George B. Reed Jr.

George B. Reed Jr.

The widely-held belief that America is divinely predestined to dominate the world, a concept known as "American Exceptionalism," is warmly reassuring and a boon to our national ego. Too bad it’s not true. Our rise to world supremacy is more attributable to natural factors, primarily geographical, than to supernatural intervention.

During their early years the American colonies were ten or more weeks sailing time over treacherous waters from Europe’s constant turmoil. This relative isolation allowed them to develop independently with little outside interference and to govern themselves pretty much to their own advantage. The colonists rebelled in the 1760s when the British Parliament sought to regain a modicum of control through light taxation. "No taxation without representation?" They really meant "No taxation, damn it!"

More than any other, the North American continent was blessed with an overabundance of natural resources: essential minerals, vast timberlands, fertile soil, adequate rainfall, navigable waterways and a moderate climate. And the Native Americans already living here were virtually powerless to stop the European settlers from taking their land. How could the colonists have done anything but thrive?

Vast oceans to the east and west and weak neighbors to the north and south have aided us to avoid the expense and political perils inherent in maintaining a large standing army. Today we have the longest non-militarized frontiers in the world.

Due to the distances involved (geography again), in World War II German and Japanese bombers couldn’t reach the U. S. mainland. Consequently, we emerged the only major power without its industry and infrastructure completely devastated. While the rest of the world was rebuilding, without too much exertion we dominated things industrially, economically and militarily for decades following the war.

From these natural advantages the belief erroneously evolved that Americans have supplanted the Children of Israel as God’s chosen people. From earliest colonial times we have nurtured this myth until it has almost achieved the status of historical fact. But Richard Land, noted former president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, observed, "America has been blessed by God in unique ways; we are not just another country. But neither are we God’s special people."

A concurrent myth is the claim that the English colonists came to the New World seeking religious freedom. They really only wanted freedom to practice their own particular brand of religious intolerance and banished all dissenters to the particular local orthodoxy. There was little true religious freedom in America until the passage of the First Constitutional Amendment in 1793.

Throughout history dominant world powers have fallen with the same regularity with which they arose. A sure harbinger of imminent decline is the conviction by the current reigning power that it has been providentially endowed with certain attributes that predestine it to world supremacy. Before their fall the Greeks, Romans, Ottoman Turks, Spanish, French and British all entertained this fantasy, a condition known as "terminal uniqueness." Considering that one of the main reasons historians give for a world power’s decline is imperialistic overstretch, does this sound like anybody we might know today?

George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at