The myth of America and 'the American dream', as promoted by politicians and media pundits, etc., has been very effective in buffering the average American against the truth of what America has been and is today. But the grandiose words of politicians alone are never enough to keep the citizens content and obedient. To be truly effective, claims of American exceptionalism and superiority had to be backed up by evidence of it on the ground, and to that effect, America really has been the most prosperous and developed nation in the world for a long time.
That's where the American myth comes in.
Americans were told, and readily believed, that they were the 'greatest nation on earth' because of their quality of life, and that their quality of life was, in turn, the result of their 'unique' enterprising spirit, where a person's personal wealth and 'success' is directly related to how much work they put in to making themselves wealthy and successful. In America, anyone could be President. This is the myth. The truth about the origin of American wealth, and where it really resides, is less noble.
Since at least early 1940s, the US elite began in earnest the process of replacing the British Empire with an American one, and over the course of the following decades, they more or less completed the project. Whereas the British elite focused on maintaining their empire by direct military occupation of other nations and genocidal policies toward the natives, the American elite have mainly opted for 'low intensity' and 'covert' proxy warfare involving the use of US-funded 'death squads' to do the dirty work, and manipulation of foreign leaders or their removal and installation of a more 'friendly' variety. Nevertheless, this new American style of empire building has been no less destructive to the local populations of the target nations. By 1990, former CIA agent John Stockwell estimates that 6 million people had been killed as a direct result of CIA (and US military) intervention in more than 50 nations since WWII. If we include CIA and US military operations since 1990, the figure is probably closer to 12 million killed, with many millions more suffering displacement, hunger and oppression.
Like Britain before it, the American Empire has provided the American economy (and people) with access to raw materials from other nations at the expense of the citizens of those other nations. By directly or indirectly deposing democratically elected leaders and replacing them with dictators, American agents of Empire were able to ensure very favorable economic terms for American companies desiring to do business with these other nations, and access to very cheap raw materials. This practice is usually euphemistically described as 'opening up the country to foreign investment', but a more accurate phrase would be 'blowing up the country for US (and Western) plunder'. How this policy has directly led to a high standard of living for Americans should be obvious. Indeed, a mathematical formula could probably be created to represent the direct correlation between the high standard of living of any one American citizen and the low standard of living, up to and including death, of any one citizen of a country so 'colonized' by the American Empire.
The existence of 'banana republics' (coined in 1904) is one example of the type of society created by the expansion of the American empire. A banana republic is described as a "politically unstable country that economically depends upon the exports of a limited resource (fruits, minerals), and usually features a society composed of stratified social classes, such as a great, impoverished working class and a ruling plutocracy, composed of the elites of business, politics, and the military". See United Fruit Company as one famous example of how US companies end up literally controlling such unfortunate nations. The fact that 'Banana Republic' is today the name of a large American clothing business that uses 'third world' materials and 'sweat shop' labor is both appropriate and or cynical/ironic, although the irony is undoubtedly lost on most people. Indeed, the parent company of the 'Banana Republic' clothing company, 'GAP', would probably be high on the list of examples of the great enterprising spirit of America.
The American elite creates wealth for American citizens by stealing it from other nations under the guise of spreading 'freedom and democracy' around the world. The elite then tells the American people that the wealth generated is the result of the 'unique' American attitude, i.e., the love of freedom and democracy and enterprising spirit, and that it should naturally be shared with other nations. This 'sharing' happens via covert and overt military intervention to depose foreign governments and 'quell' civil-rights groups that reject the idea of having their resources stolen in order that the US elite can continue to add to American wealth and thereby continue to convince the American people that their 'unique,' 'home-grown' 'freedom and democracy' should be spread to other nations. Obviously, this is a very effective psychological trap for American citizens.
When nations find themselves 'in conflict or 'at war' with the US, or more precisely, when nations are bombed and occupied by the US military, the plausible explanation is that, for some strange reason, people of certain other nations don't share the 'unique' American desire to have 'freedom and democracy' and the best of everything, and instead prefer to live under dictators and scrabble around in the mud of Africa or the deserts of the Middle East. In those cases, such people are obviously so primitive that a bit of bombing and genocide is probably necessary if any good is ever going to come of the situation.
As long as their leaders can keep the truth of just how and why America is so prosperous from the American people, it's a system that works. Then again, if the American people were to become aware of the fact that their prosperity is dependent on the poverty and murder of millions of others, would they care enough to do something about it? To paraphrase a popular saying, 'It's hard to convince a person of something when their high quality of life depends on them NOT believing it'.
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The chances of a majority of Americans (or British, or French or Germans etc. because they are all to one extent or another programmed with the same beliefs in the exceptionalism of Western nations) ever discovering the truth of why America is so 'great' (and therefore realising that it is not) is pretty remote. The mainstream media maintains a constant barrage of sound-bites that reinforces the myth of America, and most Americans (like most Europeans) get their daily dose of reality from the mainstream media. That's not to say that evidence of the truth of how the West was made is not 'out there'; it is, but only in lesser-known history books (not used in schools of course) and even in the odd mainstream media news article.