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We Never Make Mistakes

June 23rd, 2009 · 7 Comments

Is learning unpatriotic? The question itself might seem vaguely offensive, but one has to wonder given the howls about Obama “apologizing for America” anytime he publicly intimates that any past foreign policy of the United States might have been mistaken—or, heaven forfend,  even be the source of some degree of international animus against us. Bracket for a moment the question of whether any particular past policy is defensible, or was reasonable at the time, or has been blown out of proportion, or whatever else. Isn’t it just unhealthy to hamper honest reconsideration of past policies—or credible signalling of policy change—by adding this extra emotional baggage?  Admittedly, it’s a somewhat selective synecdoche: Differ from Dwight Eisenhower’s foreign policy and you’re ashamed of America, but Jimmy Carter? That’s all on him.  Still, much as I get there’s a certain value to policy consistency even when the policy is suboptimal, this kind of default hostility to acknowledgement of error as some kind of character defect seems like a perversely proud refusal to learn from mistakes.

Tags: Sociology · War



7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Alex Knapp // Jun 23, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Americans just aren’t good at coming to grips with the fact that, like most other nations in history, we could be bastards sometime. I recall reading an article not too long ago that stated something to the effect of “the United States never engaged in a war of conquest.” To which I referenced the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, the Phillipines Occupation, and, of course, our conquest of the various Native American tribes and their land. To which I received various vaguely worded responses about how they weren’t *really* about conquest…

  • 2 Patrick // Jun 24, 2009 at 9:55 am

    There’s an odd paradox of morality. Robert Wright pointed it out recently on his website when he talked about a similar issue, “It would be expedient for America to change its ways, but it’s wrong to make amends when you’re not the one to blame.”
    What if we’re not the one’s at fault? Should we still attempt to ‘learn’ from history, if it’s in our best interest to do so?

    I think there’s also another similar issue as well. Baudrillard argues in /America/ that in a way Americans are immune to history (I don’t have the text on me and it’s been years). In a way he was arguing how can there BE an end to history if they’re immune to it? In a way, and I couldn’t tell at the time if he was being entirely sarcastic or not, immunity to history is actually like a super-power? It’s an amazing ability and a strength that propels us over the handicaps of of the world that is haunted by it. It should be embraced since we can look at the rest of the world full of this ‘history’ and see so much suffering. People are burdened by it so badly they can’t forgive and love their fellow men. All of the troubles of the modern world are because of this horrible thing and humanity would be better without it.

    I think you’re touching on a very deep issue here and it deserves more then a ‘lols-of course we make mistakes.’
    Maybe we’re better by NOT learning from history? Maybe it IS wrong to admit to fault when you aren’t at fault, or even think you’re not at fault, even if if you would be better for it?

  • 3 Chris Wininger // Jun 24, 2009 at 10:18 am

    You may recall that in immediate response to the attacks of September 11th, our president took the national stage to say to the American public and the world that we would “…show no sign of vulnerability”. Here is the same word that distinguishes poets from rappers, but in its history, more accurately, women from men. To make such a statement is to align oneself with the ideology that instills in us a sense of vulnerability meaning “weakness”. And these meanings all take their place under the heading of what we consciously or subconsciously characterize as traits of the feminine. The weapon of mass destruction is the one that asserts that a holy trinity would be a father, a male child, and a ghost when common sense tells us that the holiest of trinities would be a mother, a father, and a child: Family. The vulnerability that we see as weakness is the saving grace of the drunken driver who because of their drunken/vulnerable state survives the fatal accident that kills the passengers in the approaching vehicle who tighten their grip and show no physical vulnerability in the face of their fear. Vulnerability is also the saving grace of the skate boarder who attempts a trick and remembers to stay loose and not tense during their fall. Likewise, vulnerability has been the saving grace of the African American struggle as we have been whipped, jailed, spat upon, called names, and killed, yet continue to strive forward mostly non-violently towards our highest goals. But today we are at a crossroads, because the institutions that have sold us the crosses we wear around our necks are the most overt in the denigration of women and thus humanity.

    – Saul Williams (http://stereogum.com/archives/an-open-letter-to-oprah-by-saul-williams_005168.html)

  • 4 Mike // Jun 24, 2009 at 10:38 am

    1) Republicans don’t believe in apologizing to anyone.
    2) Democrats are fine apologizing.
    3) Republicans freak out every time Democrats apologize.

    Obviously, Democrats are usually going to be apologizing for things Republicans did. And Republicans aren’t really apologizing for Carter — they’re saying he was wrong, which is clearly different.

    It’s all just a manifestation of our culture’s default conservative militaristic mindset.

  • 5 Julian Sanchez // Jun 24, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Well, I don’t think acknowledging a mistake necessarily entails “apologizing.” Nor do I really see much point to intergenerational apologies—you’re sorry about what someone else did to someone else? At the very least, though, you have to face up to the fact that plenty of Iranians—not necessarily all alive at the time—understandably see the U.S. through the lens of 1953. I don’t much care whether anyone calls it an “apology,” but it helps to acknowledge it if you want to be credible when you say that going forward, you’re going to be on the side of Iranian self-determination.

  • 6 Barry // Jun 25, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Pathological liars don’t apologize; it’s part of their strength. If you take a step back and consider, it’s flabergasting just how many neocons, fresh from being wrong for the past several years, are spouting on Iran like they were right for the past several years.

    And that’s before you consider the fact that these guys are still being paid, put on TV and in the press as being experts.

    Given that, the best analogy I can come up with is ‘medical researchers’ from the Tobacco Institute. They’re career professional liars, pure and simple, with the support of a lot of elites. That’s why I call these people neoconmen, not neocons, to make it clear what they are.

    Oh – the hypocrisy is also funny, in a sick way. Neonmen luuuuuuuv WWWII stories, and have a hard time thinking of any lessons from history except one ‘lesson’ from 1939. They also hate themselves some FDR real fierce, and also hate on Evul Hippies.

    But 1953? Iranians should just get over it.

  • 7 Julian Elson // Jun 25, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    I’m not sure how 1812 was a war of conquest, really. The others (Mexican-American, Spanish-American, Philippines) seem to be conquest. In 1812, though, the British had been abducting American navy personel on a large scale. Maybe it could have been handled peacefully somehow, but if war is ever justifiable, then I don’t see many better reasons than protecting one’s citizens from foreign kidnappers.

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