American Myths in Apocalypse Now

Seminar Paper, 2001

13 Pages, Grade: 3 (C)



There are many myths in the American culture and such as the success-myth, made America what it is today. The success-myth and self-reliance took the place of puritan virtues like unselfishness, virtuousness and modesty.

The forerunner of the enlightenment was Benjamin Franklin, who replaced those puritan virtues by self-realization, reason and individuality. He himself was striving for moral perfection while his definition of moral was quite different from the previous one.

His plan of gaining moral perfection concentrated on financial success and consisted of how you could be on top of everything by being always disciplined and success orientated. He believed man would be successful if he stepped out of the shadow of conformity and was brave enough to believe in his individuality and willing to work hard for his aims. For him financial success was the key to gain perfect happiness.

The principle of self-reliance is also part of the great enlightenment and functions as an ally of B. Franklin`s success-myth.

Emerson was the central transcendentalist whose principle of self-reliance replaced the traditional religion. He believed that conformity restricts liberty and culture and declares himself in favor of non-conformism on the principles of truth and integrity. He talks of a divine connection between man and nature which he calls intuition. He reinforces the transition of the individual and sees it as an unavoidable necessity to overcome obstacles and to bring sacrifices when you follow your intuition. Because not following it would mean moral suicide and betrayal of yourself. He makes clear that ones place in life is not ruled by society or fate but by yourself. Rely exceptionally on yourself and you will succeed. He also makes clear you have to follow your own interests instead of going conform with society which will lead you to success and independence. The only thing ruling you should be reason and ambition. You will also gain freedom because possession will lead you to it.

Then there is the frontier-myth. Americans saw themselves as pioneers bringing civilization to wilderness. They saw themselves as missionaries bringing civilization to a`cultureless`race and while doing so they were simply overrunning strange cultures.

Their conviction of being the superior race made them blind to different cultures.

There seems to be a contradiction in the American culture since they are talking of the ` melting-pot ´. It is difficult to comprehend how so many different cultures could build up the ` brave new world `creating a concurring society that dominates every other culture. The American urge to missionize everyone, whose culture is too different from theirs, caused lots of grief for many nations. They were so occupied with creating their ` city upon a hill ` they didn`t see that it brings nothing but destruction. Urged by the search of confirmation of their cultural identity there can be no in-between; there is only perfect failure or perfect success.

Of course it is ethically problematic to missionize people who don`t want to be missionized, so you have to evilize them first to have a justification for dominating or killing them. But we mustn`t lose out of sight that it was their priority to bring salvation and wealth (or what they considered to be wealth) to wild nations. They saw it as their deed to cultivate others, since they were the chosen people like it is undermined by the Manifest Destiny. But the chosen ones consist exclusively of the white people having their origin in England. Mainly the Indians and the Africans suffered from this myth who were extinguished to an extend that is not comprehensible from the present point of view.

The Manifest Destiny has its origin in the Puritan conviction whose forerunner was John Winthrop with his ` Model of Christian charity `. The Puritan urge to missionize had a fatal effect on the Indian inhabitants. They regarded the Indians as savages since they didn`t cultivate their land and seemed to be lazy. In the Puritan`s believe all human beings are to work hard on the land God has given them. The Indian believe was not to take more from nature as they actually needed because otherwise nature would be exploited.

The Puritans decided since the Indians didn`t make use of their ` natural rights ` to cultivate their land, to expropriate them. They saw them as an obstacle that had to be overcome and since they wouldn`t follow the example of the superior white race they at least had to give way to them. They were expelled from their own land and haunted over several decades.

` The trail of tears ` is one of the black historical events that witnesses the injustice that was practiced by this superior race. The Indian Removal Act in 1830 gave way to the expansion of the south-west frontier of civilization . From 1835-1838 Cherokees were abducted from their settlements in Georgia and Oklahoma to remote parts of America. During this abduction many Indians died due to the cold temperatures and brutal treatment. The ones who refused to leave their land were simply butchered by the whites. All together more than 4000 Indians were killed due to this Removal Act.

In 1848 John Ò Sullivan published his Manifest Destiny in which he declared the west-expansion willed by God. Because it is against the principle of the Christian society to kill and oppress other people they dehumanized the Indians and the Blacks and classified them as animals. Jefferson underpinned this assertion by maintaining that black women would have sex with male Urang Utans. But this is just one of all those dreadful assertions that were made. Since they were not considered being human they had no right to take anyone to court. In 1896 in the trial Plessy vs. Ferguson was decided that racial segregation was indispensable and therefore legal as long as their facilities would be ` equal but separate`. Finally in 1954 when Brown took the Board of education of Topeka to court Segregation was declared unconstitutional.

Still up to today there are many prejudices towards other races from the American side and to me it seems to be simply unbelievable that the last slavery-law was passed in 1996 . But we mustn`t lose out of sight that the American history has to be seen in historical context and that the manners of man then is out of all proportion to the presence. However, Americans still paranoidly avoid to see that their myths have been betrayed by history and actually led to the present reality.

Fed by the American myths they have built up a new continent which is the leading economic power of this world today. But they have also caused the destruction of the Indian and African/Black culture and their guilt is a heavy burden they still have to carry upon their shoulders. But no more or less every nation committed crimes which can still be traced down in their history and will always mark them out.

In my opinion there is no use of clarifying who is guilty the most but to remind people not to forget what happened. History should teach us not to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. But after all being a member of the human race we will never gain moral perfection. Being human means to be fallible and the only thing it really depends on is how we deal with our fallibility.


Excerpt out of 13 pages


American Myths in Apocalypse Now
Free University of Berlin  (John F. Kennedy Institut)
Culture Seminar
3 (C)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
418 KB
American, Myths, Apocalypse, Culture, Seminar
Quote paper
Katrin Shams-Eddien (Author), 2001, American Myths in Apocalypse Now, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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