Look in the mirror at America and see the world brotherhood

Is this American exceptionalism? From an interesting article in the latest New York Review of Books:

{It} might fit something John Dower identifies as a common trait in America, something he translates as “victim consciousness” {in Japanese higaisha ishiki}. What this means is the tendency to focus on the suffering of America, especially at the hands of foreigners, while conveniently forgetting the suffering inflicted by Americans on others.

… The largest mainstream newspaper companies, despite some differences in political tone, can be depended on to echo a kind of national consensus established by the same web of government and business interests of which the mainstream press forms an integral part.

… In the so-called “press club system” {kisha in Japanese} reporters from the major national papers are allowed access to particular politicians or government agencies, on the understanding that these powerful sources will never be discomfited by scoops, unauthorized reports, or special investigations. It breeds a kind of journalistic conformity that is hardly unknown in more freewheeling democracies … but is institutionalized in America.

The mainstream press does not really compete for news. What it does much too often instead is faithfully reflect the official version of reality.


This is a follow-up post to Where did the great post-war dream for a new world go sour? on the related subject of American exceptionalism. The above text is — slightly modified — from “Expect to Be Lied to in Japan” by Ian Buruma, New York Review of Books, 8 November 2012. America has been substituted for Japan. The description remains equally accurate, showing some of the commonalities among the developed nations. We’re not as exceptional as we believe; perhaps we’re no longer exceptional in any significant way — except in our self-regard.

We were exceptional in a few years after WWII. Our terms of peace with former enemies. The UN and associated agencies, the realm of law (in seed form) they embodied. The great domestic programs to provide greater equality of opportunity in America, from veterans’ benefits to the great equal rights bills. Apollo, a great dream despite its flawed execution and meager results. But the effort to be exceptional proved too much for America.

Look at what we’ve become. Garden-variety hegemonic wars built on lies to gain oil and bases, to crush regional rivals. Domestically letting our infrastructure rot (including the college system built after WW2) in order to lower taxes for the rich; a idle citizenry watching its liberties fade away. The dream will get a page in the history textbooks of the future. Its decay just a paragraph, something too typical to warrant more.

Note about the NYRB

This is one of the most useful periodicals I subscribe to, along with the London Review of Books at the top of my reading pile. In this article Buruma reviews

  • Ways of Forgetting, Ways of Remembering: Japan in the Modern World by John W. Dower
  • Strong in the Rain: Surviving Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami, and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster by David McNeill and Lucy Birmingham


“This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.”
— Voltaire (1756) about the decay of the dream of a unified Europe. Perhaps someone will write an equally witty quip about American exceptionalism.

Other posts about Japan

  1. As Japan sails into the shadows, let’s wish them well and wave good-by, 14 July 2009
  2. We are following Japan’s path of decline. The real test comes later this year., 23 June 2010
  3. News about the earthquake in northeastern Japan, 13 March 2011
  4. About the atomic crisis in Japan – background information and reliable news sources, 15 March 2011


5 thoughts on “Look in the mirror at America and see the world brotherhood”

  1. Why is it that Americans, who have suffered least compared to other nations (none of our cities bombed from the air, no mass genocides by invading armies, none of our cities destroyed and all the inhabitants murdered, no mass torture or death squads) feel so sorry for themselves, while other nations like Poland or the Czech and Slovak republics (which have suffered enormous and horrible invasions and mass murders throughout hundreds of years) respond to adversity with such good humor and optimism and hardiness?

    It puts me in mind of an observation by a Brit in a German POW camp who noted that the Americans were invariably the most spoiled and infantile of all the prisoners, while the Poles and particularly the Spanish and French expatriates fighting for the Allies bore hardships most cheerfully.

    1. That’s a good question about a sad reality. See this comment on the FM website page about Imran Khan — Pakistan’s most popular politician and possible future Prime Minister:

      “Imran Khan is an enemy of the United States, to wit, his calling for an open jihad against US troops in Afghanistan. If anything, he should be on the drone kill list.”

      “And in the end, the most satisfying thing we can do is carry out one last worthwhile drone strike on the way out. Imran Khan’s a POS.”

      “Sure, is Imran Khan worthy of a $100 Hellfire shot from a drone? Probably not in the grand scheme of things (not that probably any of our drone strikes by and large have been worthy of the direct or unintended costs), but it’s a good strategic messaging thing to hang our hat on as we leave the AOR.

      Also: the cost of a Hellfire missile is $25,000 (Wikipedia), not $100.

    2. That’s right america! For the cost of someone’s part time job, you can make yourselves feel better! Don’t stay butthurt at the WORDS of someone on the other side of the planet! Hellfire Missiles: Get Your Revenge Today!*

      * disclaimer: you will get butthurt at something else almost immediately.

  2. Just as this national attitude of exceptionalism leads to “victim consciousness”, a focus on ones personal uniqueness leads to unhappiness. At least I find that when I focus on my own specialness I invariably become resentful. But when I focus on my commonalities with others I feel calmer. My class (the “middle class”) is trained to view ourselves as unique but when one looks at us objectively, our connections to others — to the working class — are stronger than our differences. Your thought-experiment above, of taking writing about Japan and changing its name to the US, is much like a middle-class person reminding ourselves that we are pretty much the same as everyone else, and it has the same kind of calming, strengthening effect.

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