Alexis de Tocqueville’s widely renowned book, Democracy in America, addresses this aspect of the American character:

All free nations are vainglorious, but national pride is not displayed by all in the same manner. The Americans in their intercourse with strangers appear impatient of the smallest censure and insatiable of praise. The most slender eulogium is acceptable to them; the most exalted seldom contents them; they unceasingly harass you to extort praise, and if you resist their entreaties they fall to praising themselves. It would seem as if, doubting their own merit, they wished to have it constantly exhibited before their eyes. Their vanity is not only greedy, but restless and jealous; it will grant nothing, whilst it demands everything, but is ready to beg and to quarrel at the same time. If I say to an American that the country he lives in is a fine one, “Ay,” he replies, “There is not its fellow in the world.” If I applaud the freedom which its inhabitants enjoy, he answers, “Freedom is a fine thing, but few nations are worthy to enjoy it.” If I remark the purity of morals which distinguishes the United States, “I can imagine,” says he, “that a stranger, who has been struck by the corruption of all other nations, is astonished at the difference.” At length I leave him to the contemplation of himself; but he returns to the charge, and does not desist till he has got me to repeat all I had just been saying. It is impossible to conceive a more troublesome or more garrulous patriotism; it wearies even those who are disposed to respect it.

This observation from 1837 should have been a warning to the American political and intellectual elites long ago. Sadly, it has been ignored and has cost everyone dearly. The American vaingloriousness described by Tocqueville has today become a clear and present danger to the world and it is, in the end, a direct threat to what’s left of America’s democratic institutions and processes. It threatens a shaky republic and it is embedded in the very foundation of a now increasingly obvious American decline. Of course, there are many opinions about American decline on the public discussion stage—some opinions reject the whole idea of an American decline out of hand as propaganda; others go to the other extreme by proposing an imminent collapse and disintegration of the United States into several states. What is lost in this contentious debate is the troubling fact of the very real and very dangerous decline of American cognitive faculties, which is also accompanied by what Robert Reilly termed de￾Hellenization2 —a complete loss of sound reasoning across the whole spectrum of national activities from foreign policy, to economics, to war, to culture.

This decline is more than visible, it is omnipresent in the everyday lives of many Americans and even affects people from other nations and continents. This decline has deeper roots than the mere change of some economic paradigm, albeit this too matters a great deal. It portends a total existential crisis of American national mythology—a crisis of the American soul that has nothing to do with the superficial, mass-media driven ideological or party affiliations—rather, it is the decline of a national consensus. This decline reflects the American failure to form a real nation, a process which, as paradoxical as it may sound, was prevented by a sequence of historic events in the 20th century, which turned the tables on American fortunes. As strange as it may sound, it was the continental warfare of WWII that the United States did not experience on its own soil, and the lack of experiencing any invasion by a peer foreign power, that failed to provide it with the historic glue, which was responsible to a large degree for the formation of modern nations. This may have played in favor of America’s post-WWII greatness, but it also bore the seeds of the American myth’s destruction with it. Those seeds, overlooked by a non-inquisitive American political and intellectual class in the 20th and 21st centuries, were pivotal in reinforcing stereotypes and clichés which, otherwise, they would have rejected as not having a solid grounding in real life.

There is no denial that the United States and its people form a truly great nation. It is a powerful nation, a superpower with a short but bright history. American entrepreneurship and technological genius still continue to amaze the world. But there is a real downside to it; a real rot which becomes more evident with each passing day. It has happened before and if any historical parallels are to be drawn—a process which must be done in the most cautious and educated manner—one example of a dramatic change in historic fortunes comes to mind: the British Empire. English military historian Corelli Barnett, who experienced and documented Great Britain’s final departure from her superpowerdom, made one of the most relevant scholarly observations on the fundamental causes:

… swift decline in British vigor at home and the failure to exploit the empire were not owing to some inevitable senescent process of history.... That cause was a political doctrine.... The doctrine was liberalism, which criticized and finally demolished the traditional conception of the nation-state as a collective organism, a community, and asserted instead the primacy of individual. According to liberal thinking a nation was no more than so many human atoms who happened to live under the same set of laws.... It was Adam Smith who formulated the doctrine of Free Trade, the keystone of liberalism, which was to exercise a long-live and baneful effect on British power.... Adam Smith attacked the traditional “mercantilist” belief that a nation should be generally self-supporting…

Today, when one observes the catastrophic level of American deindustrialization, with the American heartland still not fully recovered from the financial crisis of 2008, or when one sees the current opioid crisis raging across American cities, or one counts the real number of people who are still unemployed, or are already unemployable, one is forced to recall the fate of America’s mother, the British Empire, on which the sun was never supposed to set and how this scenario, granted with some major adjustments, is being played out in a front of our eyes in the United States. But if the British departure from greatness was hidden within the momentous events of WWII, with the Suez Crisis being merely a legal conclusion to this drawn-out process, the American departure threatens to unleash a global thermonuclear war which may completely obliterate human civilization, and this is an outcome which must be prevented by all means. It is not easy when one considers the incompetence of the contemporary American political and intellectual classes, especially their complete obliviousness to the realities of war and the horrors it unleashes, as will be further addressed herein. It is here, in this obliviousness, where both American idealism and moralism most manifest themselves, here at this very juncture, that an exceptionally unique American hubris and a complete loss of a sense of scale and proportion in its self-aggrandizement, as well as loss of the sense of commensuration between effort and outcome, begin to dictate the logic of America’s view of itself. It is a disturbing vision, as the events of the last 20 or so years have proved.

But as Orwell’s dictum goes, “Those who control the past control the future, and those who control the present control the past”. American “elites” proved themselves to be master manipulators of that vision. As a relatively recent 2015 poll showed, the West’s awareness of the realities of WWII is appalling, in fact, it is scandalous.

It is doubtful that such a miscarriage of a historical justice will be challenged successfully in the combined West, let alone in the US itself, where many media figures, politicians and “scholars” are in overdrive, doing their utmost to falsify the actual truth about the birthplace of American, real and perceived, superpowerdom—World War II. The real danger from such manipulations arises not when those manipulations are done out of knowledge of reality which is distorted accordingly for propaganda purposes, but when those who manipulate information begin to sincerely believe in their own falsifications, when they buy into their own narrative. They stop being manipulators, and they become believers in a narrative. They become manipulated themselves.

This is what has happened in the modern United States. The wrong lessons have been learned. During the Vietnam War, Senator J. William Fulbright echoed Tocqueville’s sentiments: “it would seem as if, doubting their own merit, they wished to have it constantly exhibited before their eyes”. He identified some of the serious ills which were affecting America’s vision of itself and of her foreign policy: “It is simply not necessary for us to go around forever proclaiming: ‘I am the greatest!’ The more one does this sort of thing, in fact, the more people doubt it….”5But that is what the essence of America’s vision of itself engendered: the need to parade its own real and perceived strengths around the world. It was this “morality of self-assurance fired by crusading spirit”6 which, in the end, won over the American soul. More importantly, it won over America’s political class, those people who formulate policies. It happened again during the Cold War, where the collapse of the Soviet Union was perceived as an American victory, reinforcing what its already very high opinion of itself, even despite warnings from those very few real Russia scholars such as the late George F. Kennan who saw the damage being done to the globally crucial Russian-American relationship and to the American psyche. Kennan noted: “What did the greatest damage was not our military preparations themselves, some of which (not all) were prudent and justifiable. It was rather the unnecessary belligerent and threatening tone in which many of them were publically carried forward.”

fall of Saigon

In the end, in the words of the same J. William Fulbright, “words are deeds and style is substance insofar as they influence men’s mind and behavior.” Apart from influencing America’s main Cold War foe, those words and style influenced America itself with the eventual ascendance of belligerent neo-conservatives to the very top of America’s foreign policy hierarchy, who apart from wrecking the whole Middle East, almost started a direct confrontation with Russia and domestically resulted in the remaking of America into an increasingly less confident, economically stagnating, divided society. All that was not the result of some political process going haywire at some point of time due to some unfortunate coincidence, far from it, America’s present-day situation was, with slight variations, inevitable, however avoidable, in a nation which for many generations didn’t experience war on their own home front. Neither US civilians nor America’s infrastructure suffered in any way in relation to the Vietnam War. For an overwhelming majority of Americans, it was a TV war.

In a grim historic irony, it was America’s main geopolitical foe of the 20th century, the Soviet Union, whose history, should it have been studied properly, could have given answers to some important questions on what America proclaimed to be the best at, while failing time after time to deliver precisely on that claim: modern warfare. But nothing prevented the US from claiming victory in WWI and WWII, nothing prevented it from proclaiming its military to be “the finest fighting force in history.” While speaking to the US military at Fort Bragg after the official conclusion of US operations in Iraq in 2011, in what can only be described as an acute case of myopia and ignorance, President Obama doubled down on a his dubious “finest fighting force in history” claim, assuring all that “we know too well the heavy cost of that war.” Here was the problem: America doesn’t. With the exception of those who fought and died or were wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan and their immediate families, America, as it was with every American foreign war, never knew the real costs. Even as bodies of American GIs started to arrive in coffins into the US from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans continued, as if nothing really happened, to go to work, buy lattes at espresso stands, sell and buy cars, go on vacations, travel around the world and pay their mortgages. Normal life went on as if nothing of significance happened. The very phenomenon which was responsible for the United States emergence as a superpower— war, WWII in particular—was never a factor which had a real impact on the nation and created no real inhibitors in the political elites to their often ignorant, boastful and aggressive rhetoric nor created a necessity to study the subject, which was foundational to American prosperity and success after WWII.

This still hasn’t been done. The outcomes, in full accordance to Clausewitz’ dictum that “it is legitimate to judge an event by its outcome for it is the soundest criterion,” have accumulated today into a body of overwhelming empirical evidence of a serious and dangerous dysfunction within America’s decision making process. From the debacle in Iraq, to the lost war in Afghanistan, to inspiring a slaughterhouse in Syria, to unleashing, with the help of its NATO Allies, a conflict in Libya, to finally fomenting a coup and a war in Ukraine—all of that is a disastrous record of geopolitical, diplomatic, military and intelligence incompetence and speaks to the failure of American political, military, intelligence and academic institutions. Moreover, the spectacular failure of several US Administrations and the US “experts” who supposedly know Russia, to build normal working relations, and, ironically, their even greater failure in sabotaging those relations and Russia herself, are a clear indication of an almost complete ignorance of real Russian history and culture among people who are responsible for an increasingly irrational US foreign policy.

This failure is more than spectacular—it is spectacularly dangerous. This book addresses some of the reasons for America’s sad and dangerous state today. The pivot of this book is war and power and how these two have been abused and misinterpreted by the American political and military class. Importantly, it is viewed against the background of Russian-American relations and how Russia, the only country in the world which can militarily defeat the United States conventionally, has been reduced to a caricature by the American “Russian Studies” field, so much so that today it makes any meaningful dialogue between Russia and America’s politicians virtually impossible. It is also impossible because of a dramatic difference in cultural attitudes towards war, a gap which policymakers should at least attempt to narrow.

Posted by tigerulze October 2023