American Exceptionalism rests on a tradition of civilian rule over the military, established in 1789, when General George Washington, after leading American colonists to victory, refused to consider becoming king of the new nation. He resigned his commission to become our first President.
The only known instance of an American general defying his commander-in-chief is Douglas MacArthur in 1951 who wanted to nuke China, forcing President Truman to fly to Korea and toss him out. There’s a film clip of the two meeting, MacArthur thrusting out his hand instead of saluting, instantly recognized as a breach by Truman. It’s soft-pedaled by historians who prefer to write about the egoistic general who got his feet wet wading ashore after retaking Corregidor. American Caesar, a MacArthur biography by William Manchester, includes the incident, yet a historian should dig deeper, produce something as revealing as Robert Caro’s fascinating books about Lyndon Johnson. That's another best-seller waiting to be written.
The road to nationhood is steep, beginning with families, then extended families, then tribes, each ruled by a Big Daddy, like in Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. England and Europe were once warring dukedoms. After centuries of dynastic rule, China fell to war lords in 1912 until all were swept out by Mao Ze Dong, leaving the country under its Communist-cum-military masters. Japan was ruled by Samurai lords who united to attack Pearl Harbor in 1941. Burmese generals usurped power in 1962, Greek colonels in 1967. South America is beginning to emerge from its dark ages of military coups while large areas of the Middle East and Africa are still dominated by war lords. The Egyptian military skulks in the shadows clinging to power while the Syrian military makes open war upon civilians. That the U.S. never endured anything comparable is by itself enough to rationalize American Exceptionalism.
When ex-general Dwight D. Eisenhower was President, he warned that the U.S. needed to be wary of a growing “military industrial complex,” likely thinking of the unholy alliance between Hitler and German industries like IG Farbin which churned out Zyklon B, the gas that exterminated millions. If you doubt anything like that could happen here, think about yellow journalism king, Rupert Murdock, industrial bullies, David and Charles Koch, TD Ameritrade founder, Joe Ricketts, whose Superpac is now plotting slander against President Obama. Would any of them hesitate to produce Zyklon B, or buy a U.S. general if they could find one willing to be bought? it is vital to keep big searchlights on them and all who would fancy becoming our first national Big Daddy.