It's Not the Freedom, Stupid

Article excerpt

A frequent theme nowadays is "Why do they hate us?" meaning why does so much of the world dislike the United States. The reasons given are usually absurd: they hate our freedom and democracy. Actually the reason is simple if unpalatable. They hate us because we meddle and have meddled.

People remember slights. They may not remember them as they actually happened, but they remember them. The Civil War ended in 1865, the federal occupation in 1877. Yet today many Southerners are bitter, to the point that their emotional loyalty is to the South, not to Washington.

Silly? Yes, if you are from the North. Grievances matter more to those aggrieved than to the aggrievers.

In Guadalajara, near my home in Mexico, a towering monument in a traffic circle honors Los Ninos Heroes, the Heroic Children. These are the little boys who, when the invading American Armies attacked Chapultepec in 1847, went out to fight for their country. Avenues are named Ninos Heroes all over Mexico. Few Americans even know that there was a war.

Wounds to national pride gall people and endure. Exactly why, I don't know, but it happens. Consider China. How many Americans have heard of the Opium Wars of 1839 and 1856? Or understand that the United States and the European powers occupied such parts of China as they chose, forced opium sales on China, imposed extraterritoriality, and bloodily suppressed the Boxers? How many people have even heard of the Boxers?

Over a billion Chinese.

My point is not that China is morally superior to the United States. It isn't. But if you want to understand why so many countries detest us, you have to understand how they see us. Whether you agree is irrelevant. Nor does it matter whether their grievances are factual. For example, many South Americans believe their countries to be poor because of exploitation by America. This isn't true, which doesn't matter at all.

A few years back, I was in Laos and chatted with a young Lao woman. She mentioned in passing the death of her father. "What happened to him?" I asked. "Oh," she said, "he died fighting the Americans." A war that many Americans saw as a meritorious crusade against communism was, to the countries involved, an inexplicable attack that killed their fathers and brothers and children. They didn't see why the internal affairs of their country were America's business.

Agree with them or don't, but that's why they hate us. …