Greeway and Bacevich at the Boston Globe:

There is a mythical American narrative, according to Bacevich, that the United States is a nation “providentially set apart in the New World and wanting nothing more than to tend to its own affairs,” only grudgingly responding to calls for global leadership “in order to preserve the possibility of freedom.” In reality, the United States has sought expansion, first by pushing west until it reached the sea, then through a brief period of direct colonialism, and more recently through a ruthless if indirect imperial policy of control. It worked spectacularly. The United States became a great power replete with material abundance.

Bacevich has become a neo-Niebuhrean, from Reinhold Niebuhr, the theologian of liberal inclinations that has been so ignored in recent years. Niebuhr was a vehement critic of the American Exceptionalism and the so-called “delusion of a national innocence”: “Nations, as individuals”, wrote Niebuhr,” who are completely innocent in their own esteem are insufferable in their human contacts.” The self-righteous delusion of innocence encouraged a kind of Manichaeism dividing the world between good (us) and evil (them).

Already in 1958, in an interview with Mike Wallace in the midst of the Cold War, Reinhold Niebuhr was challenging the dumb, oversimplified criticism of Marxism, and faulted the evangelical revival for “giving petty answers to deep, bigger issues”.

The 9-11 events provided a re-rise of the American Innocence, bringing forth the “why do they hate us?” question that came with a pre-packaged, delusional, oversimplified response. Petty answers to bigger questions.

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