Skip to comments.Why do they hate America? (Excellent essay!)
Posted on 09/23/2001 10:59:41 PM PDT by gaelwolf
Why do they hate America?
We have seen Pakistanis waving pictures of Osama Bin Laden and wearing T-shirts celebrating the death of 6,000 Americans. We have seen Palestinians dancing in the streets and firing their Kalashnikovs in glee. We have heard Harold Pinter and friends pleading with the West to stop a war we didn't start. A few of us have read a New Statesman editorial coming perilously close to suggesting that bond dealers in the World Trade Center had it coming.
Or consider what Elisabetta Burba, an Italian journalist, reported for The Wall Street Journal from Beirut. She saw suited, coiffed professionals cheering in the streets. Then she went into a fashionable cafe. "The cafe's sophisticated clientele was celebrating, laughing, cheering and making jokes, as waiters served hamburgers and Diet Pepsi. Nobody looked shocked or moved. They were excited, very excited," she writes.
"Ninety per cent of the Arab world believes that America got what it deserved," she is told. "An exaggeration?" she comments. "Rather an understatement."
It is horrifying but not entirely surprising; we have seen it before. I, certainly, have always lived in a world suffused with savage anti-Americanism. In my childhood the grown-ups were all convinced that the apparently inevitable nuclear holocaust would be the fault of the Americans. In my student years I saw the Vietnam war used as an excuse for violence and intimidation that would have made Mao Tse-tung proud - indeed, my contemporaries were waving his Little Red Book, his guide to mass murder, as they attempted to storm the American embassy. I saw many of those who now weep like crocodiles burning the Stars and Stripes.
How strange, I thought, even then. They wore Levi jeans, drank Coke, watched American television and listened to American music. Something inside them loved America, even as something outside them hated her. They were like fish that hated the very sea in which they swam - the whisky, in Samuel Beckett's words, that bore a grudge against the decanter. Like the Beirut elite, they wanted to have their hamburgers and eat them, to bite the Yankee hand that fed them.
But there is something more terrible, more gravely unjust here than 1960s student stupidity, more even than the dancing of the Palestinians and the Lebanese.
Let us ponder exactly what the Americans did in that most awful of all centuries, the 20th. They saved Europe from barbarism in two world wars. After the second world war they rebuilt the continent from the ashes. They confronted and peacefully defeated Soviet communism, the most murderous system ever devised by man, and thereby enforced the slow dismantling - we hope - of Chinese communism, the second most murderous. America, primarily, ejected Iraq from Kuwait and helped us to eject Argentina from the Falklands. America stopped the slaughter in the Balkans while the Europeans dithered.
Now let us ponder exactly what the Americans are. America is free, very democratic and hugely successful. Americans speak our language and a dozen or so Americans write it much, much better than any of us. Americans make extremely good films and the cultivation and style of their best television programmes expose the vulgarity of the best of ours. Almost all the best universities in the world are American and, as a result, American intellectual life is the most vibrant and cultivated in the world.
"People should think," David Halberstam, the writer, says from the blasted city of New York, "what the world would be like without the backdrop of American leadership with all its flaws over the past 60 years." Probably, I think, a bit like hell.
There is a lot wrong with America and terrible things have been done in her name. But when the chips are down all the most important things are right. On September 11 the chips went down.
The Yankophobes were too villanously stupid to get the message. Barely 48 hours after thousands of Americans are murdered, we see the BBC's Question Time with its hand-picked morons in the audience telling Philip Lader, the former US ambassador, that "the world despises America". The studio seethes with ignorance and loathing. Lader looks broken.
Or we have the metropolitan elite on Newsnight Review sneering at Dubya Bush. "So out of touch," Rosie Boycott, the journalist, hisses, "there was no sense of his feeling for people." Alkarim Jivani, the writer, wades in by trashing Bush's response when asked how he was feeling: "Well, I'm a loving guy; also I've got a job to do." Jivani thinks this isn't good enough, no emotion.
Hang on; I thought the bien- pensant left wanted restraint from Bush. And that "loving guy" quote was the most beautiful thing said since September 11. Poetically compressed, rooted in his native dialect, it evoked duty and stoicism. But these are not big values in Islington.
Or here's George Monbiot in The Guardian: "When billions of pounds of military spending are at stake, rogue states and terrorist warlords become assets precisely because they are liabilities." I see; so the United States, the victim of this attack, is to be condemned for somehow deviously making money out of it. I'll run it up the flagpole, George, but I suspect only the Question Time audience will salute.
Or here's Suzanne Moore in The Mail on Sunday: "In this darkest hour my heart goes out to America. But my head knows that I have not supported much of what has been done in its name in the past. As hard as it is, there are many who feel like this. Now is not the time to pretend otherwise." So, Suzanne, how many corpses does it take for it to be a good time to pretend otherwise? Do you laugh at the funerals of people with whom you disagreed?
Or here are two more venomous voices, both quoted in The Guardian. Patricia Tricker from Bedale: "Now they know how the Iraqis feel." And Andrew Pritchard from Amsterdam: "If the US's great peacetime defeat results in defeating America's overweening ego as the world's sole remaining superpower, it will be a highly productive achievement." Would that achievement be the dead children, Andrew, or the crushed firemen?
Anti-Americanism has long been the vicious, irrational, global ideology of our time. "It combines," says Sir Michael Howard, the historian, "the nastiest elements of the right and left." It is dangerous and stupid and, in the days after September 11, shockingly distasteful.
In the name of God, more than 6,000 noncombatants are dead, more than 6,000 families bereaved. From what dark wells of malevolence springs this dreadful reflex desire to dance on their graves?
From history, says Michael Lind, senior fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington: "There's an anti-bourgeois, anti-capitalist and ultimately anti-modern theme that always emerges to criticise the dominant power of the day. It was directed at the cities of northern Italy, then in the 17th century at the Netherlands, then at Britain when she picked up the torch of capitalism, and now it's the US."
So at the most basic level America is loathed simply because she's on top. The world leader is always trashed simply for being the leader. The terms of the trashing are remarkably consistent. Nineteenth-century Germans, Lind points out, responded to Britain's dominance by saying, in effect, "they may be rich but we have soul". That is exactly what many Europeans and all anti-Americans are now saying: we're for God or culture or whatever against mammon. This is inaccurate - America has more soul, culture and a lot more God than any of her critics - but it is the predictably banal rhetoric of envy.
This form of "spiritual" anti-Americanism has close links with anti-semitism. "Anti-Americanism and anti-semitism are closely interwoven historically," says Tony Judt, professor of history at New York University. "Not because there are so many Jews here - there weren't always - but because both are in part about fear of openness, rootlessness, change, the modern anomic world: Jews as a placeless people, America as a history-less land."
As Jon Ronson recently demonstrated in his book, Them: Adventures with Extremists, almost every crazed cult in the world believes there is a global Jewish conspiracy run from Hollywood and Wall Street. Those bien-pensant chatterers are, I'm sure, anti-racists all, but they are swimming in deeper, darker, crazier waters than they imagine.
Judt's word "openness" is important. The fanatic - in Islington or Kabul - hates openness because he finds himself relativised and turns on the very society which permits his freedom of expression.
George Orwell noted in 1941: "In so far as it hampers the British war effort, British pacifism is on the side of the Nazis and German pacifism, if it exists, is on the side of Britain and the USSR. Since pacifists have more freedom of action in countries where traces of democracy survive, pacifism can act more effectively against democracy than for it. Objectively the pacifist is pro-Nazi." Elsewhere he wrote of the "unadmitted motive" of pacifism as being "hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism".
So bog-standard anti-Americanism in the developed world is a dark, irrational combination of hate-the-father/leader and infantile fantasies of rebellion and control. It is a reflex hatred of home - the place that provides succour or, in this case, Levi's. But of course there are local nuances. The French have, in contrast to the British, been consistently anti-American at governmental and diplomatic levels.
"It is a long-standing resentment born of 1940," says Judt. "A sense that France was once the universal, modern reference or model and is now just a second-class power with a declining international language to match. There is a loose analogy with British complexes about the US - us in decline, them over-mighty - but in France it is complicated by a layer of hyper-revolutionism among the intelligentsia in the years between 1947 and 1973, precisely the time when the US rise to world domination was becoming uncomfortably obvious."
In Britain we did not have the Sartres and the Derridas leading us to political and philosophical extremes. But members of the British left had something simpler: a burning hatred for America for disproving almost everything they ever believed. They so wanted rampantly capitalist America to be wrong that even Stalin hadn't quite turned them off Russia.
There was, admittedly, a pause in this crude British form of anti-Americanism. When Bill Clinton was elected president, the British left suddenly constructed a fantasy America as co-pioneer of the Third Way. The new mandarins - Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie - said that America was where it was all happening. It was a fantasy because Clinton, even to himself, was window-dressing. Capitalist, religious America had merely put on this smiling mask. When Bush was elected the left felt betrayed.
Much of the present wave of anti-Americanism, and especially the awful contempt for Bush, springs from this sense of betrayal. It also springs from an inability to escape from post-cold war attitudes. "The anxiety about American behaviour now," says Hugh Brogan, research professor of history at Essex University, "is a hangover from cold war anxiety about nuclear war."
Fear of the bomb was such that it provoked in some an abiding belief that at any moment we would be fried or irradiated because of the miscalculation of some mad American in a cowboy hat - an image burnt into many brains by Stanley Kubrick's apocalyptic film Dr Strangelove.
Somehow the Soviet Union, probably because of ignorance, escaped our disapproval. It was all wrong, if just about understandable, then. Now it has become a pernicious and destructive failure to know a friend when we see one.
With the cold war confrontations gone, the anti-capitalism, anti- globalisation movements abandoned potentially rational, cultural and environmental anxieties in favour of a monstrous random bag of anti-American loathing. And, of course, the Middle East seemed to provide a clear case of the arrogant, bullying superpower persecuting the poor.
The idea of the bully fits neatly with one of the most grotesquely enduring of all anti-American beliefs: that Americans are all dumb Yanks. This is a delusion of the right as much as the left and it began with Harold Macmillan's absurd aspiration, later taken up by Harold Wilson, that somehow Britain should play Athens to America's Rome.
The idea was that America was this big, blundering lummox and we were these terribly refined deep thinkers. Precisely the same attitude inspires the raised eyebrows and condescending tut-tutting of leftish dinner party opinion. They're so naïve, say the chatterers, so innocent - and this, sadly, leads them to do such terrible things.
Well, I've spent some time among the American intelligentsia and I have been awestruck and humbled. They are, without doubt, the best educated, most cultivated and cleverest people in the world. They are also the most humane. There are 30 or more American universities where our best and brightest would be struggling to keep up. Apart from that, how could we be so dumb as to accuse the nation of Updike, Bellow, Roth, DeLillo, Ashbery, Dylan, of Terence Malick, The Simpsons, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola of stupidity, let alone innocence?
The roots of this are obvious. We want the bully to be thick for the same reason as we want the beautiful model to be thick. We can't bear the possibility of somebody having strength or beauty as well as brains.
In fairness, the stupidity charge is partly fuelled by one of the odder forms of anti-Americanism: American anti-Americanism. There has always been, within the US, cultivated East and West Coast elites who take the charge of stupidity seriously and feel they have to apologise for the embarrassment of the unsophisticated masses of the Midwest or deep South.
At its best this produces the brilliant satire of Randy Newman, at its worst the mandarin, Europhile posing of Gore Vidal. The masses bite back with their own form of anti-Americanism - a hatred of the elites. The Rev Jerry Falwell has already made common cause with the terrorists by blaming the attack on "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays, and the lesbians". To Falwell modern America really is the Great Satan.
However, it is Middle Eastern anti-Americanism that is the burning issue of the moment. Again this is deeply misunderstood by the chatterers of the West. For them it is simply a matter of Israel, apparently a clear case of a surrogate bullying on America's behalf, and of oil, a clear case of American greed swamping all other human considerations.
In fact, America has always had more allies in the region than it has had enemies - although, this being the Middle East, allies become enemies and vice versa with bewildering rapidity. In the 1950s and 1960s, the US and her allies worked to subvert the secular Arab nationalist power of President Nasser of Egypt by backing Islamicist groups. Good idea, bad tactics. These groups started out pro- American and became anti. The unwelcome result was the more or less total destruction of nationalism and the creation of the powerful religious movement that now haunts Arab politics.
Israel forms a part but not the whole of this picture. Islamicism makes it a larger part because of an ancient enmity that goes back to the story of the prophet's betrayal by Jewish tribes and, more recently, to the defeat and expulsion of the Moors from Christian Europe.
In this context, Arab hardliners see Israel as a further Christian-backed offensive against the Islamic world. Even without Israel, the idea of such an offensive would still be a powerful imaginative force.
People who suggest September 11 would never have happened if America had pulled back from her support for Israel are almost certainly wrong. Israel is not even in the foreground of Bin Laden's murderous imagination. The Palestinians have actually complained that he cares nothing for them. For Bin Laden and for many more moderate Muslims, the turning point was the Gulf war in 1990-91.
"Contrary to popular belief that was the first real build-up of American military force in the region," says Dr Clive Jones at Leeds University. "This was in Saudi Arabia, a country with the holiest sites in Islam at Mecca and Medina. This created a new form of anti-Americanism that cannot in any way be related to Israel."
To these newest and most savage anti-Americans, Israel is secondary. The primary crime is blasphemy against the holiest Islamic soil. One widely circulated picture of two women GIs in a Jeep, their shirts unbuttoned to their waists, driving across the Arabian desert, was enough to inflame the sensibilities of thousands of devout Muslims and to fling the most unstable of them into the arms of the extremists. They had a point but not one that justifies murder. Islam, at heart, is as peaceful a creed as Christianity.
The truth about the Gulf war was that the Americans saved an Arab state, Kuwait, from Saddam Hussein, the most savage oppressor in the region. They would have been as surely damned for not doing this as much as they are now damned for doing it. Now they are also damned by the chatterers for keeping the pressure on Saddam. Do the chatterers know what Saddam is still doing? I do and I'm with the Americans.
Of course America has made terrible mistakes in the Middle East. Much resentment would have been and may still be prevented by a humane settlement with the Palestinians. But America was usually trying to do the right thing, always with the collusion of large sections, if not the majority, of the Arab population. As Winston Churchill said, the Americans usually do the right thing once they have tried all the alternatives.
Yet anti-Americanism has become the savage reflex of the entire region. It is the result of cynical manipulation by, mostly, appalling Arab governments and by extremists who wish to relaunch a medieval war of civilisations between Christianity and Islam.
T his is the anti-Americanism that informs the ignorant dinner party guests of the West who, in their comfortable stupidity, pretend to have more in common with fanatical theocrats than they do with the land of The Simpsons and John Updike.
Perhaps worst of all is the deep vacuity of this reflex malevolence. In truth there is little that can be said about the attack on America. Our "thinkers" are trapped in a history they do not understand. They can grasp global conflict only as a series of confrontations between competing humanist ideologies - most obviously capitalism and communism. But this is something different. It is a confrontation between civilisation and an atavistic savagery that has no time for the delicate ways of life we have, at such terrible cost, constructed. Unable to see this, the chatterers must search for something to say.
"It's not for nothing they're called the chattering classes," observes Brogan.
So they blame the victim. It is a heartbreaking spectacle of delusion turned to savagery. What has America done wrong? In the days since September 11, its president and people have done nothing but demonstrate dignity and restraint. Bush will lash out, the chatterers said. But he hasn't yet. Bush is a bumbling hick, they sneered. But he isn't. Even CNN, that usually incomprehensible tumult of undigested events, has been steady and calm, devoid of all trace of prejudice, xenophobia or empty emotion.
Civilisation? It lies exactly 3,000 miles to the west of where I write and some of it is in ruins. I just wish it was closer.
I am sick of my generation's whining ingratitude, its wilful, infantile loathing of the great, tumultuous, witty and infinitely clever nation that has so often saved us from ourselves. But I am heartened by something my 19- year-old daughter said: "America has always been magic to us, we don't understand why you lot hate it so much."
Anti-Americanism has never been right and I hope it never will be. Of course there are times for criticism, lampoons, even abuse. But this is not one of them. This is a time when we are being asked a question so simple that it is almost embarrassing - a question that should silence the Question Time morons, the sneering chatterers and the cold warriors, a question so elemental, so fundamental, so pristine that, luxuriating in our salons, we had forgotten it could even be asked. So face it, answer it, stand up and be counted.
Whose side are you really on?
Excellent piece. Bookmarked.
Well said, a nice commentary. The sane voices arise from the noise since September 11th.
and thank you for posting it.
Former president Bill Clinton orders the United States military to rain destruction down on civilians in Serbia for two months to deal with nonexistent "ethnic cleansing," and people in the U.S. didn't even miss their favorite fast food and television sitcoms.
A bunch of hijackers cause one day's worth of destruction on civilians in the U.S., and suddenly it's an "act of war" the likes of which the world has not seen since Pearl Harbor.
I am in full support of the U.S. in this conflict, but this is something worth thinking about.
But somehow they never, ever, ever bring up clinton and his "war", uh, "strategies" of bombing civilian targets from 15 thousand feet, like TV stations, aspirin factories, etc.
The closest they come is usually to wave their hands vaguely and mention that "America drops bombs" on such-and-such places. They might even specifically refer to Iraq, aspirin factories in Sudan, even Serbia.
Yet they never mention by name the mastermind of the attacks: Bill Clinton. Instead, it is deemed to be "America" which planned and carried out those wag-the-dog distractions, and so "America" is at fault (and, implicitly, on some level, "deserves what it got" - even though few of these jerks have the guts to come out and say that this is what they really think).
All this so they can continue to avoid criticism of their boy hero clinton.
I wonder why none of the left-wing "why they hate America" opinion columns even mention Clinton's name? Gee, I wonder.
All that having been said, one must admit that this did not start with Clinton and his civilian bombing tactics. Even without him they, and many others, would still "hate" America.
(Washington, February 7, 2000) -- About five hundred civilians died in ninety separate incidents as a result of NATO bombing in Yugoslavia last year, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.
The U.S. even used NATO as their "instrument" in Kosovo because they knew the United Nations would never get on board like it did in the Persian Gulf. If NATO didn't exist, I'm sure Clinton would have dusted off an old piece of legislation from World War II, scribbled out Adolph Hitler's name and replaced it with Slobodan Milosevic, and used that to justify his half-assed war.
The numbers are less important than the principle that is involved here. The United States carried out a military campaign of dubious nature, and in the process they placed a higher value on their own military personnel (and political fortunes, in the case of Bill Clinton) than on the lives of foreign civilians.
If those aren't war crimes, I don't know what is.
Not even close to that!
Orwell was no dummy. Too bad we already have a pacifist problem here. Thanks, one of the best I've read lately.
Where are the Rivero's of yesteryear?
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.