The Rod, the Paddle, and Abu Ghraib: The State of Childhood in the USA, Its Domestic and Foreign Policy Sequelae, and a Proposal for Social Policy Solutions

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The study of psychohistory has made this abundantly clear: whenever we look at social and international violence in order to seek an explanation, the first question we should ask is: "What has childhood been like in this region, for this and the last generations?" Psychohistorians have amassed copious documentary evidence tracing nations' behavior on the world stage back to its roots in prevailing child-rearing customs, national family policy and educational policy. The major wars, dictatorships and acts of genocide and terrorism of the 20th and 21st centuries are now understood as symptomatic of what takes place in labor rooms, cradles and schoolrooms. So, when seeking explanations for the more problematic of American economic, political and foreign policy trends of recent decades, our first impulse should be to take the temperature of American childhood.

Recent decades saw a steep decline in affection for the U.S. around the world. The downward slide in America's image abroad accelerated through George W Bush's presidential terms, and only began to turn around in 2009 with the new administration's efforts to mend fences. Having polled over 175,000 people in 54 nations, the Pew Research Center found many reasons why the U.S. image abroad had been suffering almost everywhere. In the most economically developed countries, people blame American domestic economic policy for the current global financial crisis. Additionally, American foreign policy has been passionately opposed - even among long-standing allies in Western Europe. The Pew report concludes: "In the view of much of the world, the United States has played the role of bully in the school yard, throwing its weight around with little regard for others' interests" (Pew Research Center, 2008). President Bush's infamous phrase: "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists" stands as a stark caricature of a foreign policy that has often been unilateral, authoritarian and iron-fisted.

So, exactly what has attracted the charge of "bully in the playground"? What kinds of economic and foreign policies are behind the USA's faltering popularity in recent decades - and can these national policies be explained in terms of prevailing child-rearing trends?

An extreme free-market fundamentalism has led to a catastrophic blow-out in income disparity. In 2000, an average CEO remuneration topped 500 times the average wage, and by 2005 it had rocketed to 800 times the minimum wage (Mishel 2006). This kind of economic anarchy is widely understood to be a major factor behind the current global crisis. When contrasted to the British CEO-to-average-wage ratio of 25:1 in the year 2000, Australia's ratio of 22:1, France's 16:1 and Japan's 10:1, the American ratio looms as wildly rapacious (Heritage Institute, 2007). The credit crunch that originated in the U.S. is the legacy of a sociopathic economic philosophy that declares "regulation" and "government" to be dirty words - and it has been disastrous for the entire world economy.

On the environmental front, the U.S. has shown contempt for the international consensus of climate scientists who warn us of imminent ecological calamity - and has stubbornly refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. In this way the U.S. protects its position as the second largest per capita emitter of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels (SciTech Today, 2006).

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, situated in The Hague, Netherlands. As of March 2009, 108 states are members of the Court, and a further 40 countries have signed but not yet ratified their support for this critical initiative. A growing list of successful prosecutions has vindicated the ICC as an essential agent for human rights. Nevertheless the USA (along with other recalcitrant nations like China and Russia) continues to snub this invaluable world initiative. …