We’re pretty well used to domestic and international news articles and editorials attacking the U.S. — for its foreign bullying and aggression, its over-weaning pride and corruption, its wastefulness, etc. It is, however, surprising, to meet rabid anti-Americanism in a book review in the Washington Post by a prominent and well-respected historian of U.S. history.
That’s why I was shocked to read John Ferling’s vitriolic review of Seizing Destiny: How America Grew from Sea to Shining Sea by Richard Kluger. Ferling liked the book but seems to loathe America and Americans. Here are the particularly venomous paragraphs:
In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson called the U.S. government “the world’s best hope.” What chutzpah! Twenty percent of the population in 1801 was enslaved, and free African Americans faced grinding exploitation. The new president himself held more than 100 people as chattel. What is more, for 200 years generations of settlers had remorselessly pushed Native Americans off their tribal lands. Indians who resisted were killed or sold into slavery. If a country with such a track record was the world’s best hope, God help humanity.
. . .
Seizing Destiny is a well-crafted and readable narrative of this often sordid, sometimes forgotten side of the American past. In places, it is overly long — more than 15 pages on Napoleon’s career and dozens to rehash the negotiation of the peace treaty ending the Revolutionary War, for example. More disconcerting is Kluger’s apparent reluctance to explore the lasting political and psychological impact of the long land grab. It is unlikely that three centuries of self-assuredly taking the land of others did not leave their mark on American culture or the nation’s moral character. Today, many around the globe view the United States as greedy and intrusive. They might well see Kluger’s book as the story of a predatory people, insensitive to the pain caused by their covetous habits.
Our history is indeed replete with flawed leaders as well as destructive policies promoted by government — but “the story of a predatory people, insensitive to the pain caused by their covetous habits”? Compared to what? England, France, Belgium, Portugal, Spain in their empire-building periods?