This editorial answers the question, "What is the American Experience?" It is part of a series from the junior AP Language and Composition classes at Oakton High School in Northern Virginia, and was selected by a panel of student judges for publication on HuffPost Teen.
Only the strong survive. Yeah, we have all heard this deceptively honorable maxim before. Even some of the greatest minds of science stand behind the theory of Social Darwinism. Remarkably, what is often overlooked is the tactic used by the "strong" in order to "survive." It is evident that the tactic employed in America has been and continues to be the exploitation of the weak.
America was founded on the exploitation of the weak. Early Americans were aware of the technological advantages they had over the "ignorant" natives' primitive weaponry. As a result, America mercilessly held a gun to the backs of the natives and forced them to trudge along a trail of tears into the distant impoverished reservations -- knowing they could overpower them in any moment of conflict.
This act of exploitation is still alive and well in today's America. As a matter of fact, America plasters the face of this ethnic cleansing process on its $20 bill. When the foundation of a nation is built on exploitation rather than diplomacy, it only follows that this tactic remains consistent throughout the experience of that nation. It was exploitation that planted the seeds on the soil stolen from the last of the Mohicans -- the seeds that eventually sprouted and became the jungle that is America.
The growth of the jungle was fertilized by the exploitation of the weak. After centuries of stabilizing African-Americans in society's basement through the exploitative legal institutions of slavery -- the Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws -- America eventually turned to a group of laborers with an even greater weakness: desperation.
The new immigrants of the 19th century became the major workforce of American industries and helped propel America to its position as the greatest manufacturer in the world. However, these new immigrants had their weaknesses: Not only were they ignorant of the ills of the working class in America, but they were also desperate for a life away from their homes plagued with religious and political oppression. Aware of these vulnerabilities, the heads of American companies forced their workers into an endless cycle of debt and arduous labor, eventually wearing them out to a point of exhaustion, only to replace them like the burnt tires of a Formula One racecar driven by the ambition to always win first place.
The ills of the working class prove to be chronic as many Americans today face the same sort of exploitation seen during the Gilded Age. The Occupy Wall Street movement protests the exploitation of the 99 percent by the overpowering one percent. Protesters feel betrayed and claim that they are being taken advantage of by big corporations and federal government policies. According to an Al Jazeera report, "The Top 1%," published in October 2011, the richest one percent of America controls 40 percent of the nation's wealth -- numbers comparable to those of the Gilded Age. Whenever there is a social gap this large, it is because the rich authorities exploit their powers over the helpless commoners in order to maintain their economic supremacy.
Nowadays, it is not only the American people who are being exploited -- foreign nations face the same issue. South Korea, Kuwait, Pakistan are only three nations that are home to countless U.S. military bases. Often, the bases are in developing nations or nations that are politically unstable. These weaker nations serve as breeding ground for America to spread its political and cultural influence -- to establish itself as the "law enforcer" of the world and portray itself as the "city upon a hill."
Even the greatest American authors have continuously depicted a theme of exploitation with their social and political commentary. From Thomas Paine's Common Sense to James Fennimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans; from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle to the Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass, the American experience typifies exploitation in all facets. Ask any American what they know of Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and they will at least be able to narrate how Tom takes advantage of his friends' naiveté and gets them to paint the fence instead of him.
The American experience has been filled with countless acts of exploitation, the victims usually being the weak. Exploitation, however, has propelled America into its dominant position in the world. This world hegemony comes at the expense of masses suffering both inside and outside of America. America plucks the vulnerable fruit and squeezes out the juices of prosperity and power with its strangling grasp, leaving the tree lifeless and bare.