How Americans are vs. How They Perceive Themselves

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Fred Reed hits another one out of the park – but is anyone listening?

A Tale of Two Tales
What Real World?

March 5, 2012

As I listen to American fury against uncooperative Afghans, to Congress furiously denouncing Pakistan for anemic aid in conducting the current wars, I sometimes wonder whether the US is playing with a full deck. The anger arises I suspect because the US and the rest of the world work from very different premises. They believe in, as we say, distinct narratives.

The American narrative holds that the United States is a light to the world, the freest, richest, most productive country the world has ever seen, the greatest military power, the most prolific producer of technology and of Nobel laureates. America is a force for freedom and democracy, a champion of human rights, a land of universal opportunity with liberty and justice for all. The Unites States is what all countries could be if they accepted our values. History supports this view. In a raw continent, American energy and free enterprise carved a paradise from a wilderness.

This narrative, the belief that America is special among nations, favored by God, pervades the culture. Those old enough will remember that Superman fought for “truth, justice, and the American way.”

Underlying all of this is a profoundly moral view of America’s place in the world. The United States does not fight, like the French, for glory or like the English, for empire, or like the Russians, to steal watches from the wounded. America fights against Evil, whether in the form of communism, terror, Islam, socialism, or the growing threat of enslavement by Chinese communism. These evils are real, Americans believe, immediate, and threaten us with tyranny.

The narrative of the US military springs from the national narrative. American soldiers are brave, wholesome young men selflessly sacrificing to overthrow brutal dictators, to defeat terror, and to give the oppressed peoples the benefits of democracy. This actually happened in Japan, Germany, and Iraq, asserts the narrative. Sure, a bad apple among GIs may occasionally commit an atrocity, but these are isolated incidents and blown out of proportion by a leftist press.

Quite different is what might be called the World Narrative, held around the globe with differing intensities and emphases. It holds the US to be an endlessly aggressive military power that is out of control, hypocritically speaking of democracy and freedom while supporting dictators and overthrowing elected governments. America is arrogant, crassly mateiralistic, crime-ridden, vulgar, racially unjust, the world’s only avowed practitioner of torture, economically exploitative, imperialistic and intolerant of other cultures.

The military form of the World Narrative holds that America savagely attacks weaker nations in pursuit of oil and empire, that it uses overwhelming technological superiority to butcher peasants armed with rifles, that atrocities are routine, that it employs Stalinist nocturnal raids to terrorize populations, that killing of children is common.

The World Narrative is closer to the truth. It is easy to compile a long list of dictatorships supported by the US, and anyone who has covered wars knows that atrocities are what militaries do. America supports Saudi Arabia and Israel, both with horrible records on human rights. It would also be easy to show that many countries that accuse the US of misbehavior commit or have committed similar crimes. This doesn’t occur to these countries. Peoples see everybody’s warts but their own.

The peculiar isolation in which Americans typically live shelters the national narrative. Americans are geographically isolated in that they can go nowhere without passports, which few have; linguistically isolated in that almost none speak a second language; and temporally isolated since few have even a rudimentary grasp of history. Add an odd lack of curiosity, apparenly based on a belief that the superiority of America is such that other places are not worthy of study. The result is a closed system.

This might be of minor interest if it did not affect American policy. But it does. The US operates in a world that doesn’t quite exist. Think of a blind man who by error enters the wrong house. He bumps into furniture and can’t find the bathroom because things are not where he thinks they are.

Consider the war to take over Afghanistan—which is what it is. The American Narrative, relentlessly moral, says that the US is there to fight Terror, to defeat Al Qaida, to save the Afghan people from repressive domination by the Taliban. The government in Kabul represents the Afghan people and is allied with the US in ridding the country of extremists. The Caspian hydrocarbons have nothing to do with it. The GIs fight to give Afghans a stable democracy, law and order, and equal rights fo women.

This is the sort of moral mission that the Narrative demands. In the real world, one might as well give art lessons to a boar hog.

By contrast, the Afghans predictably see the US as an invading army of brutal infidels—a word we see as faintly amusing but they don’t—who bomb and kill, kick in their doors at three a.m, humiliate the men in front of their families and insult their women. A very little of this, a very few dead children, can arouse a whole lot of hatred, but the American Narrative doesn’t allow of this truth.

Consequences ensue. Note that in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, as in Pakistan, as in Viet Nam, the national armies supposedly on America’s side are never ready. Despite billions of dollars spent in training them, somehow they are always years away from being able to take over. They desert, cooperate with the enemy, sometimes murder GIs. By contrast, the enemy fights tenaciously.

The Americans are baffled and outraged. “We are here to help these people, to protect them against the evil (communists, Al Qaida, Iranians, or whatever). Where is their gratitude? Why don’t they do their share?”

When you recruit citizens of a country to kill their own people in the name of a widely hated puppet government, their enthusiasm is likely to be exiguous. But since the American Narrative insists that the US seeks only to end the dominion of Evil, opposition to America becomes inexplicable.

In war after war, those attacked fail to act as the US expects. The Iraqis should have welcomed the American soldiers who were bringing them democracy and defeating an evil dictator. This fits the Narrative. That people don’t like being invaded, having their cities devastated, their fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers in the army killed—this does not fit the Narrative of unalloyed American virtue. It merely determines events.


  1. In chess, there is a system known as Forsyth which has no need of algebraic or descriptive narrative. I think of politics that way too. The chess board was at X with players A and B. A war or revolution occurred and the game ended at Y with either player A or B being victorious.

    In chess and in politics, only the outcome of games are recorded and remembered. One man’s Kasparov variation is another man’s Vienna game. All this in-between transition stuff is de minimis. Most of what is talked about to understand the game of politics is transitory and de minimis stuff best ignored.

    Americans are physiocrats. Physiocrats believe wealth comes from owning land and property. The measure of a man is his level of self-determination through mutual voluntary creation of wealth and property from the land. A properly developed land stays resilient, and becomes permanently more productive the more it is worked and industrialized.

    Since the 1860s, the American Physiocracy has been usurped and hijacked by a cabal of Railroad, Munitions, Cotton, and Tobacco Magnates who believe wealth comes from denying land and property to commoners and keeping them in large border enclosures where they will have no choice but to slave away as various classes of day laborers.

    The American Civil War permanently destroyed much of the south. It is still not as productive as it would be if freely allowed to produce exportable crops and goods. The free American Export economy pre-civil war X, became the lesser American Export economy Y, now under complete control of Her Majesty’s Realm the District of Columbia.

    The civilization of America has been permanently wiped out since this civil war times.

    The result of World War I is that permission is needed to move anywhere in the world. The result of World War II is all peoples who were not accounted for by a national-slave-registry system were eradicated or assimilated. Most of the rest of Western Civilization died in these two wars.

    What was gained in WWI and WWII was solidifying the District of Crime as the seat of power for all manner of corrupt industrialists who do not manufacture goods per se, but rather harvest and offer for rent, a herd of technically savvy human beings that can be controlled and harvested as a manufactured good in and of themselves.

  2. Fred hits the nail on the head, as usual. I was lucky enough to travel extensively for my job in the 90s, and talked to lots of people in Europe. To summarize, they tend to love Americans, but to hate the American government. They tend to view the US as a bully, and can’t understand why we want to tell everyone else what to do.

    • “They tend to view the US as a bully, and can’t understand why we want to tell everyone else what to do.” Does this mean we’re enablers? We’ve elected the people that govern us, right? How is it we’ve elected assholes that don’t represent or do what we want?

      Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

      -Friedrich Nietzsche

      • Hi dom. I think the basic problem is that in elections we have a choice between two assholes who share the same basic beliefs. That’s all the system offers us. The political system is controlled by the two wings of the national socialist party, and they pretend to fight each other as if they are really enemies. All the while, they use the laws they have created to keep any real alternative out of the electoral process.

          • This is not a solution for fixing it.

            Do not vote for candidates from the two wings or do not vote.

            I am in favor of the former, but I can understand the argument for the latter.

          • There isn’t any easy fix. Trying to wake people up, as Eric does, is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, most people are far more familiar with the current contestants on Dancing with the Stars than with the concept of liberty. And they don’t want to listen, I guess because they’ve been taught not to think. I have some slight hope because Ron Paul’s candidacy, along with sites like this one and, have indeed awakened large numbers of people.

            Despite those heroic efforts, I fear that the time has passed when things could be turned around. By the end of the New Deal and WWII, we probably had passed the point of no return. While America crumbles, I can only suggest the two actions that I continue to take: talk about the idea of liberty to anyone who will listen (you really can convert a person once in a while), and take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones against the catastrophe that there’s a good chance we’ll end up facing.

            • I’ve thought about this a lot. And here’s what I’ve whittled it down to:

              A. I’d much prefer it never happen; that the country recover its sanity peacefully. My standards are pretty low. I’d be content if we could get things back to circa 1980, liberty-wise. I’d like more, of course. But I could live with that.

              B. If A is not possible, if the country is going to collapse/break-apart/become an outright police state, etc., I’d prefer it do so sooner rather than later. I don’t want to be an old man when the SHTF.

        • I look at this problem in the same way that I look at a broken engine. First, what’s wrong? You have to know what the problem is before you start fixing anything. Most people don’t know what the problem is – hence they continue to get suckered by voting for Tweedledee or Tweedledum. I look upon this forum (and try to use my articles) as a vehicle for spreading the word; for getting people to start thinking about the true nature of the system in which they live.

          That awakening must come first.

          It’s the second step that’s harder.

          • Have you ever come across an engine that was cratering faster than you could fix it?
            At what point do you come to the realization that there are better choices than trying to fix it?
            How much would you sacrifice TO THIS ENGINE, with miniscule chances of success?

            The last one is the question we must all answer to ourselves.

      • Consider: There were good people in Soviet Russia; in Nazi Germany – in every shitty totalitarian system. You and I and other Americans who try to be decent aren’t represented by the (note, not “our”) government. It does not act on our behalf or with our consent – but against our will and with our contempt. Just by voicing our contempt, we do a lot to help delegitimize what it does – and to make it plain that it does not speak for us all – and that not all Americans are bloodthirsty ignoramuses determined to control the world.

        • For a great read about good people who went along with the Nazi movement in 1930s Germany, see “They Thought They Were Free”, by Milton Mayer. It’s quite scary how their thinking tracks the current thinking of boobus Americanus.

    • I met him in passing a couple of times (he probably doesn’t remember me) when we both worked at The Washington Times. The guy is a great writer; a realist cynic who has a gold-plated BS detector and a way with words that’s unique and always entertaining. If only more Ahhhmerrikuns were like him.


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