Anti-Americanism

Article excerpt

ANTI-AMERICANISM is not confined to places where the United States, for whatever reason, is exerting military force. Indeed, it is nowhere more vehement than among the elites of the Western alliance. American politicians are troubled by this, and wonder how to change it. What policies, what postures, what soothing words can be adopted, that will end the worldwide burning of the American flag? Finding no answer to that question-for there is none-politicians are tempted by isolationism. Fortress America, with an autarkic economy, tough immigration laws, and an impenetrable shield against missiles begins to look like the only long-term solution, when from every side comes the cry of "Death to America." The problem is that the American economy and globalization are all but synonymous, and disengagement would bring down any government that attempted it. Moreover, there is no guarantee that isolation would create security. A trip around the ruined castles of Europe vividly reminds the modern tourist that nothing invites destruction like a fortress. So what is the solution?

Any answer to that question must begin from a study of motives. Anti-Americanism has something in common with anti-Semitism, and in the Middle East the two antipathies are fused. However, there is a significant difference, in that the leading anti-Americans are themselves Americans. True, there have been anti-Semitic Jews-but they have been special cases, people who have sought to disguise their Jewishness by pretending to hate it, and maybe even coming to hate it in any case, as an obstacle to social advancement. Anti-American Americans, by contrast, are normal products of American society. They can rant against their country and its citizens without fear of reprisals; they can travel all over the world on evangelical binges, and can enjoy celebrity status on campuses and caucuses across the Union. The freedom to be anti-American is enjoyed not only by loudmouths like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, but also by the mute inglorious antibodies who occupy obscure positions throughout the educational system in their country. They are greeted for the most part with good-natured toleration. They may even meet with a show of enthusiasm from young people who are going through some spell of repudiation towards parents, school, career, God, the world, and who are relieved to focus their emotions more comprehensively on the entire community to which they belong.

Now anti-American Americans, Zinn and Chomsky included, will protest that it is they who are the true American patriots, that they only side with those who are burning the Stars and Stripes because the misguided policies of the American leadership oblige them, in conscience, to do so. Their purpose is to improve their country, to return it to its original vision or its implied ideals, and to rescue it from those who have perverted its calling. This is a cunning response, since it permits their followers to avoid the charge of base ingratitude. It is okay to go on enjoying the enormous privileges of young Americans and the even greater privileges of their gurus, if you can clothe your anti-Americanism in patriotic garments.

But what does this new patriotism amount to? It would be credible if it were to be accompanied by comparative judgments-by some attempt to set the defects of America alongside the virtues of other nation-states, some attempt to say that this in my country is bad, this somewhat better, and that these are the ways in which we might improve things, following this or that example from elsewhere. But all such thoughts are absent from the writings of the anti-American gurus, and from the minds and emotions of their recruits. After all, such thoughts foster doubt and hesitation. They lead to patient observation of the world as it is, and-in due course-to the discovery that people usually make a mess of living together, and that things are, on the whole, better in America than in the places where the Stars and Stripes are burning. …