America has been greatly blessed in many areas of life, and we have much for which we should be grateful. When one ponders over all of the gifts that we possess, one would be hard-pressed to find an area, in which our bounty isn't overflowing.
Well, there is one aspect of American life that is in very short supply-the one area in which there is a gross deficiency is in our national humility. We are so used to being #1 that we stumble over ourselves in self-adulation and miss realizing that we are not perfect. We would be well advised to remember George Santayana's admonition, "Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
We, as Americans, might have been shocked and disgusted at the photographs of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, but what makes us think that Americans aren't capable of the same types of conduct that other groups routinely commit? The answer is that we believe our own national hype about ourselves being so much better than others. Actually, we think of ourselves as a cut above the rest of the world. Other nations are lacking in our value system and therefore, others are capable of genocide, racism, sexism, and wanton acts of misconduct.
While we tend to be self-righteously oblivious to the log in our national eye, which blinds us to our shortcomings, others from around the world are readily to see our mistakes. It shouldn't be much of a surprise to discover that they question us appointing ourselves as the saviors of the world.
Those abused at the Abu Ghraib prison don't see Americans as the great liberators of Iraq. From the perspective of those abused, the fact that numerically we didn't abuse as many as Saddam abused, falls on deaf ears. Even more to the point, I wonder how many Iraqis, abused or not, think they are better off today than they were before we came to liberate them from a sadistic dictator. If I were an Iraqi or a person living in any of the other undemocratic countries in the Middle East, I wouldn't be drawn to America's ideals nor would I want that value system imposed upon my country or me. We aren't as innocent as we contend that we are, and that national hypocrisy offends much of the world. We aren't as loved by others as we love ourselves.
Name an abuse or human rights violation that appalls you, and history would teach us that many have experienced those very same human rights violations at the hands of Americans. An honest reading of American history would teach us that many have experienced random killings, raping, attempts at genocide, concentration camps, imprisonment without due process, etc. Ask African-Americans, Native Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and many others.
We aren't the most ethical and virtuous people in the world. We are like everyone else in the world, because people from everywhere else came and populated this country. It is preposterous to believe that we are inheritently different when we are the melting pot of peoples from all over the world. Given the opportunity, we will behave as well or as poorly as others behave. We don't stand on the moral high ground on any issue even though we verbally claim we do, but we don't.
Santayana has an insightful cure to what ails us as a nation, "Religion in its humility restores man to his only dignity, the courage to live by grace." We need to listen to Santayana for at least two major reasons. First, we need to learn from our past so that we don't repeat our mistakes over and over again. We need to incorporate these learnings into our national psyche for the benefit of those that might still have to suffer at the hands of America.
Second, we need to change for our national security. We are creating vast reservoirs of hate and hostility towards America by our actions in the world. New generations will drink from the waters that our arrogance creates, and that arrogance plays directly into the hands of all those who seek to do us ill. We can't kill or imprison all the new converts to terrorism that our national arrogance and self-deceit create. We need to change both our attitude and actions to avoid future acts of terrorism. America can change, but we first need to get honest with who we are, and who we are isn't the same as our press releases about ourselves.