The Daily Demarche
Thursday, January 27, 2005
Anti-Americanism: measuring distance in kilograms.
Smiley’s piece on anti-Americanism (The Church Doctrine, below) and the New Sisyphus’ post regarding his treatment in Paris are both excellent posts that make a good point: as an American traveling abroad you are unlikely to run into any blatant anti-Americanism. Even in my corner of the Far Abroad, where President Bush and America are viewed as the greatest existing threat to world peace by over 60% of the population I have only once been subjected to any anti-Americanism, and this was from a drunk woman who had no identifiable complaint or agenda, just general bitterness.

Many, if not most, of the people in the world do not wake up every day hoping to run into an American to tell off. Should you wander into their shop they will gladly take your money. They probably were genuinely saddened and angered by the events of September 11th, 2001. They like Bruce Willis movies (the Die Hard movies, not that Whole Ten Yards crap), some form of American music and most likely eat at McDonalds. But don’t confuse that with not being anti-American. Any personal feeling aside, anti-Americanism has become institutionalized around the world:

The new anti-Americanism is less focused on external acts of the American state; it is more likely to be triggered by internal things such as the American love affair with the automobile, the cult of the gun or the uncritical assumption that American is always best. In some respects, today's critics are taking issue with the American way of life itself.

When nations such as Germany, Greece, and France and Italy who have flourished and in fact even continued to exist as a direct result of the existence of a powerful America not only oppose specific policies but ceaselessly complain about our elected leader that is institutional anti-Americanism. The German blogger Medienkritik has posted two excellent examples of elite sponsored anti-Americanism aimed at young German children: A Spoonful of Anti-Americanism for German Kids and Anti-Americanizing German Children. When the UN gives a despot 12 years and countless warnings, then declares US intervention in the region “illegal” that is institutional anti-Americanism. When Mikis Theodrakis, Greek nominee for the Nobel peace prize can say "I hate Americans and everything American. I hope the youth begin to hate everything American” that is pure institutional anti-Americanism (see Greece link above).

Just as some in America claim to support the troops but oppose the war many regular folks worldwide like individual Americans and more specifically American products, but oppose the idea of America. Foreign Policy online ran one of the best articles I have ever seen on anti-Americanism in 2003. From that piece:

People say that Americans are arrogant, but it's not true. Americans enjoy life and they are proud of their lives, and they are boastful of their wonderful inventions that have made life so much easier and more convenient. It's very difficult to understand the machinery of hatred, because you wind up resorting to logic, but trying to understand this with logic is like measuring distance in kilograms….


These are people who are envious. To them, life is an unbearable burden. Modernism is the only way out. But modernism is frightening. It means we have to compete. It means we can't explain everything away with conspiracy theories. Bernard Shaw said it best, you know. In the preface to 'St. Joan,' he said Joan of Arc was burned not for any reason except that she was talented. Talent gives rise to jealousy in the hearts of the untalented.

The Washington Times ran a series of articles between Christmas and New Year’s about America’s “soft power” (links to all the articles can be found at the end of this post) which addressed many of the reasons that America has come to be both loved and loathed at the same time. We have reached the top of the dog pile, and for many around the world the only place for us to go is down, and everyone is willing to give us a push. From that series:

"Most astute people around the world realize that America is very vulnerable. Its economy is held together by the ability to attract investment and capital. The whole of the American system, which has been a glowing success story, it could come to an end very quickly," says Kalle Lasn, editor in chief of Adbusters, a counterculture magazine that encouraged boycotts against American brands after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. "It is time for the backlash, time for the American economy to get its comeuppance," says Mr. Lasn, a native Estonian who now lives in Canada.

I find it telling that an immigrant living in the country that does the most trade with America actively wishes for our “comeuppance”. Does he really want the American economy to self-destruct? When the Canadian economy plummeted as a result would he declare victory and move back to Estonia?

Even in “old Europe” America looms larger than life. The anti-American elites are obsessed with America, and are equally perturbed that we are not obsessed with them (also form the WT series):

"You cannot imagine the impact of the American election in Europe," Italian religious philosopher and politician Rocco Buttiglione says during a recent Washington visit.

"America is modernity, and what takes place in America today will take place in Europe in 10, 15 or 20 years," he says. "The Europeans, all of a sudden, had to discover that America is religious, that ethical issues are relevant to politics."

German commentator Josef Joffe says the attraction of American culture "looms even larger than its economic and military assets."

"U.S. culture — low-brow or high — radiates outward with an intensity last seen in the days of the Roman Empire — but with a novel twist. Rome's and Soviet Russia's cultural sway stopped exactly at their military borders. America's soft power, though, rules over an empire on which the sun never sets."

And in those two quotes we find the heart of the matter. Our successes in the last century have assigned us to the most hated of role: the powerful guardian of the weak. As a teenager rebels against his parents and the elderly disdain assistance in completing the mundane tasks they once accomplished with vigor, so most of the world views America. They aspire to the sports car the father can afford to drive, and sun themselves in the memories of greatness past, much embellished in the retelling. On a face to face basis there is often deference, and outright friendship. But in the private places where they gather there is condemnation, big talk and petty plans.

So by all means, go to Egypt and see the pyramids. Eat crepes in Paris. Drink a beer in Berlin. The world is a beautiful and wondrous place, filled with friendly, smiling people. Just be aware that behind the smile, perhaps even subconsciously, it is quite possible that a small voice inside that person is whispering "damn Americans." It is jealousy, it is envy, it is basic human pettiness. In most of the world we can ignore it. In someplaces, like the Middle East, we simply cannot. And in Canada, and Europe, we can tolerate it to a certain extent. It bears watching, however, and eventually will have to be addressed. How we will manage that remains to be seen.


The Five Part WT series: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5
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dé·marche 1) A course of action; a maneuver. 2) A diplomatic representation or protest 3) A statement or protest addressed by citizens to public authorities.

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