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

By Thomas A. Bailey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
XENOPHOBES AND XENOPHOBIA

"We can hardly hate anyone that we know."--WILLIAM HAZLITT


1

THE MAN IN THE STREET, like men in foreign streets, has developed curious infatuations for other nations, and equally curious antipathies against them. Both impulses are dangerous, as George Washington indicated in his Farewell Address, for emotions swerve us from the true track of national interest. Emotions all too often arise from surface information or erroneous conceptions, and as a consequence make for irrationality in a world where sanity is urgently needed.

Mankind in general seems to have an instinctive dislike for the foreigner. The Greeks divided their tiny world into two parts: Greeks and the others, whom they termed barbarians. "Everyone is ready to speak evil of a stranger," wrote the great Greek tragedian, Aeschylus. Bret Harte referred to the "defective moral quality of being a foreigner," and the alleged remark of a cockney Englishman has become classic: "There goes a stranger; 'eave 'arf a brick at 'im.'

A Dictionary of International Slurs was published in 1944 by A. A. Runback, and it is to be warmly recommended to those naïve souls who are wondering why we do not make haste to beat our atomic bombs into power stations. In France syphilis is called the Italian disease, and in Italy the French disease, and so on. The amiable Dr. Samuel Johnson expressed a not uncommon British view when he dismissed foreigners as "mostly fools," but he did not go so far as an English lady in the Rhineland who, on hearing a German speak of her party as foreigners, exclaimed: "No, we are not foreigners; we are English; it is you that are foreigners."

Today some nations still regard themselves, even the backward ones, as islands of enlightenment in a sea of barbarism, and Americans have sinned worse than many. Our textbooks, especially the earlier versions, have given the impression that all history dates from Plymouth Rock, that the wilderness drama of America held the center of the world stage from the beginning, and that what happened in Europe and elsewhere was but a dim and unimportant rumbling in the wings.

The average American, being no less human than the various peoples from whom he sprang, is inclined to suspect and even hate the "furriner." The British traveler Buckingham was impressed in the 1830's with our strong prejudice against all foreigners, especially the British, who were infuriatingly contemptuous of our backwoods experiment.

As late as 1919 the more unenlightened Americans viewed the League of Nations with deep suspicion; it would be controlled by foreigners of all races

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