The Man in the Street: The Impact of American Public Opinion on Foreign Policy

By Thomas A. Bailey | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER FIVE
THE SPIRIT OF SPREAD-EAGLEISM

"Most Americans are born drunk. . . . They have a sort of permanent intoxication from within, a sort of invisible champagne. . . . Americans do not need to drink to inspire them to do anything."

-- G. K. CHESTERTON, 1931


1

THE YANKEE has long been recognized, especially abroad, as a boastful, aggressive, swaggering fellow, not given to hiding his light under a bushel. He is proud of his nation and its unparalleled achievements, and he feels a sort of pitying contempt for that nineteen twentieths or so of the world's population so unlucky as to have been born in foreign climes.* If we want to know within rough limits how we appear to outsiders, all we have to do is to note the condescension of the Californian toward his less sun-kissed brethren in the other forty-seven states. Emerson remarked many years ago that the American eagle is a good deal of a peacock.

Yet cultured Americans have long tempered their boastfulness with gratitude for our many advantages, whether of liberty, equality, or opportunity. "My God!" exclaimed Jefferson in 1785, "how little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy." Margaret Fuller wrote from Europe in 1846: "The American in Europe, if a thinking mind, can only become more American." And Emerson summed it up admirably when he said: "We go to Europe to be Americanized."

But among less intelligent Americans gratitude is often submerged by crasser impulses. The boastfulness of American tourists abroad has long given foreigners an unfair picture of the great mass of our countrymen who pursue their daily tasks in less of a holiday spirit. The traveling "misrepresentatives" of the United States were perhaps at their worst during the boom days of the 1920's. The more flamboyant tourists in France, showing their scorn for the inflated French currency, would plaster franc notes on their suitcases or on the sides of their train compartments. One French cartoon in 1928 had a nouveau riche American businessman say as he viewed the outstanding landmark of Paris: "I have a good mind to buy this Eiffel Tower and set it up on my country place."

American boastfulness has declined as we have had more to boast about, but to this day we can hardly be classified as shrinking violets. A poll was taken in England shortly after the close of World War II in an effort to determine why the British were noticeably cooling toward their transatlantic

____________________
*
Dr. Call in 1946 found that only one American in one hundred preferred to live elsewhere, which is a striking result when one considers the large number of foreign-born.

-49-

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