“One of the questions asked in that study was, How many Vietnamese casualties would you estimate that there were during the Vietnam war? The average response on the part of Americans today is about 100,000. The official figure is about two million. The actual figure is probably three to four million. The people who conducted the study raised an appropriate question: What would we think about German political culture if, when you asked people today how many Jews died in the Holocaust, they estimated about 300,000? What would that tell us about German political culture?”
What is so bad about repeating the pleasant myths of a nation or religion? What is wrong with focusing on the good our nation has done and avoiding the bad? Who is really hurt when we celebrate Columbus Day or picture the pilgrims as friendly to the native people? What is wrong with putting Vietnam behind us and starting fresh?
When we Americans refuse to fully face our past flaws, we build upon an inflated image of our own pure motives. The history of every nation is a mixed bag. We Americans are not worse than other nations, nor or we better. In the end, people are people. Patriotic versions of history build a false foundation upon which we base future decisions. Refusing to fully confront the lies behind the Vietnam War made it much more likely that we would fall for the lies behind the Iraq War.
No nation can be a decent citizen of the world that considers itself to be above the standards that would be reasonable for every other nation. We Americans see ourselves as superior to other nations based on the false history we recite. Believing our own inflated history makes it very difficult to be sane as a nation. Any who have looked honestly at American history would not want us to dominate the world any more than they would want any nation to do so. The only alternative to dog eat dog foreign policies is universal standards for all nations with no exceptions. The humility required for genuine peace will not occur until we can face the truth that frightens us more than any other – we are ordinary human beings.