American Exceptionalism – Leftie Edition

I grew up behind the Iron Curtain, in a Warsaw Pact country. We were taught that this is the great alliance of socialist countries banding together to counterbalance the evil imperialist NATO. Lead by the great and both technically and socially advanced USS. And in my childhood naivety, I really believed that the USSR is The Land Where Tomorrow Already Means Yesterday (“Země kde zítra již znamená včera”, a bonmot that was bandied about very often). I believed in USSR exceptionalism.

We were taught a lot of things about how evil NATO is and how good the Warsaw Pact is, but we were not told that the Warsaw Pact is possibly the only ostensibly defensive alliance in history that has never defended anyone from anything but attacked its own members instead – the occupation of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. I do not remember ever learning about that at school, but admittedly the regime fell apart at about the same time when we were reaching recent history in our curriculum.

Later on, when I learned about it, it was a revelation. Not an exceptionally sudden one, it did not come to me as an epiphany one sunny morning, but one that evolved and matured over the years as I absorbed new and new information about what NATO did and what Warsaw Pact did, but a revelation nevertheless. And not a nice one – the world superpowers are not divided into good guys and bad guys, they are divided only into bad guys whose badness depends on your vantage point.

One can justifiably show to various parts of the world, mostly in the Global South and in the Middle East, where the USA and NATO have done a lot of harm. There were coups instigated, democratically elected governments overthrown, countries unjustly invaded, and war crimes committed. The end result was invariably political chaos and instability from which none of the afflicted countries has fully recovered.

However, in central and eastern Europe NATO was not the bad guy. Here the bad guy was the USSR. People in Eastern Europe in general and in Ukraine specifically do not, on average, need much encouragement to not like Russia and like NATO. And they do exactly that, in fact. Using their own thinking, deciding in their own interest. NATO never harmed them. The USSR (Russia) did. Czechia, Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania – none of them needed to have their arms twisted to want to join NATO as security against Russia who never really ceased to be a threat and whose occupation forces have left just one generation ago – with scars from that occupation still being visible to those willing to look.

With the war in Ukraine, a lot of people in the comments at FtB are spending a lot of time bemoaning the evils of NATO and how it was NATO’s evil machinations that have caused the Ukrainian people to turn on their pro-russian president in 2014 and kick him out. But the EU, Russia, and the USA all have a political and financial stake in Ukraine, yet apparently only the USA and the EU have managed to persuade Ukrainians to want to ally with them. And why is that? It is not some unique evil capability that only CIA has that has persuaded the Ukrainian people to decide to want to join the EU and NATO. It is because Russia has harmed them. And now continues to harm them and tells, quite loudly, that it intends to continue to do so.

The right-wingers think the USA is exceptional, the Shining City on a Hill, unique, perfect in every way. That is daft. But to believe that every decision everywhere that aligns with the USA interests is always and only the result of some nefarious USA machinations is equally daft. It is American exceptionalism too, only turned inside out. If you consider yourself a leftist, really try to treat all people equally. Allow both pro- and against-USA-aligned actors to have their own agency.


  1. says

    I had to correct the last sentence. We got two blackouts when I wrote this and it has distracted me (and pissed me of) greatly.

  2. moarscienceplz says

    Hi Charly,
    I am a USA citizen and a USA resident, so I am swimming in a soup of USA propaganda, but I think your post is pretty spot-on. There is a lot to be worried about in the world today, I hope despite that that we in NATO will not turn away from the plight of Ukraine.

  3. says

    I’ve got to argue a bit with some of this. It appears that you are saying there is a lot of leftist back-pressure supporting Russia, even here on FTB. Maybe I’m not reading closely enough, and am overlooking things, but that does not appear to me to be the case. What is the case is that there is a lot of push-back against American-led NATO criticism of Russia for its war crimes. That, definitely. And, for good reason: it is absurd to see NATO, which invaded Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, and used massive artillery strikes (there were no military targets!) in Fallujah, Raqqa, etc., including white phosphorus, indiscriminate air strikes, etc. Those are facts. It’s not “supporting Russia” to point out that NATO and the US have absolutely no moral high ground, whatsoever, and ought to moderate their rhetoric regarding Russian war crimes. The Russian war crimes are severe, but basically, the Russians are matching NATO crime for crime. So, my pushback is on the axis of lack of moral high ground on NATO’s part, nothing remotely resembling support of Russia. In fact, elsewhere, I have voiced my opinion that NATO ought to stop fucking around and wreck the Russian army now while they are overextended and haven’t got enough fuel to get home alive. That is hardly me “supporting” Russia; I am saying they should be treated as mercilessly as NATO treated Saddam Hussein’s troops that were overextended and cut off in Kuwait. Of course, there are details.
    But, my point is perhaps “not all leftists support Russia” or something like that. In fact, I don’t see a lot of leftists here on FTB supporting Russia. Perhaps you care to share some pointers?

  4. says

    @Marcus, I do not see how what you are writing argues with what I wrote. I agree with what you are saying completely. Note that I am explicitly talking about comments on FtB, not the bloggers.

    As pointers look into comment sections under any Ukraine post on Pharyngula, and if memory serves right, even on stderr. You will always find someone who calls the Maidan Revolution a “USA-backed coup” (I think consciousness razor does that a lot). That is what I have an issue with in this article. It might have been USA-backed, but it was definitively Ukraininan-people-backed.

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    Marcus @4:

    It appears that you are saying there is a lot of leftist back-pressure supporting Russia, even here on FTB.

    That’s not what Charly said. In most threads about Ukraine, there always seems to be a handful of commenters who rattle on about how the war in Ukraine is all down to NATO. None (that I remember) actually say they support Russia, but the general tenor is “US/NATO backed Russia into a corner”. The most infuriating thing for me* is that they write as though no-one other than the US has any agency in all this.

    *As the son of Latvian displaced persons, with relatives who were deported to Siberia.

  6. says

    Ok, well obviously I have not been reading comments and I’ll need to be more careful.

    By all means, the Maidan had no CIA activity, but Yuschenko, Yanukovich, etc. all did. CIA probably had to have in-country teams on both sides of that one, so they’d be backing the winner. And the US sending DCI to visit was totally just how things are done. It seems to me that everyone is breaking new ground in the field of “reading the writing on the wall and claiming it’s an ad for Nutella.”

    CIA joke: how do you know the CIA wasn’t behind the plot to kill Kennedy? He’s dead, isn’t he?

    We’re still too close to all this history to be able to say what happened.

  7. Rob Grigjanis says

    FSB joke: how do you know the FSB was behind the plot to kill Navalny? He’s alive, isn’t he?

  8. AlexanderZ says

    Thank you for writing this, Charly.

    I’m commenting now because I specifically searched for this post. The quisling Left’s approach to Russia, particularly from socialist circles that I felt most at home with, is infuriating to no end.

    Russian forces are moving ever closer to the city I was born in, and so much of the US left is advocating for US stopping the support for the oppressed side. This fucking reverse American Exceptionalism has always been a problem, but now my family is on the receiving end of it.

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