American Exceptionalism Shown Through War
The United States of America is in many ways an experiment. It is in no way an old country — England and France were established hundreds of years before North America was even colonized. Furthermore, the U.S. not only declared independence from Great Britain, but it went to war with them and won. These events set a foundation for the United States: a certain attitude or air of confidence. Essentially the ideology of American Exceptionalism is the idea that the United States did everything the best. Some would describe it as a feeling of superiority of political and constitutional arrangments, the uniqueness of the U.S. political system.5. Part of what this could have stemmed from is the geographic positioning of the U.S. in that it is far away from Europe and Asia to stay out of their conflicts and have the ability to expand while relatively unopposed.5.
This became apparent especially during the Cold War when the government was set on ridding the world of communism. While many events in history show American Exceptionalism, war is the best example because of the considerable amounts of wars the U.S. has been in, the willingness of leaders to fight these wars because of this ideology, and the foreign policy that was based on American Exceptionalism; mainly the war on terror.
Nearly every generation has had a war to fight, whether it be the Revolution, the Indian Wars, the World Wars, and now even the War in Afghanistan. War has always been intertwined in American history. While the settling of the West and the treatment of Native Americans show how Americans felt they were superior because of their society and culture, the West eventually ended and there was no more territory to settle. Wars have been fought since the beginning of America’s history and long after the West had been settled. This is why war shows so greatly the ideology of American Exceptionalism, where it came from and how it has evolved; specifically, wars battling an ideology, not wars for land.
Many leaders in American history have embodied this ideology from Theodore Roosevelt to Barack Obama. Almost every U.S. president has expressed this ideology in some way, with Barack Obama saying that he is extremely proud of American Exceptionalism, as he assumes people feel the same with British Exceptionalism and Greek Exceptionalism. American Exceptionalism is not an ancient concept. It has been in American history throughout and has evolved. During the Civil War over 600,000 Americans died battling over two ideologies grounded in their belief that their society was better or more right than the other. The Civil War represents the tenacity of American beliefs and how dangerous this exceptionalism can be, represented not only in the Civil War but in almost every war following.
The Korean War and Vietnam War are arguably the greatest representations of American Exceptionalism in war [more presently the Iraq War is another great example]. Both proxy wars were in the midst of the Cold War and essentially a fight against capitalism and communism. In both instances, the North was backed by communist Russia, USSR back then, and China whereas the South was backed by the United States mainly. While the Korean War had a just cause for U.S./U.N. intervention, the Vietnam War did not. In Korea, the North, led by Kim Il Sung, invaded the South, led by Syngman Rhee, without cause.1. This was reason enough for the U.S. to send troops to fight. However, the fact that the North was communist and the South was capitalist further proves that that war was fought because of the belief that the American way of life was superior. 54,246 Americans would die for this belief.2.
The same can be said about North and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was backed by communist Russia and China and the South was backed by the Capitalist United States. However, the way President Lyndon B. Johnson got Congress to give him the power to send more troops to Vietnam is inexcusable. Essentially, Johnson reported that North Vietnamese submarines fired on U.S. warships and with this act of aggression by North Vietnam Congress gave Johnson an open check to do what he needed on the ground in Vietnam. In reality, it has been proven that the Gulf of Tonkin incident never happened. Unfortunately, the Vietnam War was another proxy war fought by the U.S. during the Cold War. Unlike the Korean War where an argument can be made that the U.S. was successful [in that in the end, the U.S. technically kept communism from spreading to South Korea], there were no successes in Vietnam. There was no strategy or really any end game for Vietnam. The U.S. did not try to gain land, they tried to kill as many Viet Cong as possible. The U.S. officials did not understand the history of the Vietnamese. They had fought the Japanese and French before the U.S. and had succeeded in both instances. It was this underestimation that ultimately dragged out the war, leading to the death of 58,220 Americans.3.
These wars can all be drawn back to American Exceptionalism. The Korean and Vietnam wars are not the only applicable examples- the 1980s Afghan war illustrated the same when the U.S. backed Mujahideen fighters whilst they fought the Soviets. Along with the First World War in that President Wilson said that America needed to fight to make the world safer for democracy. This is not to say that every war the United States has fought has been without a just cause. As mentioned the Korean War had a justifiable reason, along with the current war in Afghanistan. It cannot be denied, though, that American Exceptionalism has played a major role in these wars. Ultimately it would not be the politicians and leaders that would pay the ultimate price for this, rather it would be over 1.1 million Americans that would bear this cross.4. Not to forget the countless lives of the nations American has fought that have been lost, for they were soldiers too just doing their duty. William C. Westmoreland bluntly, but effectively, puts it, “The military don’t start wars. Politicians start wars.”
- W, Catherine. “United States Involvement in the Korean War: Causes and Effects.” Study.com. March 1, 2018. Accessed November 20, 2018. https://study.com/academy/lesson/the-korean-war-causes-and-effects.html.
- “Korean War Fast Facts.” CNN. May 01, 2018. Accessed November 20, 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2013/06/28/world/asia/korean-war-fast-facts/index.html.
- “Vietnam War U.S. Military Fatal Casualty Statistics.” National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed November 20, 2018. https://www.archives.gov/research/military/vietnam-war/casualty-statistics.
- Crigger, Megan, and Laura Santhanam. “How Many Americans Have Died in U.S. Wars?” PBS. May 24, 2015. Accessed November 20, 2018. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/many-americans-died-u-s-wars.
- Brittonw, Gregory. “SEPTEMBER 11, AMERICAN ‘EXCEPTIONALISM’ AND THE WAR IN IRAQ.” Australasian Journal of American Studies 25, no. 1 (2006): 125-41. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41054016.