American Exceptionalism - Myopic History = Oops!
I say that Seven Miracles is somewhat unfortunate, because there are some things that I like about the book. It states, for example--and I agree--that America is exceptional because:
- Christopher Columbus was led (and claimed to be led) by the hand of God to the Americas. I'm glad he was, because America has the greatest religious freedom of any nation on earth
- The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were claimed by many of our Founders and others to have come from the inspiration of the Almighty.
- The American winning of the War for Independence was also thought by many to be primarily due to the hand of providence. Historical evidence supports the claim that so many occurrences could hardly have been coincidental.
It's just that its misstatements and airbrushings of history at a minimum negate any good the book can hope to accomplish.
In fairness, it is important to point out that America is exceptionally bad in a variety of ways as well. Our treatment of Native Americans and blacks are ongoing events of which we should, as a country, be monumentally ashamed. Modern American foreign policy, too, is exceptional, but almost without exception, it is exceptional in a very bad way. It's okay to point out the positive characteristics of American exceptionalism, but for a book to ignore our negative traits is worse than the book having not been written at all.
Which brings me to the myopic history of Seven Miracles. I have read enough of the book to know that Seven Miracles has airbrushed essentially all of the warts and blemishes from American history, except, interestingly enough, for those warts that are the product of the Democratic party in America. For example, the book's handling of Iran reads like a political broadside:
The most far-reaching consequence of Carter's human rights policy was the jettisoning of U.S. support for its longtime ally the Shah of Iran. Weakened by the loss of U.S. support, in 1979 the Shah was replaced by a fundamentalist Islamic regime, a regime that would soon become a major source of terror, military adventurism, and strife throughout the world. In November , fifty-two Americans were taken hostage at the American embassy in Tehran. For 444 days, they were held prisoner--casting a bright light on the inability of the American military or diplomacy to end the crisis.
Okay, now for a more accurate history. In 1953, the American CIA purchased the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. The unelected Shah was subsequently placed back at the pinnacle of Iranian government with the help of the CIA. Iranians were incensed and surprised that if republican democracy were good for America why America would double-cross Iran in favor of a dictator. (The Shah was perhaps as brutal then as the Iranian clerical regime is now.) For years, the Iranian people's hatred of the repressive Shah simmered and bubbled and grew. The Shah was so terribly hated that in January of 1979 he left Iran. A few months later, Jimmy Carter, against the express warning of the United States embassy in Iran, allowed the Shah into the United States for cancer treatment. Many of those who had been present at the ouster of freely elected Mohammad Mossadegh just 26 years before were panic stricken at the U.S. move. "Oh, no! They're doing it to us again." They thought. Panicked and embittered Iranian college students did the only thing they could think of to try to short-circuit the return to Iran of the hated Shah--they took 52 Americans hostage in the US embassy in Tehran. This sentiment led directly to the selection of a leader who the voice of the Iranian people thought most able to counteract the dominance of the Americans and the Shah--the Ayatollah Khomeini.
So it wasn't Carter's human rights policy that was the problem. It was Carter's continuation of bizarre American foreign policy that was so damaging. In another way, American foreign policy vis a vis Iran is exceptional--it was and still is exceptionally stupid. One could say with not much exaggeration that the United States is to blame for the oppression that the Iranian people suffer today. One only has to go back eight years to the American attack and occupation of Iraq to see that we have collectively learned nothing--to see an American policy decision that was at least as stupidly misinformed as the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh.
Even worse, Seven Miracles regurgitates the tired diatribe that fundamentalist Islam has arisen like a dragon to replace the monster of Communism. To be sure, Communism was bent on conquering as much of the globe as it could. But it is a gross misunderstanding of history and current affairs to think that Islam has such designs. Arab and Persian-speaking Muslims are bent on nothing more than being treated with dignity and respect, something that the American superpower has yet to give them very much of. If I were Arab or Persian speaking, I would probably hate America, too. The reason most Americans can't fathom why is that (1) Abu Ghraib is about the only gross injustice against Iraq that didn't get airbrushed out of recent American history, and (2) they have been convinced by incessant repetition of falsehood that what goes on at Guantanamo prison facilities really isn't torture.
When histories are written, they should be fair. Seven Miracles that Saved America fails miserably in this regard. It's hard for me to recommend Seven Miracles for reading, although let me say this: it's not nearly as bad as Glenn Beck.