Dave's Progress. Chapter 63: Those Who Seek to Destroy Monsters...

I am writing this blog because my very dear American blogging friend, dcrelief, recently wrote, (after I had made a comment on her blog saying that I was pleased that Canada had won the men's hockey final against the USA in the Winter Olympics) that her country "must have the worst reputation in the world". "I am so very, very sorry", she wrote. Well, for a start, I don't think there's any need for dc to be sorry. The responsibility for the reputation of America in the world hardly lies at her door, or, for that matter, to my mind, at that of the larger American public. That is not to say, however, that the reputation of America has not taken a few knocks in the recent past, and America-bashing seems to have become something of a cultural phenomenon, not only where you would expect it (i.e in parts of the fundamentalist Islamic world where America is regarded as "the Great Satan"), but also in the western world and my own country, whose bond with America, often referred to as the "special relationship", would, on the surface, appear to be cordial and strong. So, just why is it that America has seemingly become so unpopular in the world?
Well, to my mind, the reputation of America as a world leader took a serious battering because of the actions of the administrations of George W. Bush. To many, including myself, Bush came across as a buffoon, someone woefully out of his depth who often seemingly could not even string a sentence together without making some gaffe. He was, to say the least, a little kooky- after all, he freely admitted that "God" spoke to him. Yes, him personally. And, even when defending himself against the jibes that came his way, his spelling and grammar did not improve. "Do not misunderestimate me", he once said.
OK, so perhaps, at worst, the man seemed to be too stupid to be president of anywhere. However, a harmless buffoon he proved not to be. After the tragedy of 9/11, Bush seemed to launch out on various policies which had more liberal minds extremely worried. The Patriot Act, for example, in its attempt to suppress the now urgent issue of terrorist threat, meant a certain curtailing of civil liberties. More serious allegations of torture by "water-boarding", the process of "extraordinary rendition" and the mere presence of Guantanamo Bay made many feel that America was going too far in its zeal to stop the terrorists. Not to mention the (illegal?) preemptive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps "the world" began to feel as if America had simply become so powerful that even international law no longer mattered to it. If "water-boarding" was regarded as torture and therefore an illegal practice, for example, then the US simply tried to "redefine" what torture was.
Indeed, this type of aggression does not seem to have begun just with George W., although it became more accented throughout his administrations. For example, I remember the historian Norman Stone suggesting that, post World War II, America had pursued the most aggressive foreign policy of almost all nations. And I also remember reading Graham Greene's "The Quiet American", a prescient and withering account of America's involvement in Vietnam, which appeared to predict America's growing world ambitions.
So, perhaps this all goes back further than one would think, and perhaps does not end with the growing apparent evils of American foreign policy. Indeed, the rest of the world would also seem to resent America's cultural "imperialism", if one can call it that. America does, it seems, attempt to export its culture, its way of life, to all reaches of the globe. Even in Europe this seems to be somewhat resented, and I remember one French film-maker, remarking on the proliferation of American films and culture in his own country, stating, "I still want the right to dream in French". America, it seemed, was not only physically expanding, but veritably invading our consciousness.
Hollywood itself, that seeming purveyor and inculcator of American ideology, has its own bad practices to answer for in the way that it plays fast and loose with history. I remember, at some time during the '90's, for example, that the English seemed to have become the new "bad guys" in many American films. Indeed, we were not only often portrayed as criminal or psychopathic, but also seemed to become "the enemy" in historical terms as well. Films such as "The Patriot", for example, starring Mel Gibson, made the English out to be, most definitely, the evil ones. It didn't seem to matter that the film was woefully historically inaccurate and I remember it causing quite a stir in the English press at the time. Indeed, when my cousin, who had been a lecturer in history at the University of Birmingham in England went to see "The Other Boleyn Girl"with his wife, she simply remarked, "Oh dear, it's history for Americans again".
However, it has to be said that there is another, more heartening side to Hollywood, as it would seem to be, in some areas, one of the more liberal parts of the US, and it was Hollywood, in films such as "Syriana", "Rendition" and "Redacted", amongst others, that took a critical eye to the Bush administrations. For one star, though, George Clooney, his role in such movies and his own political beliefs led him to be called a traitor by some of his fellow countrymen.
As if in parallel with this, while the rest of the world seemed to heave a collective sigh of relief when Bush was voted out of office and Obama in, one only had to surf the internet to find some truly bizarre opinions about Obama, all of which, I hasten to add, came from Americans themselves. That Obama was, secretly, a Muslim, that he was a "friend" of terrorists, that some sort of socialist conspiracy was going on, or, finally, that Obama represented the tyranny of "big" government. While the rest of us were basking in the light of what might be a new era for America and consequently, a new hope for the world, it seemed that some still harboured some very strange ideas.
However, the majority of Americans had made their choice clear, and for the first time in history, an African-American was sitting in the White House. What could be more encouraging than that? Indeed, the minority opinions expressed above are perhaps just a consequence of living in such an open, free and democratic country, where one can say and do, within the law, of course, as one pleases. Indeed, perhaps one should say that blaming the American people for the faults of their government is not, I believe, what many who criticise America intend, and one is reminded of American writer Edward Abbey's saying, that "a patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government".
Even further than this, though, there have been the various economic scandals which have recently beset America and, indeed, the world. There was, for example, the whole Enron debacle, and after that the criminal activity of the appropriately named Bernard Madoff (pronounced made-off), who it appeared tried to make off with as much money as he could before being caught. As they often say in England, "at least Dick Turpin wore a mask". And then, of course, there was the whole sub-prime scandal which has resulted in global recession and must bring into question the Reagan and Thatcherite philosophy of complete deregulation of the market, that the market was its own best regulator. Indeed, it was as if the capitalist system itself were failing, the Gordon Gekko model of a "greed is good" philosophy finally being shown for what it was, the whole of the underpinning of American life and wealth coming apart.
Having said all that, I certainly hope that the tide of America-bashing may be on the wane with the advent of Obama's new administration. One of his stated aims, after all, was to restore America's reputation as a world leader; for America once again to become a beacon of enlightenment. Or as William Blake and the Romantics saw, centuries ago, that America was perhaps "the great experiment", a land free from the tyranny of an over-powerful church and state.
Mindfully, though, I think America should always be careful in its choice of who it offends, and that, seemingly in the process of "doing good", of defending our freedoms and democracy, it does not itself become some kind of tyrant. Or, as Friedrich Nietszche put it, "those who seek to destroy monsters should see to it, that in the process, they do not become monsters themselves".
That's all for now from your normal, average, paranoid and delusional man.


dcrelief said…
Dear David,
I’ve greatly enjoyed your blog.
The USA is a Plutocracy. The appearance of a Republic or Democratic government is an illusion.
My blog showcased another country as host of the Olympics. It was my wish to honor them.
I was not prejudiced to your choice for the game result; however as one of the lowest on the ladder of USA’s ‘food chain,’ I could only offer my apology. A wise person has said, “Peace begins with me.”
In peace and respect,
klahanie said…
Dear David,
As you know, I lived in Canada for a good portion of my life. The United States, generally speaking, was perceived as the 'noisy neighbour' you tolerated. Indeed, growing up in Canada, their was a sense of dismay in regards to a nation that seemed to know little about the rest of the world. America was referred to as the 'Insular Nation'.
However, I have noticed a decided shift in notions of the American public. Something there Government should take note of. For I believe that Americans realise, more so than ever, that we are all just citizens of the earth.
Now, if only the powers that be in America stopped playing the 'world's police' and learnt something from what transpired at the winter Olympic games in Vancouver. A solidarity through the Olympic ideal.
I see some good and great things happening in America. I have interacted with their people. I hope a more positive world with America being a friend, rather than a potential tyrant, as the true way forward.
With respect, Gary.
David said…
Dear dc,
Glad that you enjoyed my blog. You may well be right in thinking that America is a country governed by the wealthy. Unfortunately I don't have your subjectivity as an American citizen, and so can not have the same insights you must have, and in England, America is often thought of, perhaps mistakenly, as a less class-ridden society. However, one only has to read a book by F. Scott Fitzgerald or Theodore Dreiser to realise that the States is just as much governed by money and privelidge as our society. Despite all this, though, you still have the values enshrined in your constitution to fall back on- that "all men are created equal" and that you should have "a government of the people, by the people and for the people". We, on the other hand, don't even have a "written" constitution.
Also, "peace" may well begin with us, but unfortunately it takes more than innner contentment to get rid of someone like George W..
Anyway, thanks for your interesting comments, and to me, you could never be at the bottom of anybody's food chain.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,
David said…
Dear Gary,
Having visited Canada, my parents told me of the inhabitants' attitude towards their "noisy neighbour". And, in England too, America has been seen as an insular nation. Who else, for example, would call their own baseball tournament "The WORLD'S Series", as if no other country existed?
I have contradictory feelings about the States. While I love parts of it and would love to visit, I also virulently dislike the "dark side" of the American way. While I admire the values set out in the constitution and the "bill of rights", for example, I abhor the perversion of those values which America also seems to embody. And, like you, one hopes that America will perhaps play less of the "world police" role and more of the benign, freindly neighbour role in the future.
Thanks for your comment, Gary, and with much Respect,
bazza said…
I have enjoyed reading this post and the comments.
I have spent a fair amount of time in the USA and Canada and my feeling is:
Class differences in the UK are based on social standing, education, habits etc whereas in America they based purely on money.
Although it's true that the US is rather insular and often unaware of what's happening in the world I have generally found that, on a personal level, I really like American people and usually found them to be very much easier to speak to than your average Brit!
Also Canada seems to have the best of both the US and the UK/Europe.
David said…
Dear Bazza,
Thanks for taking the time to visit and comment on my blog. I'm glad you enjoyed reading it and it is good to get a perspective from someone who has actually been to the States, which I, unfortunately, have not (yet!).
Anyway, I tried hard in the post to make it clear that there is a definite distinction to be made between the American people and their government, and that it was mostly Bush and his administration that seemed to be responsible for America's loss of respectability.
I have been told by friends who have been to the States that Americans are generally quite a personable bunch, and I don't really like talk which makes them all out to be somehow stupid or ignorant. This is not to say that I don't still find some things about America irksome, but I would not extend that to everyone who lives there!
Thanks once again for commenting and I hope you will visit again.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,
Hope Ambassador said…
Hi David,

It's funny, you know, I found myself often cheering for the US at these Olympics; not as much as I hoped for my compatriots, of course.

I think, with Obama trying to accomplish medicare for everyone and with my connections with American friends through a summer camp I've attended, I've experienced an opening heart towards our southern neighbours.

I am still baffled by the strength of the religious right in the US and by the general lack of rights afforded the LGBT population in their country.

Anyway, I'm babbling...

Take care,
David said…
Dear Sonya.
Thanks for commenting.
It's funny, but everyone who has commented who has actually been to, or had contact with people from, the States, seems mostly positive about them.
So,as I say in my blog, the apparent unpopularity of America perhaps stems mostly from their government, particularly its foreign policy. The American public, on the other hand, seem to be regarded with some respect.
Also, like you, I was comcerned about the apparent rise in influence of the religious right in the US, and not so long ago wrote a blog about it (see "It's the end of the world as we know it...and I feel fine")
As for the LGBT population, I'm afraid I don't know who they are. Just shows how much I know! Perhaps you could inform me next time.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,

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