Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The uniqueness of the US according to Simon Peres.

In an article for the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney provides the following quote from former Israeli Prime Minister Simon Peres: "America is unique in the history of the world. During this last century, there was only one nation that laid down hundreds of thousands of lives of its own sons and daughters and asked for nothing for itself... You took no land from the Germans, no land from the Japanese. All you asked for was enough land to bury your dead."

In Peres' understanding of history, nations that have won wars have always taken land from losing ones. Such an understanding is perhaps not surprising from a former PM of Israel, a country that has felt entitled to annex land it has conquered in wars, but it is nonetheless surprising that Peres would make a statement that is so hard reconcile with the history of the 20th century.

Because Peres was referring only to the 20th century, his view of American uniqueness excludes US land expansion after its wars with Mexico and Spain in the 19th century. Also excluded from Peres' statement is US involvement, during the cold war, in the violent overthrow of democratically elected governments in Iran, Guatemala and Chile in favour of US friendly dictatorships.

The main flaw in Peres' statement is, however, that the US can hardly be said to be the only nation in the 20th century to have "laid down hundreds of thousands of lives... asking nothing for itself." The United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, did not demand land in either world wars,(1) and arguably neither did France,(2) while suffering great loss of life. Britain's willingness in 1914 to fight in France and to declare war after Germany invaded Poland in 1939, was not less "unique" than America's late entry into either world wars.(3)

The US deserves a lot of credit for its involvement in the major conflicts of the 20th century, but to claim that the US involvement was 'unique' in its unselfishness (as defined by demand for land) shows either Peres' ignorance or his contempt of other nations. It is also disturbing that a US presidential candidate is so willing to repeat Peres' statements without any critical reflection.

1) Note that Britain, Australia, Canada and France also participated in the Korean war, and that Australia fought alongside the US in Vietnam.
2) France did of course demand the return of Alsace-Lorraine from Germany after the First World War.
3) Note that Peres statement was one of willingness to fight wars without gain of land, not whether engagement in the conflict was justified or not.


At 30 August, 2007 16:28, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Torsten

This doesn't have to much to do with your current blog but, Charles and I saw this the other night. I thought you might enjoy.


At 01 September, 2007 02:54, Anonymous Charles said...

For your general amusement, I encourage you to browse to my take on American uniqueness. And it ain't unselfishness or invading countries. But sometimes it makes me want to move to Antarctica.


At 01 September, 2007 03:05, Anonymous C harles said...

By the way, in all seriousness, I actually can sort of, in a small fashion, agree (just a smoosh) with your points. America may not have been invading countries out-right, but we had a hand in quite a bit of pots, non-the-less. Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Cuba, Iraq, Iran, to name a few. Not that some of those came back to haunt us. Accept for maybe Afghanistan, Iraq, oh...and Iran.

At 02 September, 2007 09:45, Blogger Torsten Pedersen said...

Kiersten, I Liked the video, but it also left me a little sad. US foreign policy in the Middle East has for the last 30 years been confused and at times directly immoral. Especially the support of Sadam Hussein in his aggressive war against Iran was a low point.

Charles, I guess my point is that the US is a unique nation, as its economic and military power was the reason the liberal democracies of the West prevailed in the three major conflicts of the 20th century (the two World Wars and the Cold War), but that it has not always been unselfish, or acted morally right, in its engagement with the world.

PS. I understand completely the tiredness of politics and political rhetoric you experience.


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