Russian president Vladimir Putin seems to have stirred up a hornet’s nest with his comment that the USA is not exceptional. Putin’s statement is a deliberate attempt to tease the US and garner support in his own country, but in the end probably quite banal. However, the reaction to Putin’s comments by some people in the US is hilarious. This Op Ed piece from USA Today, is a moderate example, one of many. Try googling “Putin US exceptional” and you will see examples of even more jingoistic reactions.
The writer admits that the US is not above reproach, but reaffirms the exceptional nature of the US with statements like:
“it was the U.S. military that turned the tide of the battles in World War I and World War II — and the American economic engine that fueled Europe’s recovery from the devastation wrought by Nazi Germany,”
“in fact, as exceptional nations go, the U.S. ranks right up there with the Roman Empire and England during its period of colonial dominance.”
The facts are that all of the belligerents in the two world wars were exceptional to some extent. The Balkan ambitions of the Austro-Hungarian empire started the first world war. French losses in WW I were exceptional. The losses experienced by countries like Poland and Yugoslavia in WW II were exceptional. The heroic resistance of Great Britain in that war was exceptional. The role of Germany in both wars was exceptional. The Soviet Union played a far more exceptional role in “turning the tide of battles” in WWII, at least in Europe, then the United States. For that matter the whole history of the Soviet Union starting from the revolution in 1917, was exceptional. The US was certainly a positive factor in Europe’s postwar recovery, but I think that many other exceptional factors, including Germany’s response and the creation of the European common market, were equally responsible for this remarkable resurgence.
From a historical perspective, I think it is a little early to rank the US right up there with the Roman Empire. Perhaps it is useful to consider other exceptional countries and empires in history. China, the Mongols under Genghis Khan, India, the influence of France from Louis XIV to Napoleon, and the Ottoman Empire come quickly to mind, and Egypt, Sumeria, Persia, Ancient Greece, and I am just getting started. The dramatic expansion eastward to the Pacific of Czarist Russia is another example that is quite exceptional. For that matter, the techniques developed by the Inuit to survive in the conditions of the Arctic are exceptional.
I think every nation is exceptional. When I study the languages of different countries, even smaller countries like the Czech Republic, I am always impressed by the unique and fascinating nature of their history and traditions. Some countries are large and some countries are small. Some countries are powerful and exert that power. Other countries have frequently been invaded by their neighbours. To me, they are all exceptional.
Maybe what is truly exceptional about some of these Americans (certainly not all) is that they consider themselves to be so exceptional.