Harper's Magazine publishes “The American Rome: On the Theory of the Virtuous Empire,” by Lewis H. Lapham.
(August 2001)

A trenchent article by Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham analyzes the American tendency to believe that as a society blessed by God the United States can do no harm in the world. A radical shift in perspective required to confront the possibility that this might not be true — that this country like any other can be wrong. Perhaps this was the agony undergone by Frank Olson as watched the movie “Martin Luther” on the last Sunday night of his life, and witnessed Luther’s stuggles with an earlier infallible institution. (See below.) After seeing “Marint Luther” Olson nailed his own theses to the door the next morning.

Lapham writes:

Never intrinsic to the American landscape or the American character, evil is a deadly and unlicensed import, an outlandish disease smuggled through customs in a shipment of German philosophy or Asian rice. Innocent by definition, America invariably finds itself betrayed (at Pearl Harbor, the Little Big Horn, Havana Bay), and because we have been betrayed we always can justify the use of brutal or un-Christian means to defend the Ark of Safety against the world’s treachery.

Which is why America never needs to appoint truth commissions similar to those established by South Africa, Chile, Burundi, and any other country seeking to come to terms with its inevitably tragic past. The American past isn’t tragic...