False Virtue: The Life and Death of ‘American Exceptionalism’

The impending decline of the dollar is apparently imposing a real Halloween scare on the American foreign policy establishment. An August 22, 2023, article on the Council on Foreign Relations website entitled “The Future of Dollar Hegemony” explained that

the dollar’s global hegemony gives the U.S. government power to impose crippling sanctions and wage other forms of financial welfare against adversaries. . . . In 2022, more than twelve thousand entities were under sanction by the Treasury Department, a more than twelve-fold increase since the turn of the century. U.S. sanctions . . . do ensure that targeted adversaries pay a significant price for continuing to engage in actions the United States opposes (emphasis added).

This reminds yours truly of a very memorable bumper sticker that had an American flag in one corner and read: “Do as We Say or We Will Bring Democracy to Your Country!” The bumper sticker is memorable because it speaks truth to power in a very sarcastic manner. It also highlights how “sanctions” are an act of war that has long assisted the US government in acting as the bully of the world. Dollar dominance is the cornerstone of such bullying since so many dollars are held in so many other countries as their reserve currency. This allows a massive amount of foreign policy blackmailing to occur.

The bullying is always all about the money, one way or another, just as “follow the money” is always good advice when one investigates the causes of any war anywhere. But a golden rule of politics is to never, ever admit that one is interested in anything but the moral uplifting of mankind, the eradication of poverty in foreign lands, saving the widows and orphans of the world, or some other selfless, magnanimous gesture. Protectionists never admit, for example, that their real goal is to use the powers of the state to plunder and legally steal from their customers. They must cloak their greed in nationalism, national defense arguments, anything but the truth.

In the foreign policy realm one must never speak the truth about the real purpose of imperialistic wars and invasions, as did Marine Corps General Smedley Butler in his famous essay, “War is a Racket.” General Butler was a two-time Congressional Medal of Honor winner and is said to have been the most highly decorated Marine ever. Published in the post World War I era, General Butler explained what he really spent his illustrious career doing:

I spent most of my time being a high class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. . . . I helped make Mexico safe . . . for American oil interests. . . . I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank. . . . I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers. . . . I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests.

The Mother of All U.S. Government Lies

For at least the past century and a half American imperialism has been cloaked in a monstrous lie about the supposed moral exceptionalism of Americans and their government. The lie was never better exposed than by the great novelist Robert Penn Warren in a 1961 book entitled The Legacy of the Civil War. Warren was asked by Life magazine to write the book to commemorate the centennial of the Civil War. The most important point of the book is that, after the war, the US government claimed to possess what Warren calls “a treasury of virtue.” The Republican Party, which monopolized federal politics for the succeeding half century, called itself “the party of great moral ideas.” Lincoln was of course deified after his assassination with court historians comparing him to Jesus Christ, reminding their readers that he died on Good Friday, and claiming that he died for America’s sins just as Jesus died for the sins of the world. Harper’s magazine published a lithograph of an angel ascending to heaven above an opened tomb with the head of the angel being that of lifelong atheist Abraham Lincoln.

Everything related to Lincoln and his war was all of a sudden sacred and supremely virtuous. No more draft riots. No more massive battlefield desertions. No more firing squads for Union Army conscripts who had deserted. No more mass imprisonment without due process of Northern state critics of the Lincoln regime. No more shutting down of hundreds of opposition newspapers in the North and imprisonment of their owners and editors. No more deportation of opposition party congressmen like Democrat Clement Vallandigham of Ohio. No more calls to deport (euphemistically called “colonization”) all the black people as Lincoln and his idol, Henry Clay, had done throughout their adult lives.

One early biographer claimed that Lincoln’s mother was the most chaste woman in world history, next to the Virgin Mary herself. His father, said another Lincoln biographer, was so illiterate that he could never even sign his name, but nevertheless somehow “read the Bible.” Boobus Americanus ate it up and embraced every bizarre, nonsensical story about Lincoln as God’s truth, for Boobus was happy to equate Lincoln’s supposed saintliness with his own. The deification of Lincoln eventually led to the effective deification of the presidency in general in the minds of many Americans, and then to the government itself.

Robert Penn Warren wrote that this massive and unprecedented propaganda barrage created “a plenary indulgence, for all sins past, present, and future.” The US government emerged from the Civil War “so full of righteousness that there is enough overplus stored in Heaven . . . to take care of all the small failings and oversights of the descendants of the crusaders” By “crusaders” Warren apparently meant the likes of General Sherman’s army of plunderers, arsonists, rapists, and murderers of civilians.

The American state adopted “a moral narcissism,” wrote Warren, which fueled “the crusades of 1917–1918 and 1941–1945 and our diplomacy of righteousness, with the slogan of unconditional surrender and universal rehabilitation—for others.” “The effect of this conviction of virtue is to make us lie automatically,” he wrote.

In order to buy into the “treasury of virtue” ideology, however, one must forget an awful lot about actual American history and fill one’s head instead with false narratives concocted by state propagandists, said Warren. One must forget, for example, that the Republican Party platform of 1860 contained an ironclad defense of slavery; that the War Aims Resolution of the US Congress declared to the world that the war was about saving the union and had nothing to do with slavery; that the Emancipation Proclamation freed no one since it only applied to rebel territory; that Lincoln said in one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates that “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races”; and that in his first inaugural address Lincoln pledged his support of a constitutional amendment (the Corwin Amendment) that would have enshrined the protection of slavery explicitly in the text of the Constitution. The Corwin Amendment was in fact the work of the Lincoln administration and it passed the House and Senate after Southern secession had occurred. Lincoln himself instructed William Seward to do the heavy lifting with the Corwin Amendment in the US Senate—and then claimed in his inaugural address that he had never seen such an amendment but supported it nevertheless!

What Did the U.S. Government Do with All that Virtue?

Three months after the end of the War to Prevent Southern Independence, General William Tecumseh Sherman was put in charge of the Military District of the Missouri, which was all land west of the Mississippi. His assignment was to commence a twenty-five-year war of genocide against the Plains Indians. “We are not going to let a few thieving, ragged Indians check and stop the progress” of the railroads, Sherman declared. (Sherman had been given a large amount of stock in the government-subsidized transcontinental railroad corporations). The mass killing of the Plains Indians was to be a veiled form of corporate welfare for the massively subsidize Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroad corporations.

“The great triumvirate of the Civil War,” wrote Sherman biographer Michael Fellman in Citizen Sherman, which included Generals Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan, would pursue what Sherman called “the final solution to the Indian problem.” Their “solution” resulted in the death of some forty-five thousand Indians, including thousands of women and children, and the maiming of far more at the hands of other Civil War “luminaries” such as George Armstrong Custer, Winfield Scott Hancock, John Pope, and Benjamin Garrison.

Fellman writes of how Sherman boasted of his objective of “a racial cleansing of the land,” and he was not above employing ex slaves (called “Buffalo soldiers” by the Indians) to assist in the task. “All of the Indians will have to be killed or maintained as a species of paupers,” Fellman quotes Sherman as announcing. As such, wrote Fellman, “Sherman gave Sheridan prior authorization to slaughter as many women and children as men” because it would be too time consuming to discriminate. Sherman promised to handle the east coast press should anyone find out what was really going on in the West. S.L.A. Marshall, the official US government historian of the European theatre of war in World War II and the author of thirty-five books on US military history called Sherman’s order to Sheridan and Custer “the most brutal orders every published to American troops.” Such was our first exhibition of the vaunted treasury of virtue created by Lincoln’s war.

The Indian Wars were over by 1890 and Sherman was dead. In 1899 the Filipinos finally got rid of the Spanish Empire, but little did they know that they were about to be forced to become a part of the American empire. Their three-year fight for independence was known as the Philippine Insurrection, during which some two hundred thousand Filipinos were killed by the most virtuous people on earth, American soldiers, many of whom had honed their genocidal skills during the Indian Wars. Teddy Roosevelt, the biggest blowhard in American political history, cheered on the slaughter and assisted with rhetoric denouncing Filipinos as “Chinese half-breeds,” “savages,” “barbarians,” “wild and ignorant people,” and “a lesser race.” Roosevelt denounced “the menace of peace,” shortly after which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. US senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana bloviated that it was “America’s duty” to “bring Christianity” to the Philippines, unaware that Filipinos had been Catholics for about four hundred years at that point.

The Spanish-American War of the same era is considered by many to have been the final turning point where America abandoned the idea of a constitutional republic and became an empire. This was eloquently stated by the great libertarian Yale University scholar William Graham Sumner in his famous essay, “The Conquest of the United States by Spain.” Sumner wrote of how the war created for the first time a regime of “war, debt, taxation, diplomacy, a grand governmental system, pomp, glory, a big army and navy, lavish expenditures, political jobbery—in a word imperialism.” The “jobbery” created “enormous wealth for a few schemers” and was “a grand onslaught on democracy.” Sound familiar?

Also in the early 1890s American corporations had their eye on the wealth of Hawaii and got the US military to conquer yet another “inferior race.” One John Stevens was appointed as a US government “envoy” to Hawaii. He arranged for troops to land there and take control, which they did, placing Judge Stanford Dole as head of the new puppet government. The troops held the Hawaiian king at bayonet point and forced him to sign a new “constitution” that disenfranchised all native Hawaiians along with Asians who lived there, once again denouncing them all as “an inferior race,” as apparently was the routine of “the party of Lincoln” at the time. James Dole, the cousin of Judge Dole, then founded the Dole Fruit Company. Once again the idiotic Teddy Roosevelt opened his big mouth with his giant horse teeth and declared, “I feel it was a crime . . . against the white race that we did not annex Hawaii three years ago.”

And so it went with the treasury of virtue, which morphed linguistically into “American exceptionalism.” This is what paved the way for the never-ending military interventionism of the twentieth century and beyond, up to the present day. The “treasury of virtue” has always been the moral cover for all of this greed, racism, barbarianism, and worse. The good news today is that it is hard to think of anyone with a sound mind who would sincerely believe this any longer. Of course, it is human nature to deny that one has been duped and lied to for one’s entire life, so there with always be the Boobus americanus class, so named by H.L. Mencken, that will chant USA! USA! for every bomb dropped on civilian populations anywhere in the world. But the gig is up. The party in power as of this writing is run by a man described by Naomi Wolf as “a senile puppet of the Chinese Communist party” whose main mission as president has been to align himself—and his country—with what is generally acknowledged as the most corrupt society on earth, Ukraine. The “uniparty” in Washington is finally crumbling, David Stockman has recently declared. If he is right, it is because Boobus americanus is finally outnumbered and the false treasury of virtue has been proven beyond doubt to have been the mother of all government lies. There is no longer any moral authority to use “sanctions” to destroy a country’s economy for failing to “do as we say.” The decline of the dollar will inevitably speed up this process, which is good news for the world.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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