Doubtless you have heard more than once the term “American Exceptionalism.” It implies, in short, that we are somehow special, different, superior. We are the “city upon a hill” whose freedoms and accomplishments set us apart. Alexis de Tocqueville coined the phrase midway through the 19th century, and it has enjoyed constant deployment by politicians and pundits ever since, because it lights a warm bulb of self-satisfaction in many bellies … and people feeling good about themselves are easier to convince. Salesmen thrived on this axiom before Babylon’s bricks were laid.
For the sake of comparison, here’s something exceptional: Médecins Sans Frontières. Founded in France, the organization is most commonly known in the US as Doctors Without Borders. Made up of more than 30,000 medical professionals, administrators and logistical experts, this organization provides vital health care in places mired in war and strife: Sudan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Afghanistan … sadly, the list has included some 70 countries over the intervening years, and does not stop. Military personnel have a saying: “Run to the sound of the guns.” Doctors Without Borders volunteers do exactly the same thing.
This past weekend, Doctors Without Borders volunteers were treating people in a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, when the building erupted in fire and screaming. A US airstrike by a massive AC-130 gunship laid an ocean of ordnance on the building at fifteen-minute intervals for more than an hour, and when it was over, 22 people were dead including three children and ten Doctors Without Borders staff members. One nurse who survived recounted how the hospital was all but destroyed, and when the survivors went in to look, they found six patients on fire in their hospital beds.
For its part, the US said it wasn’t us, then said it might have been us, then said the hospital was a nest of Taliban fighters – a claim the doctors dispute vehemently – before saying Afghan officials asked us to do it. Yesterday, President Obama personally apologized to Dr. Joanne Liu, the organization’s international president, for the attack. Doctors Without Borders is not having it, and is not mincing words. Immediately after the attack, the organization’s General Director, Christopher Stokes, said, “We reiterate that the main hospital building, where medical personnel were caring for patients, was repeatedly and very precisely hit during each aerial raid, while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched. We condemn this attack, which constitutes a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law.” The organization’s Executive Director, Jason Cone, described it as the “darkest couple of days in our organization’s history,” before going on to call the attack a “war crime.” After the apology, Dr. Liu demanded an independent investigation into the incident.
Never fear, however: The Authorities are on the case. The Pentagon is going to investigate the Pentagon to see if the Pentagon obliterated a hospital in Afghanistan by bombing it with precision munitions fired from a massive gunship for more than an hour, incinerating civilians, children and doctors. Sounds legit.
American Exceptionalism in full effect.
Speaking of which, the 247th mass shooting in the United States during this current calendar year took place in Room 15 of Snyder Hall at Umpqua Community College in Oregon on October 1st. The man who did it shot down a roomful of students, including a professor and a woman using a wheelchair.
A lady in the next classroom over with gray hair using a cane went to investigate when the noise began, and staggered back moments later covered in blood with part of her arm blasted away. “Don’t go in there,” she said before collapsing. An Army veteran named Chris Mintz attempted to thwart the attack and was shot five times, on his son’s sixth birthday. He survived his service and his deployments overseas intact, only to come home to a rain of gunfire in the 45th school shooting incident this year alone.
When it was all over, nine people were dead. The shooter, whose name I will not repeat because that’s what he wanted, blew his own brains out once he was cornered. Nine others were wounded. Everyone involved will be scarred for life, emotionally if not physically, and the families of the dead are on their way to funerals.
Some 87,000 people in the US have been shot dead since the unimaginable Sandy Hook massacre. There have been 142 school shootings over that span of time, and more mass shootings than days on the current calendar. If international terrorists came to the US, killed 87,000 people and attacked 142 schools, the US Air Force would be unleashed with napalm, bombs, bullets and rage to turn the rest of the planet into smoking glass in an act of blind vengeance. Since we’ve done it to ourselves, however, it’s just politics. The NRA is powerful, you know. Exceptional.
Here’s what would actually be exceptional: Don’t bomb hospitals filled with medical professional volunteers and civilians, including children. Don’t ignore the fact that the gun fetish in the United States is causing bodies to be stacked like cordwood because the NRA, along with the gun manufacturers and distributers who back them, throw weight in DC. This nation is about as exceptional as the Mob: We rob, we intimidate and we kill for profit. We kill ourselves at home and kill others abroad. We are not special. We are dangerous.
It would be exceptional if we got ourselves out of the habit. I’m not holding my breath.