The "Number One" Myth in America
By Fred Knelman

    The degree to which the self-designated identification of the U.S. as "number one" permeates that society contrasts with its apparent ignorance of its abysmal ranking in all the major social indicators, compared to the other highly industrialized countries. There is more to this gross misconception than being the most powerful nation in a unipolar world. In military terms, the U.S. is certainty "number one." The unreality with which the US is viewed by the majority of its citizens, by its media and by its government constitutes nothing less than a mythology of its self-appraisal. The fact that the mainstream media never admits or reveals the U.S.'s relative backwardness in the major social indicators shows that this is a country whose self-perception rests on a set of clearly defined myths. The essence of these myths is the assumption that the U.S. is not only the most powerful nation in the world, but also that it has the best social and political system in the world; that in all relevant categories it is "number one.

    At the same time, the U.S. has unilaterally attempted to create a new world order, Pax Americana, while supporting a global economic policy that threatens the autonomy of sovereign states and the culture of indigenous peoples. The U.S. is the leading force in the world and in NATO in retaining the option of the first use of nuclear weapons. It is the only major industrialized country which privatizes health and education; leaving some forty million U.S. citizens without adequate (or any) health coverage. In international politics, the US. policy is "What's good for the U.S. is good for the world," whether they like it or not. Thus, the U.S. remains an exception even among other highly industrialized countries regarding a wide variety of social, political and environmental policies. Even in the relatively innocuous area of weights and measures, the U.S. insists on using the imperial system. rejecting the metric system, which is now virtually universal. And while the U.S. has a very democratic constitution, money still constitutes a grave subversion of democracy. The following is a shopping list of social indicators representing the claim of being number one:

The Mythology of Being Number One

Care of Children (among nineteen industrialized countries)
Number one in:
proportion of children living in poverty (one in five)
number or children who have no health care (ten million)
proportion of children living in single-parent families (one in four)
number of children dying from gunshot wounds (15 per day)
number of children under 13 diagnosed with AIDS (over 7000)

Health care (among nineteen industrialized countries)
Number one in:
percentage of population without health care coverage
lack of provisions for paid maternity leave
percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion
rate of infant mortality (death under five years of age) and percentage of infants born with low birth weight
percentage of preschool children not fully immunized 'incidence of cancer among young men, and breast cancer among women
beef consumption per capita, coronary bypasses and snack food consumption
a women having more than one abortion
teenage pregnancies and teenage mothers under fourteen
people infected with AIDS
cigarette consumption per capita (number 4 in alcohol consumption per capita]

Number one in:
emissions of air pollutants per capita 'contribution to acid rain, ozone depletion and global warming
garbage per capita and junk mail per capita
hazardous wastes
number 14 in recycling paper
number 16 in recycling glass
the U.S. is the only G-7 country without a cabinet post for Environment

Social (among nineteen industrialized countries)
Number one in:
number of billionaires
wealth and income inequality (15th in percentage of total income owned by poorest forty percent of population)
'divorce rate
highest-paid athletes; lowest in teachers' salaries
private spending on education (number 17 in public spending on education, 11th in years of full-time compulsory education, 15th in number of scientists and technicians per capita and nineteenth in main proficiency scores on international standardized tests)
in big homes and homelessness
in net indebtedness (19th in national savings as percentage of COP)
in bank failures and bank bailouts
in pay inequality ratio of average executive salary to average worker (Ii 5th in average female wages as percentage of average male wage)
percentage of population who have been a victim of crime
murder rate. reported rapes and murder of children a death by guns, deaths by capital punishment and percentage of unsolved murders (14th in percentage of murders solved)
number of people killed in automobile accidents due to drunk driving
gasoline consumption per capita4 rate of Increase In oIl imports and major oil spills affecting coastal waters
number of Jailed prisoners, drug crimes per capita, drive-by shootings. road rage Incidents, carjackings
ownership of legal handguns
number of stolen cars

Military (U.S. rank among 180 countries)
military expenditures: 1
military technology: 1
military bases world-wide: 1
military training of foreign troops; 1
military aid to foreign countries: 1
naval fleet: 1
combat aircraft: 1
nuclear warheads and bombs: I
arms exports: 1
armed forces: 2
greatest number of invasions made not authorized by the U.N.
military expenditures per capita: 3
most consistent negative voting on arms control and disarmament

International and general
Number one in: (among 0-7 countries)
direct support of military dictatorships
dues payment owed the UN
number of vetoes in the Security Council
voting against arms control and disarmament in UN General Assembly
military research and development expenditures
low taxes
national debt (largest in the world)

N.B.: The U.S. is nineteenth among 160 countries in life expectancy, 29th in infants with low birth weights, 39th in population per physicians and students per teacher. (Cuba is 11th in population and 11th in students per teacher. It is easy to see which country has superior social services.

    The fact that the mainstream multimedia owns the medium means they own the message. They have never revealed the mythological nature of "Number One." However, those who live by a mythology are eventually doomed to perish by reality. The contradictions behind the Number One myth are too powerful and too deeply entrenched for permanent cosmetics. Eventually, America will be oversold. Already the buyers are beginning to revolt. We see this in the interference with the passage of MAI, in the Anti-Land Mines Agreement, in the break in voting solidarity with the U.S. by some of its friends and allies, and in the emergence of various formal and informal initiatives favoring the abolition of nuclear weapons, such as the New Agenda coalition. In all of this, the U.S. is revealed as the obstacle to peace, justice and ecological preservation.

Source: Canadian Jewish Outlook, May-June, 2000.