Intellectuals are inclined to think that they are certified as intellectuals by virtue of their capacity to complexify, and the messiness of history is such that any conflict provides ample opportunities to highlight evidence contrary to the general truth. In the present war and the larger story of which it is part, I continue to believe that America is — on balance and considering the alternatives — a force for good in the world. And I continue to be impressed by how many otherwise sensible people criticize that proposition as an instance of uncritical chauvinism rather than the carefully nuanced moral judgment that it is.
Americans have at times “theologized” their history, seeing this experiment as an instrument — maybe even the instrument — of God’s unfolding purposes. That way of thinking has been out of fashion for some time now. When it was in vogue, it was sometimes attended by a doctrine of American “exceptionalism” so exaggerated that American purposes were depicted in angelic hues, untouched by the ambiguities, corruptions, and lust for power associated with mere mortals… The caution is always in order. Those who think of themselves as angels may end up by giving themselves license to do things that are, in fact, quite beastly.
The people who have the deepest reason to be loyal to this country in its conflict with the powers of darkness abroad are the Americans of German descent who had previously espoused the cause of their Fatherland. Their piety has been dishonored, their confidence has been abused, their defence has been discredited, and their faith has been undermined. They had a reverence for what was great and noble in the land of their fathers; they refused to believe in the reports of baseness; above all, did it seem absurd to suppose that the people whose kindness and truth they knew, could be guilty of the immeasurable savagery and unlimited falseness with which they were charged. It has all been abundantly proved; the half has never been told. The details of treachery which have lately been exposed, of insidious hypocrisy on the part of her highest representatives, sicken the mind and make faith in human nature tremble. To find one’s highest and surest trusts crumbling to dust blown by the wind to discover illusion in the greatest certainty, is reason for turning right about face. Germans most of all will profit by the restoration of truth and good will in their government.