There has been a fair amount of discussion as to whether the United States is “exceptional” among the world’s nations. Let’s look at some of our country’s actions over the centuries and see how we compare with the competition.
In the early fall of 1945, the battleship USS Missouri , at anchor in Tokyo harbor, was the site of the surrender of the Empire of Japan to the Allied forces at the end of the bloodiest war ever visited upon the world. Rather than treat Japan as a defeated enemy, the United States encouraged Japanese Emperor Hirohito to lead his defeated people in a new direction, to a peaceful future and a restored society focusing on a productive path. We were generous in providing aid to the former foe, and today Japan is one of the strongest nations of the world and a staunch ally.
Across the globe, a stark contrast was visible between the portion of Germany ceded by treaty to the American sector and that ceded to the Russian captors of the Eastern sector. The latter suffered for decades under the dictatorship of the Soviets.
Not long after the end of World War II, Russia sponsored another hostility in Korea, Instead of a treaty ending that war, a cease-fire was negotiated. To this day, 60 years later, the people of North Korea are still imprisoned by a relentless dictatorship, while South Korea, as an American ally, is one of the most prosperous countries in Asia.
Similarly, the country of Vietnam was besieged by communist invasion. After a lengthy conflict, the United States reconciled with its former enemy, and Vietnam today is a trading ally and a major supplier of manufactured goods to the United States.
The key word in each of these instances is “reconciliation.” Both sides saw the advantage of a peaceful coexistence with an exchange of commerce instead of bombs. Although that seems elementary, the history of human warfare finds this idea seldom, if ever, chosen as a solution.
The earliest use of this concept that I know of was in the Northwest Territory during the American Revolution. Maj. George Rogers Clark of the Virginia militia recognized that the Native Americans, acting on behalf of the British government, were collecting American scalps and selling them to the British at Fort Detroit. Virginia Gov. Patrick Henry and patriot Thomas Jefferson commissioned Clark to gather an armed force and venture westward down the Ohio River and solve this problem.
His force was much too small to wage effective war against the enemy, so Clark decided to “persuade” the tribes that the Americans were not their enemies and the British were the real culprits. He decided that the best way to defeat an enemy was to convert him to become a friend. He was remarkably successful with this tactic.
In contrast, the ancient Greeks demanded total submission. So did the conquering Romans, the Norsemen, the Russians, the Chinese, the Arab nations, the British and all others I have encountered.
I submit that the United States is, without a doubt, exceptional among other nations. Perfect? No. But we deserve to wear the exceptional title with pride. We have earned it.