, Gloucester, MA

September 17, 2013

Letter: Facing up to our inconvenient truths

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

I would like to compliment Michael Cook for his recent letter and the Gloucester Daily Times for publishing it (the Times, Saturday, Sept, 14).

Yes, the 11th of September, 2001, will always cause sharp pain in the American memory. But Mr. Cook’s ability to point out to the Times readership that the memory of a Sept. 11 that fell 40 years ago (1973) burns just as painfully in the memories of Chileans, when a U.S.-backed coup toppled the government of Salvador Allende, resulting in his suicide, is a good reminder for all of us.

That, of course, is why so many outside of the United States don’t always appreciate us; and it wasn’t just Chile, of course. I worked in many of the Central American countries to which Mr. Cook refers — Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador — during their civil wars, and I have seen too many human skulls on too many of their roads during those terrible years. And always, it seemed, we were on the wrong side of the people’s struggles.

Which makes me think of Russian President Putin’s recent piece in the New York Times in which he questioned America’s exceptionality.

Let me say first, that I love and respect this country, first and foremost because it took me in as a refugee kid from Nazi Germany in 1939 before I went up in smoke as 6 million others did; in expressing some of that gratitude, I served as a USAF Intelligence NCO for seven years during the time of the Korean War.

So, yes, in many ways we are exceptional — surely for the enormous opportunities open to most Americans to be, as the U.S. Army tends to say, “all you can be.”

But there are many negative exceptionalities as well and it would do us all good to recognize them: for instance, 11,000-plus gun-caused deaths each year is certainly not an enviable exceptionality.

Neither is the fact that 45 million of our citizens — that’s right, one in every seven Americans — is not yet covered by health care though, thanks to the Obama administrations’ Affordable Care Act that is, thankfully, about to change.

The United States, for many years, was always No. 1 in country rankings that measure prosperity and quality of life. Now we are No. 10, after all four Scandinavian countries, Canada, Holland, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand. That ought to mitigate our sense of exceptionality a bit.

All of that is just to say that a bit of humble pie — thanks again, Mr. Cook — would do us all some good.