4. THE GOOD EMPIRE VERSUS THE EVIL EMPIRE
There is a significant difference between the American exceptionalism imagined by Winthrop and the actual American exceptionalism. The Puritan from Arbella explained American exceptionalism on religious grounds. Instead, in the 20th century the concept came to rely on political, geographical and social arguments. The American nation is special because it is a mosaical association of people who have in common the need for freedom, human and natural inalienable rights, democracy, republicanism, rule of law, civic virtue, fair-play, private property and constitutional government. Hence, the American nation holds a special state of mind, a special environment, and a special political culture compared to other nations. The United States is built on republican ideals, rather than a heritage dictated by a monarchical ruling class. Ever since their conception, the American policies have followed a system of federalism, examinations and balances meant to prevent any person, faction, region or governmental body to become too powerful.
At the moment, American exceptionalism is a multifunctional political and patriotic instrument. For example, it is used to provide legitimacy to the superior attitude of America in its relations with the other nations of the world. Patriotism is the civil religion of America and the Christian duty of spreading the gospel to all people conveniently transformed into the idea that America has the mission to civilize the world according to its own image. American exceptionalism was also used to fight communism. The rivalry between the United States and Russia exists since the First World War, because the latter is the cradle of the communist revolution. Immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, American society lived the First Red Scare – a nation-wide hysteria regarding the imminence of a communist transformation. The Americans feared that, following the wave of worldwide communist revolutions, their country was on the brink of a proletarian uprising that would change the American values and lifestyle. At its height, in 1919-1920, concerns regarding the political agitation and the alleged spread of communism and anarchism among American labor movements fueled a general sense of paranoia, further exacerbated by newspapers into xenophobia. Later, in 1929, the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin named the resistance of America to the communist revolution as the “heresy of American exceptionalism.” On the contrary, Jay Loverstone identified American exceptionalism with American capitalism – a power that prevents the communist revolution. According to Loverstone, the United States had to be the example of a nation freed from Marxism and socialism for European societies, a weapon and a wall of defense in front of the communist expansion.1275
After the Second World War the victorious powers united in two giant political blocks, led by the two antagonistic superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. The world was split into two spheres of influence, characterized by two opposed ideologies: democracy and communism. This context triggered the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly between 1947 and 1956. The fear of communism and American traitors was brutally aggravated by the Berlin Blockade of 1948, the confessions of spying for the Soviets given by several government officials in 1949, the Chinese communists winning the Chinese Civil War, and later the Chinese intervention in the Korean War (1950-1953) against South Korea, America’s ally. During the Second Red Scare, thousands of Americans were accused of being communists or communist sympathizers and became the subject of aggressive investigations.
At international level, the rivalry between the two superpowers triggered the Cold War – one of the most dangerous periods in human history. The world just came out of the Second World War, and there was already the prospect of the Third World War. And, to make matters worse, the end of the Second World War brought a major change in war tactics: the atomic bomb. Nagasaki and Hiroshima demonstrated that the world acquired a terrifying unprecedented power, possibly too big for our level of morality and intelligence. In any case, there was no turning back: the world entered the nuclear age. The nuclear experiments escalated on both sides and there was also the risk of an accidental catastrophe. One single mistake and the consequences could have been unimaginable.
In reaction to this state of things, the famous physicist Albert Einstein stated: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”1276 Similarly, in 1947 the experts from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists magazine of the University of Chicago instituted the so-called “Doomsday Clock” – a symbolic reference point that has the purpose to show how close the world is to self-destruction. In 1947, at the start of the Cold War, the clock was set at 23:53, seven minutes before midnight – the symbol for global disaster. Ever since, the clock has been repeatedly readjusted by the directors of the magazine in order to correspond to reality. Initially, the clock was meant to reflect only the escalation or the decrease of the nuclear threat; but since 2007 it depicts how close mankind is to extinction in general, regardless of cause. From its establishment in 1947 until 2015 the clock was adjusted 22 times. Between 1953 and 1960 the clock was set at 23:58 – the closest setting to the end of the world. During that period both the United States and the Soviet Union conducted thermonuclear experiments. The farthest setting of the clock was between 1991 and 1995, at 23:43, when the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. On January 22, 2015, the clock was set at 23:57 due to the nuclear threat, risk of conflict and global warming.1277
During the Cold War the political antagonism between the United States and the Soviet Union was easy comparable to the ancestral battle between good and evil. And it was even easier for the Americans to believe that they were on the side of the good. The most popular American apocalyptic scenario portrayed a Soviet and Arab attack against Israel, America’s reaction and the start of …
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