The religious doctrine of American exceptionalism leads many to assume conclusions that would otherwise be very difficult to justify.
One of these conclusions is that, despite the abundance of evidence to the contrary, America’s actions around the world are just and noble, by definition.
As John Adams once wrote,
Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak.
This preconceived notion of American nobility allows those in the media as well as those in high-ranking political positions to ignore the obvious crimes that we are complicit in, for the simple reason that they can’t be crimes, because we carried them out.
In an interview with Evan Solomon, Noam Chomsky responds to the question:
Do we a constabulary, a force, a central, force (in this case it’s America because its the superpower) to sometimes use unjust means in the service of just causes?
Solomon would claim earlier, citing Robert Kaplan’s notion of “Machiavellian virtue”, that, “Sometimes we do a bad thing to protect our democratic and our good institutions in a just society.”
Chomsky’s response is quite fierce, and important:
What are the just causes? What was the just cause in, for example, slaughtering Kurds in southeastern Turkey? What was the just cause?
What was the just cause in supporting Suharto, when he killed a couple hundred thousand landless peasants in Indonesia, then went on to become one of the biggest torturers in the world, and then slaughtered a third of the population in East Timor? What was the just cause?
What was the just cause when we invaded South Vietnam…killing millions of people, leaving the country devastated, they’re still dying from chemical warfare, what was the just cause?
What was the just cause when we fought a war, to a large extent against the Catholic church in Central America in the 1980’s, killing hundreds of thousands of people, every imaginable kind of torture and devastation; what was the just cause?
The just cause for people like Kaplan [Robert Kaplan] is: We did it, therefore it’s a just cause. You can read that in the Nazi archives too.
Chomsky asserts that this is an issue of “elementary morality”: We should pay attention to our own crimes, and stop committing them.
This notion of “paying attention to our own crimes” would be true “even if we were just killing one person, and its even more true when we’re killing millions of people.”
This is not an issue of “comparing atrocities by various countries,” it is an issue of applying the same standards to ourselves that we apply to others.
The doctrine imposed upon Americans from birth (that American actions are always intended to pursue noble ends like freedom and democracy) forces us to ignore our own crimes, which are the ones which we, as a relatively free society, have the most ability to influence. We are taught to be concerned with the crimes of others because our own crimes have been defined out of existence.
Looking in the mirror, Chomsky says, is the most surefire way to reduce terror and atrocities: If we want to stop the atrocities, we must first stop participating in them.