Monday, December 13, 2004

Anti Americanism

Now that casual anti-Americanism has become the number one pastime in Britain, I feel the time is right to come to the defence of our whooping, hollerin' cousins across the Pond.

Of course, anti-Americanism is far more prevalent in other downtrodden, hellish and backward parts of the world such as Iran, North Korea or France, but I can’t speak for them.

But I can speak about the climate in Britain in which to merely suggest that ‘I think America’s not that bad’ is considered morally equivalent to suggesting that ‘Hitler had the right idea’, and in which it is taken as read that Bush is no different to Osama, except that his IQ is lower.

Now I’m not suggesting that criticism of American foreign policy or American politicians is illegitimate. And I fully concur with the general view that Dubya has all the oratorical skills of a hotdog.

But I do object to the lazy thinking that allows otherwise intelligent people to utter such things as “all the yanks are just fat god-bothering idiots”. Here’s why:

Axe grinding
The US is the world’s richest, most successful, most culturally-pervasive and diverse country, and also its only superpower. Therefore, anyone with an axe to grind can conveniently grind it somewhere in America. For instance:

Euro secularists hate America because they think it’s all evangelical fire-and-brimstone Bible-thumpers who go into hysterics at a flash of Janet Jackson’s nipple.
Fundamentalist Muslims, by contrast, hate the US because they think it’s all Britney videos, strip clubs and gay pornography.

British right-wingers think the US is crazy because of the political correctness, Jerry Springer morality and burglars suing homeowners when they get injured while attempting a break-in. British left-wingers, by contrast, think the US is crazy because they put petty criminals in chain gangs and have no NHS.

Armchair history pundits who would rightly scoff at anyone hammering ‘Germany’ today for Hitler’s war crimes, are nonetheless quite happy to hammer ‘America’ today for Johnson’s actions in Vietnam.

Cynics who scoff at anything a politician says, and refuse to believe even the most modest claims made by Government ministers, are nonetheless willing to swallow whole any old conspiracy theory under the sun, so long as it is propagated by Michael Moore and it denigrates the ‘stupid white man’.

Europeans think the American ignorance of the geography of their continent is a hoot. “I met an American and she asked me “Which country is Belgium in? Is it near Madrid?” and so forth.

But ask yourself: how many Europeans could point to Iowa on a map? Or Indianapolis? San Antonio has a population of more than 1.2 million. Can you pinpoint it?

The root of all evil
It’s perfectly fine to hate some aspect of America or American culture. So wide-ranging is that culture that you’d have to have multiple personalities not to.

But the trick is not to get your particular gripe mixed up with an idea that all Americans are dumb scum and that America is the root of all the world’s evil.

Otherwise you quickly end up sounding like the Life of Brian:“Yeah, but apart from most of the books I read, films I watch, clothes I wear and music I listen to, and the websites I buy them from, and the software I use to look at those websites, and the employment of half the people I know….what have the yanks ever done for us?”

1 comment:

martpol said...

Like the new blog, Andrew. Though hate that word for some reason (sounds a bit too close to bloke?).

Agree wholeheartedly with many of your comments here. I think that some distinctions can be made in the 'anti-American' camp, so here's my £2.50-worth:

1) The first group are the anti-Americans as you describe them - middle-Englanders who think they know a lot about issues which are actually really complex. They often don't realise that their own country is just as guilty of many of the 'crimes' (rich multinationals, selling arms to impoverished countries, wearing stupid hats etc.) as America. They piss me off royally, and they're the sort of people who said "they deserved it" after September 11 and thus gave a bad name to anyone who really does have concerns about US foreign policy. (On a side note, the same people irritated me in the run-up to/aftermath of the Iraq war: while some people were trying to make quite legitimate points about the deaths of thousands of civilians, breaches of the UN Convention etc., others were just mouthing off about 'the oil' as if that made them really clever and insightful.)

2) Another group are the left-wing Americans, who (obviously) are not so much anti-American as anti-Bush: examples being Michael Moore, Craig Unger, Ralph Nader. Michael Moore suffers unfairly, I think, at the hands of rabid anti-American Group 1-ers (who don't realise he's actually very patriotic) and rabid anti-liberals. The latter tend to create whole websites based on highly tenuous, detailed destructions of Moore's work. Their criticisms are often either (a) bollocks (there's been a minor explosion of "anti-anti-Moore" sites putting right a lot of the criticisms or (b) based on relatively minor complaints such as his film-making techniques, rather than actually disputing the general message of what he's saying. The thing about Michael Moore for me is that he's a polemicist, a big-mouthed populist who sometimes get things wrong and gets a bit too angry. (That said, if you read 'Dude, Where's My Country?' you'll find a 50-page section at the back stuffed with bibliographical references - showing just how well researched the book is. Shame Fahrenheit 9/11 didn't have the same focus or clarity.)

3) There are those who are anti-American on religious or political principles: the radical Muslims, the diehard socialists etc. I loved your point about euro-secularists and Muslim extremists thinking totally opposite things about America, and I suppose that just goes to show the Group 3-ers fundamental problem: they can't accept that the US is an incredibly diverse country, which advocates free speech and free markets, as well as housing nearly as many Jews and Muslims as Israel-Palestine.

4) Finally, there's a group (into which I fall) which wouldn't necessarily class itself as anti-American. Instead, we tend to think that there's a lot of inequality and injustice in the world today, and that unfortunately the US typifies quite a number of the key problems. Clearly America doesn't abuse human rights on the scale of China, or repress women as in Saudi Arabia, or crush all opposition as in Zimbabwe. However, the US does have the key influence in a lot of areas, such as:
1) Poverty, which kills far more people worldwide than wars, torture or human rights abuses. Despite having the world's most powerful economy, the US is nowhere near reaching its internationally agreed targets on aid budgets. It's also one of the main offenders in propagating trade rules which favour them but destroy the economies of poor countries.
2) Diseases in developing countries. Most of the world's major pharmaceutical companies are based in the USA, and are among the richest of all companies. If they were required by law to allow cheap generic AIDS drugs to be developed, or to distribute their own drugs at a reduced cost, millions of lives could be saved.
3) Climate change. The US produces the world's highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions, and won't sign up to the Kyoto protocol. In fact, Bush has relaxed all sorts of environmental protection laws since 2000.
4) Conflict. As Iraq has shown once again, the vast majority of people who die in any war these days are civilians (estimate range from 10,000 to 90,000 in 18 months in Iraq). The arguments may rage about the war's justification, but one undeniable truth is that as the world's only superpower, the US has an obligation to behave in a conscientious way towards the rest of it. Considering how they rode roughshod over the wishes of most countries and the Security Council, launched an illegal invasion, killed indiscriminately, imposed a puppet government then demanded that elections be held only two months after devastating one of Iraq's major cities, I think the outlook is a bit scary. Perhaps more importantly for the US domestically, the cost of the Iraq war would apparently have been enough to write off a large proportion of their national debt, or refurbish every primary school.

Actually, I reckon that's a fiver's worth.