freedom from state coercion that has been achieved by popular struggle.16
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11 "The Bewildered American Raj; Reflections on a democracy's foreign policy," Harper's, March 1985.
12 Paul M. Kattenburg, The Vietnam Trauma in American Foreign Policy, 1945-75 (Transaction books, 1982), 69ff.
13 R. W. Apple, NYT, Nov. 5, 1989; Reston, NYT, Nov. 24, 1967. On Reston (and elite opinion generally) with regard to the Indonesian massacres, see my article in Z magazine, September 1990. For further samples of his commentary, see Towards a New Cold War, Turning the Tide.
14 Report of the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America, Henry Kissinger, chairman, Jan. 10, 1984; Laqueur and Krauthammer, New Republic, March 31, 1982; Huntington, Political Science Quarterly, Spring 1982 (see Turning the Tide, 153f., 161, for a review of the interesting reasoning that leads to this conclusion); Krauthammer, New Republic, Feb. 17, 1986.
15 Morgenthau, The Purpose of American Politics (Vintage, 1964). See Towards a New Cold War for further discussion of this and similar examples from the record of scholarship, intellectual commentary, and journalism; and the references of the introduction for many more.
16 For some further comment, see Necessary Illusions, particularly Appendix II, sec. 2; Appendix V, sec. 8.