More recommended reading

September 24th, 2007

This interview of James Carroll by Tom Engelhardt discusses a lot of what I find most disturbing about America, with a particular focus on religious fundamentalism, and in particular the creeping infiltration of militant Christian fundamentalism into the American military, government and politics. Well, my drastically shortened and grossly simplified version of this long, long story is: The Virginian settlers may have won the battle for America’s economic behaviour, but the Puritan settlers of New England won America’s hearts, minds and souls. Manifest Destiny never died, it just slipped into the background, but it still informs much of America’s behaviour in the world (Iraq, for example).

One particularly scary quotation:

The question today is whether the constitution continues to exist as anything beyond a kind of totem, a vestige. Recent history certainly suggests that the Pentagon is now “unchecked”. And if we can end our present war by blaming the Iraqis, then the Pentagon will be immune from criticism and prepared for the next foray of American power. That’s why we must challenge this laying the blame on the Iraqi people, as if their “sectarianism” weighs more than our hubris. As of now, I fear, we’ll be getting out of this war with what brought us into it intact.

Just to make things clear: This is not meant to be read as anything anti-American. It’s a referral to an interview of an American by an American discussing a serious problem in American society, governance and politics.

2 Responses to “More recommended reading”

  1. Matt Schiavenza Says:

    Very thought-provoking interview. To me, though, Carroll and Engelhardt exaggerate the religious connection to our current shoot-em-up foreign policy, though certainly the rhetoric of “spreading liberty” derives from Christianity. The more depressing aspect of the past few years were the secular intellectuals who thought, from their comfortable homes and offices, that “stability” in the Middle East was the problem and that a little bit of chaos would do the Iraqi people and the region as a whole a lot of good. Which is, of course, absolutely outrageous and in my opinion neglected by both the American and international press.

  2. wangbo Says:

    I’m very much an outside observer, never having been to America, but everything I see and hear and read on the subject leads me to think that America’s Puritan heritage very much informs its Manifest Destiny and that even the ideas and attitudes of liberal, secular, agnostic and atheist Americans can be traced back to the “fundamentalist” (the word was not actually used until the late 19th century, but the Puritans very much fit the bill) beginnings of America. I mean, I have met liberal, atheist Americans who openly believe in American Exceptionalism and do seem to have this attitude that America is this light unto the world, the city on a hill that cannot be hidden. I think this ties in with what you say about secular intellectuals who thought a bit of creative destruction in the Middle East would allow a brand new, shiny America to spring forth.

    I call this the “Full Metal Jacket” principle, after the line in that film, “Inside every gook is an American wanting to get out”.

    Then again, I know plenty of other Americans, like yourself, who have a more open-minded view of the world. It just scares me that there are (apparently) so many otherwise liberal, secular, informed Americans who seem to still believe in Manifest Destiny.

    So, yes, Engelhardt and Carroll may have been wrong to play up the role of religious fundamentalism so strongly, but I do think they were right to link a lot of America’s behaviour and Americans’ attitudes back to that strong thread of Christian fundamentalism that runs through American society.

    Bear in mind that this is just the ranting of a complete outsider. I am well aware that my reliance on the media and expat-Americans may well be giving me a somewhat skewed view of what is really happening in your country.