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Me America, You World. Grr!

Posted 3 August 2004, 10.50 pm by Villager

The European perception of the USA is often unjust, assuming naiveté or reckless arrogance concerning foreign affairs. Having been here a while, I see it is rather more complicated than that.

I was seated outside a sleepy little café in a sleepy little town taking an occasional sip from my morning coffee when I was joined by a friendly local, an old man whose profession I have always admired; gardener and groundsman. We talked about ourselves, the weather, and about England, a country that not a few Americans seem to regard as still in the Nineteenth century (they are not entirely wrong, but that is a topic for another time). Inevitably, conversation drifted onto Global Terrorism and American Foreign Policy. Of those I have spoken to – and of course I can make no claim that their opinions are representative of anything more than themselves – there seems to be two problems, as I seem them, that distort and oppress the American understanding of contemporary conflict and the wider world. First and foremost, the media here is largely terrible. Exposure to television, radio and newspapers betrays an almost shockingly narrow perception and presentation of world events. My native BBC, while not always (or even regularly) living up to the ideals of impartiality and broad coverage, at least seems to have in view the goals it should strive to meet in Public Service Broadcasting.
Flicking through the national broadsheets and Washington’s local publications, one is struck by the lack of world news and analysis, and where it is to be found it pertains almost exclusively to the narrow, short-term American interest. There is a prime-time, right-wing (though ostensibly politically unaffiliated) political opinion show here with a substantial audience which provides its viewers with what amounts to a diatribe of self-interest, distrust of the world at large – even those who have staunchly supported American policies – obsessive paranoia and an utter unwillingness to consider that military and diplomatic force may not be the wisest means of serving the interest of America, her allies or the world at large. The 'liberal' equivalents differ only in their hatred of George W Bush, and such shows are not untypical.
Self interest and, in light of the aggression that this nation has suffered in recent times, reactionary distrust and militarism are perhaps to be expected. But it is very dangerous that these things pervade the media, and so the public mind, without being placed in a greater context. The American media is fixated upon the present and the immediate future. It is not concerned with historic precedent, nor willing to consider the long-term negative consequences of its brazen behavior. If it is to be hoped that the world’s sole superpower will mature and greet the world on equal terms, then the American media’s self-censorship and mindless preoccupation with the here-and-now represents an obstacle to world peace perhaps as great as any other. I speak of historic precedent, and by that I mean that the ‘War on Terror’ to date is, compared to the United States’ recent and distant wars, much less a threat to American lives and general prosperity than political discourse and the accompanying hysteria would have you believe. Yes, the terrorist attacks on American soil and American nationals and interests abroad do represent a significant development in America’s relationship with the world, but what it does not do is herald a new era where America must fight with all her military might or die. Bad as it may seem right now, it must be realized that it could get a lot worse.
The second problem, a sibling of the first, is that the American people themselves seem unconcerned at the journalistic lethargy of their media. Perhaps this is even a cause of the first problem, though inasmuch as a nation’s media and people reflect and shape each other, I hope not for it is much the harder to change. The consequence is that the world lies prone to a force that neither sees nor wants to see the world’s problems with any clarity, its focus sternly upon material self-improvement and preservation. So much depends upon American policy, from man’s perennial abuse of the environment to how many thousands of innocent lives will be claimed and how much destruction will be wrought, if this playground brawl between the forces of Western conservatism and those who would make Islam an excuse to take innocent lives is allowed to escalate and draw the wider world into a conflict that is as unnecessary as it is potentially dangerous.
The key to all of this lies in the pyramid of American political power. At the top, the President and a tight political and economic elite sit astride a two-party system that strangles and perverts the democratic process. If America is to save the world and itself from chaos, then it can only do so through the proper practice of the noble, democratic principles that it is presently attempting to foist upon Iraq. I believe that an accurate political reflection of the humanity within America would solve most of the problems that America faces, but that cannot happen until the people themselves demand that they be properly informed. America and the world need a second American Revolution, but the only Englishmen now are those who sit and ponder in cafes. This time, the enemy and obstacle to true American freedom lies not across an ocean, but within the borders of what the people here so tragically refer to as the
greatest nation on earth. The United States of America was founded on principles which none could justly fault. As the 228th Anniversary comes and goes amid deafening fanfare and celebration, the silent masses need to stand up and defend those principles, else for them and the world, things can and likely will get a whole lot worse.

firebrand
on 9 August 2004, 4.29 am
great essay, Vill.

i think most forward-thinking americans have arrived at those conclusions, which is why we get stuck reading msn Slate and Salon, or fleeing to the BBC for news.


Villager
on 9 August 2004, 4.59 am
Thanks. I must admit I do come across the odd lucid American who seems to share my viewpoints.

I also persuaded the European Weekly Pazifische Rundschau, a newspaper for European expatriates living in North America, to publish this, though in a somewhat shortened and moderated fashion.


Alexander
on 9 August 2004, 7.32 am
Word Vill, good work.


Lilith
on 9 August 2004, 8.18 am
Great article, I loved reading it, especially considering how true it is for the majority (not all) of Americans.

That is part of the reason I left.


Mr_Fred_Smith
on 10 August 2004, 9.50 pm
I'm not so sure you can simply ascribe the militarism of the United States to 9/11: as a nation it has always flirted with timocracy, right from the beginning, but historically-speaking the real take-off into sustained re-armament began under Reagan.


toth
on 19 August 2004, 5.19 pm
www.jewwatch.com

that's why, silly.


Villager
on 27 August 2004, 1.37 am
I never said that 9/11 was the sole factor, Fred, but the political discourse is inalienably focused upon it, as though it were the origin of all present concerns and the beginning of modern history.


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