America’s Violent Heart

There’s something that’s been nagging at me for some time—and not just when we talk about guns. It’s the constant comparison of the United States to Europe. Or even to the other nations of what’s sometimes called the “core Anglosphere,” Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. 

I can see the reason for the comparison. We’re as rich as Europe and the other Anglosphere nations. The initial wave of American settlement and immigration came largely from Europe. We were once British. But as my friend and colleague Jonah Goldberg points out, the term “American exceptionalism” properly understood shouldn’t necessarily mean, “America is exceptionally great” (though there are many great things about America) but rather quite simply, America is exceptional. It’s different. It’s hard to find a comparable culture.

And this difference emerged early. Last year I read Fred Anderson’s excellent one-volume history of the Seven Years’ War (known as the French and Indian War here in the United States) called Crucible of War. There were so many fascinating layers to the book, but I was struck by how different the colonists were from their British commanders and from the British regulars who fought alongside them. It will come as no surprise that colonial soldiers were deeply resistant to British discipline, and British commanders often found it difficult to control their colonial subjects. 

And if profound differences existed 20 years before the Declaration of Independence, they have only deepened and magnified since. America’s population is far, far more diverse than it was even in its distinct colonial period, and there are many ways in which Europe is a poor comparison to the American experience. In fact, there are ways in which America is far more Latin American than European.

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