Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Road to Hell is paved....

I think Francis Fukuyama is right, but I would also note that America is literally the most ahistorical major power on earth:

The other important illusion was their perception of how the world would react to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There was a belief in the legitimacy of the moral uses of American power, something the neocons share, I think, with most Americans. Unlike Europeans, Americans have a benign view of the use of force by their state from the Revolution to the Civil War to the world wars and the Cold War, in which American force was used for ultimately good, democratic outcomes.
The Revolutionary War led to good, democratic outcomes? That's the story we tell ourselves; and, perhaps, ultimately, it's true. Or will be true. After the Alien and Sedition Acts. After we exterminated the natives who were here (and largely taught us how to structure our new government, something we paid serious attention to only after that war). But, of course, that is not the story we tell ourselves now. The Civil War? Again, the story told outside the American South is very different from elsewhere in the country, and much of that has to do with which side of Reconstruction your part of the country was on.

Benign use of force? There is no such thing, but Mr. Fukuyama's analysis is right. We whitewash war in this country. Mark Twain's "War Prayer" has always struck me as peculiarly American as Jonathan Swift's story of Gulliver's journey to the land of the Hounyhyms. Swift satirized the horrors of European technology by having Gulliver describe, matter of factly, the horrors of 18th century warfare, all the while thinking he was describing the glories of European civilization. Twain shows us the reality of "benign war," a reality Gulliver simply ignores, or accepts as a cost of being "civilized."

Americans have always preferred their civilization be a bit more "white-washed." To this day, while I know of high schools that use Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States, I don't know how much is taught from Dee Brown's perspective about "how the West was won," but my impression is, few high schoolers learn about Wounded Knee.

The two world wars? That would be the first one we didn't want to enter, and then did, declaring we would make the world safe for democracy (50 years later Walt Kelly would tell us we had to "make democracy safe for the world!" He was prophetic, was cartoonist Kelly). The awful conclusion of the first war, and out determination to spread democracy then, led directly to World War II, where, again, we didn't want to get involved, but finally, for once, we did it right and rebuilt Europe. Which result has been the touchstone ever since for how "we" in America conduct wars.

Did I say we were "ahistorical"? Perhaps I should say "historically myopic;" in every sense of that phrase.

And then again, Mr. Fukuyama, like Mr. Buckley before him, has to skip over Korea, Vietnam, and all the "unpleasantness" in Central America (Bishop Romero's assassination, anyone? School of the Americas?) to get to the Cold War (which, actually, included all of that and more, but hey, let's focus on the collapse of the Berlin Wall, huh?). But again I would not cast blame on him; what American today doesn't skip over that, especially in the effort to fit our historical narrative of empire and genocide into one of benignly using power to bring enlightenment and peace to a violent world? Yea, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil, for we know we are the meanest SOB in the valley; and we've got nukes, to boot.

Not to mention only the best of intentions.

Sadly, then, Mr. Fukuyama is right. Americans do still "have a benign view of the use of force by their state." That is what I heard in George Will's comment, and why I reject his assumptions. It is the "benevolent hegemony" which must have a superior claim to violence because, after all, only the violent are suited to rule. And if that makes us the meanest SOB in the valley, well, at least we're benevolent about it.

I am being very careful not to bash Mr. Fukuyama. In a strange bit of synchronicity this morning I turned on the radio to hear what sounded like a guest on DemocracyNow! denouncing, gently, the "prospect of using American power for a kind of benevolent hegemony", and further, how hated America is in much of the world, how much Americans need to go abroad and find out how they are perceived (I suppose the media could do some of this, eh, NPR?). Imagine my surprise when the interview ended and the speaker was identified as Francis Fukuyama. In fact, listening to the whole interview, I find little in it I can disagree with.

He makes this clear in the remainder of the printed interview, linked above. I don't necessarily agree with his Hegelian assumption that history must have an end, nor that it must move toward a goal of democracy (if history is teleological, I think that telos is in the kingdom of God, not the demos of Athens). But his reasoning is quite sound, and he is clearly quite thoughtful about these important issues. Even where I disagree with him, I respect his insight.

After all, he is willing to attack the idea as wrong, not merely its execution.

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