I would never have admitted it, or thought to say it, but looking back, I know that deep in my consciousness I thought that America was at the end of some evolutionary spectrum of civilisation, and everyone else was trying to catch up.
American exceptionalism did not only define the US as a special nation among lesser nations; it also demanded that all Americans believe they, too, were somehow superior to others. How could I, as an American, understand a foreign people, when unconsciously I did not extend the most basic faith to other people that I extended to myself? This was a limitation that was beyond racism, beyond prejudice and beyond ignorance. This was a kind of nationalism so insidious that I had not known to call it nationalism; this was a self-delusion so complete that I could not see where it began and ended, could not root it out, could not destroy it.
American exceptionalism had declared my country unique in the world, the one truly free and modern country, and instead of ever considering that that exceptionalism was no different from any other country’s nationalistic propaganda, I had internalised this belief. Wasn’t that indeed what successful propaganda was supposed to do?
“It is different in the United States,” I once said, not entirely realising what I was saying until the words came out. I had never been called upon to explain this. “We are told it is the greatest country on earth. The thing is, we will never reconsider that narrative the way you are doing just now, because to us, that isn’t propaganda, that is truth. And to us, that isn’t nationalism, it’s patriotism. And the thing is, we will never question any of it because at the same time, all we are being told is how free-thinking we are, that we are free. So we don’t know there is anything wrong in believing our country is the greatest on earth. The whole thing sort of convinces you that a collective consciousness in the world came to that very conclusion.”
“Wow,” a friend once replied. “How strange. That is a very quiet kind of fascism, isn’t it?”
Kapetanissa Sarika (Sara Yeshua), partisan leader of the women’s platoon of the Greek People’s Liberation Army’s 7th division, posing with fellow EAM fighters and a revolver, October 1944.
Born in the Jewish quarter of Chalkida in 1927, Sara Yeshua belongs to the emblematic figures of the resistance. Before she turned 15, Sara assisted the wounded at the city’s military hospital as a volunteer nurse. From the beginning of the German occupation (October 1943), she got involved with Greece’s National Liberation Front, took her mother and left Chalkida for Steni.
To guard against German incursions against the Jews who had fled to the mountains, the resistance dispersed the Jews in various villages (Paliouras, Theologos, Stropones, Vasiliko) and later organised an escape network by boat to Turkey from Tsakei beach. Sara was well regarded by her fellow resistance fighters as a passionate speaker advocating for armed struggle against the occupation forces, particularly among young women. At 17, after the horrific murder of Mendi Moschovitz by the Security Battalions in Stropones (4 March 1944) and the burning of Kourkouloi, she formed an independent female resistance group that fought and gathered intelligence. Armed with Molotov cocktails, they attacked outlying sites to draw the Germans away from the main target, and aided in the capture of collaborators. By the end of the war, she was legendary among the partisans of Evia, Greece, as “Kapetanissa Sarika” (Partisan Leader Sara).
“Turks Slaughter Christian Greeks”, The Lincoln Daily Star (article), October 19, 1917 (source). The Greek genocide began at roughly the same time as the Armenian genocide in the early part of the First World War, with mass deportations, executions, and the destruction of Greek historical and religious monuments. By 1923, between 750,000 and 900,000 Greeks perished.
According Niall Ferguson, in The War of the World, the Ottoman minister of war Ismail Enver declared in 1915 that he wanted to “solve the Greek problem during the war… in the same way he believe[d] he solved the Armenian problem.”
“The real philosophers of Greece are those before Socrates. They are all noble persons, setting themselves apart from people and state, traveled, serious to the point of somberness, with a slow glance, and no strangers to state affairs and diplomacy.”
—F. Nietzsche, The Will to Power, §437 (edited excerpt).