Should the US aim to be number one in everything?

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The United States is number one... or at least, that's what politicians love to claim. However, our lawmakers fail to mention what it is that makes American so exceptional.

According to Lawrence Wittner of the State University of New York, violence is one of the only reasons we find ourselves at the top of any charts. In 2014, the United States ranked 24th in nutrition and basic medical care, 34th in water and sanitation, and 69th in ecosystem sustainability. But, we are number one in military spending, gun ownership, and weapons exports.

A recent report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says that the U.S. government accounts for 37 percent of world military expenditures. Our closest competitors are Russia and China, and together they only account for 16 percent of global military spending. The United States lags far behind other developed nations when it comes to child poverty and life expectancy, but our poor and our sick are better armed than any citizenry in the developed world. In 2013, we had 88 guns for every 100 people, and 40 gun-related deaths per 400,000. In comparison, Britain only has 6 guns per 100 people, and only 1 gun-related fatality for every 400,000 people.

Is this what politicians mean when they talk about “American Exceptionalism?” Do we really want to be number one in death and destruction?

If we diverted just a fraction of our massive military spending to other programs, we could be exceptional in so many meaningful ways. Investments in education, healthcare, and infrastructure would improve the lives of millions of Americans, and improve our ability to measure up with the rest of the developed world. We can't bomb or shoot our way to a better nation, but we can invest in our country to make it truly exceptional.



Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 8 years 15 weeks ago

Thom was wrong about the '60s today (he seems to revise history sometimes for a more feel-good effect). There was quite a lot of militancy on the Left and the Weather Underground was the mildest of it. If memory serves, there were 4000 bombings in the United States in 1970. The Weather Underground took great effort to see that no one was killed or injured by their actions and was successful in that way.

There was great controversy on the left between factions or groups that were in favor of more militant use of rougher , perhaps violent methods and those who insisted on strict adherance to Gandhian type, non violent methods - just as there was in the Black Liberation Movement controversy and acrimonious debate about whether to support King's methods or those of Malcom X and the Panthers.
It was felt that the methods of the Right were quite violent with violent repression by authorities and, of course, the war in Viet Nam and that racism and oppression were constant, continuous - if low key - violence. and that violent methods were acceptable to counter them. Many were, in fact, calling for armed revolution.

At Occupy a similar split and debate occured and a distinction was made between violence, i.e., harming persons, and vandalism, i.e., destruction of property - as the Weather Underground engaged in, if on a grander scale.

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 8 years 15 weeks ago

You're right, of course, about your daily topic, Thom. As is often the case, so right there's almost nothing else to say.

Couldn't resist calling you on your earlier comment though.

KDelphi's picture
KDelphi 8 years 15 weeks ago

Hell, I wish we could be "number one" on just ONE good thing.

BTW, sure there was militancy on the "left"--not near enough of it, or we could have had a real Revolution, IMHO

Walter Hellman's picture
Walter Hellman 8 years 15 weeks ago

Why isn't the country more concerned than it is with these figures? Thanks for keeping them in the forefront.

Kend's picture
Kend 8 years 15 weeks ago

One of the reasons America has more guns than European countries is because most of the guns where confiscated during and after the war. There where a lot of guns in Europe pre ww2.

America is number one in many good things. One of the greatest is opperatunity. It is one of the few countries in the world where you can start with nothing and accomplish anything. There is also all the incredible medical advances that where made there leading the world. What about the amazing accomplishments in space. I could go on and on.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 15 weeks ago

Kudos Thom, for bringing up this topic of “American exceptionalism” along with the question of what it actually means. We are Numero Uno in military size and guns, while our #1 most expensive healthcare system ranks last in the developed world. What a deal! And don’t we also rank Numero Uno for diabetes and obesity? God bless America. - AIW

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 15 weeks ago

Reply to #5: Kend, you are living in a fantasy bubble. If any of that was ever true, it was decades ago. Number One for opportunity... are you KIDDING?! Not in a country where education and healthcare are debt traps. - AIW

richinfolsom 8 years 15 weeks ago

The greatest country in the world? It sure used to be.

Take nine minutes of your life and reflect with the opening HBO show: Newsroom.

I brings both a tear to my eyes and a reminder of the values we still want to hold on to in the dramatic pace of world wide change and global economics as we walk down a road of destitute, bankrupt policies.

wolfman's picture
wolfman 8 years 15 weeks ago

Joe the Plumber has been fired from Chysler for absenteeism. Joe worked at Toledo Jeep for about ten months as a UAW Temporary Part Time employee. Joe worked the assembly line filling in for the full time employees. Joe has been recently stumping for Republicans in Idaho.

RFord's picture
RFord 8 years 15 weeks ago

We truly do love patting ourselves on our own backs for being such a great country with one hand while waving our flag with the other. We may have an ego problem. We've truly got a lot to be proud of. We also have much to not be proud of. Health care? It still sucks but it's better than before Obamacare. Our military? We're number one but it's draining us financially. We've got much room for improvement.

Democrazy 8 years 15 weeks ago

The primary purpose of the military is to insure that the country's Oligarchy's interests are promoted and protected. In an expanding global economy, formidable military strength is paramount. Any benefits provided by the government for the masses are purely appeasement in nature. So, the masses should not expect substantial appeasement unless the oligarchy deems them as beneficial for the needs of the Oligarchy. The days of LBJ's Great Society have long passed. The days of Gandhi and MLK Jr. have long passed. George Orwell dated his book 30 years prematurely.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 14 weeks ago

Reply to #10: Mr. Ford, the U.S. military reminds me of a blood-sucking tick. In exchange for our blood, the tick injects pathogens that live off us like parasites. Just like the military, sucking up our tax dollars in exchange for safety-net programs and infrastructure we could otherwise have had, which is the life's blood of any civilized society. Growing up in the fifties & sixties, I never would have predicted a freak show of this magnitude. We're reaching a point where the U.S. isn't Numero Uno in anything anymore, except the makings of war... nothing I would pledge MY allegiance to! - AIW

P.S. Democrazy, I love your moniker.

Progressive Republican's picture
Progressive Rep... 8 years 14 weeks ago

"If we diverted just a fraction of our massive military spending to other programs, we could be exceptional in so many meaningful ways."

And therein lies the rub: "meaningful".

The current batch of Rethuglicons have shown a complete and utter lack of interest in having anything to do with "meaningful".

They seek not to lead.

They seek not to govern.

They seek merely to rule.

Traitors all.

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