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Self-righteous patriotism

There's an interesting observation within this article from last Sunday's New York Times. It quotes a historian, John Dower: "Why has that phrase, 'axis of evil,' crystallized so much anti-American sentiment around the world? Because the country sees itself as nothing but good and innocent, and that infuriates people."

Wow. If only that really were the worst the world had to worry about. What a wonderful world these anti-Americans must live in!

Still, the article makes some interesting points about how Americans have historically villified our enemies and painted conflicts in moral terms. This is a useful tactic in that it engenders unity and patriotism, but it comes with its costs. Today especially, I don't think it makes sense to talk about enemy nations. War used to be about conquest, but not any longer; now it's about peace and security. There are enemy organizations, and enemy governments, but no enemy peoples.

In the same article, another historian, Eric Foner, tells the Times that, during wartime, Americans have a tendency to adopt "a state of mind that makes us demonize the enemy and leads to a failure to see dissent as anything but treason." The costs of this were always high (internment camps, McCarthyism), but they would be higher now — this could easily create enemies where there are none.

March 1, 2002 12:24 AM

Comments (and TrackBacks)

Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

Posted by viagra on December 22, 2004 5:05 PM


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Copyright ©2001-2003 Matt Pfeffer

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