Wednesday, 18 February 2009

America - Right or Wrong?


This is his hut… bombing co-ordinates not supplied. He’s gone by now anyway!


When staying by the beach on Koh Chang a while ago I got chatting to a middle aged farang in the next hut to ours. His nationality is irrelevant but he’d worked his way up from being a builders labourer to a technical college lecturer and I respected him for that.

We touched on a wide range of topics and so couldn’t avoid talking about the credit crunch and the crisis in the world economy.

“Sub-prime mortgages… toxic debt,” he said. “Nothing good ever comes out of America!”

I was quite taken aback so I asked him to elaborate. He seemed balanced and reasonable but he gave me a huge catalogue of disasters that he blamed on America.

As well as toxic debt, they create far more than their fair share of global pollution, he said. Their toxic fast food’s poisoning the world and they champion a vulgar materialism that seduces and overwhelms the distinctive cultures of smaller nations. And then there’s George W whose election was highly irregular anyway.

As for America’s self-serving abuse of its super power might, he laid out a long and depressing list… for example their paranoia about communism that provoked nuclear confrontation with a much weaker Russia, their manipulation of surrogate struggles causing long term instability in Africa, Central America and South East Asia. Indeed Thailand’s current tensions with Cambodia have to be seen within that context, he argued.

Not to mention Israel!

Long term American support for Zionism has destabilized the Middle East and more recently Bush’s aggressive ‘for us or agin’ cowboy style of diplomacy, his ridiculously misnamed ‘War on Terrorism’ and his ‘crusade’ against Islam has set world peace back by decades.

The threat of “weapons of mass destruction” was lies and a poor excuse to finish the family feud with Saddam Hussain. Not forgetting “regime change”, “shock and awe” and the destruction of Baghdad… misplaced revenge that cost at least a hundred thousand Iraqi and American lives.

My natural reaction was to launch a vigorous defense of this, my own Anglo-American culture but I was so taken aback that I didn’t do it too well.

My every instinct recoiled at his barrage of criticism as I was raised by a father who fought in the Western Desert alongside American soldiers. ‘They were grand fellows,’ I remember him proudly telling me.

Having lived abroad in so many countries I’ve also had more American friends than perhaps of any other nationality and I regret not visiting more often as I love being there. As a post-war Brit, my bias towards the US is thus very positive.

Our discussion was cordial but I struggled to refute his onslaught, though I managed a few positive points.

For example, remembering my father’s experiences, twice in the last century our two nations stood together and defeated fascism. Then after World War II through the Marshall Plan and at Bretton Woods, America promoted a new world order of international institutions and laid the best possible foundations for reconciliation. Not to mention the technical creativity of the moon landings and of Microsoft.

Furthermore, America’s founding principles are a fine example to all nations, its creativity and dynamism is admirable and its music, movies and popular culture deserve the place they’ve won in the world. It’s willingness to shed American blood to promote principles it believes in and the electorate’s choice of a fine new president in Barack Obama indicate a strong and adaptable society.

Well, at least that’s what I tried to say, though I admit I was struggling a bit and I’m not sure I won the argument.

We remained friends but my opponent unsettled me and got me thinking. So I now ask you to help me out and to take the debate a little further.

To what extent are the criticisms of the US that were thrown at me valid and fair? What other points should I have made in her favour?

“Nothing good ever comes out of America?” Really?

I’d love to have your Comments.

(To post a Comment you may have to register an account with Google… a fine American company!)

14 comments:

Mike said...

Well Andrew I would have probably taken a similar stand point to you, being of a certain generation that owed the USA quite a lot when the chips were down in WWII.

However since that point I somehow think the US has lost its way and at times cannot handle the "power" it has in the world.

I met my first Americans back in the 1950's they lived in our village and the husband was a visiting professor at Nottingham University. We have remained in contact and they even came over back to their "roots" as they described it a couple of years ago. In all they provided and continue to provide an example of what I think is good about the USA.

On the other side of the coin my experiences with young Americans most recently on a TEFL course in Phuket left a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth. Crass, overbearing and damn right rude are a few of the words I could choose to describe them.

I don't however think your friend was right, for me, despite some reservations, I still consider that many good things have indeed come out of America.

We can but hope for more with a new leader at the helm.

thaiburgess@hotmail.com said...

Well as a blue blooded American , let me say that for the most part the rest of the world in the last one hunderd years or so would be up the old sh-t creek with out a paddle if not for the good ole USA and her folks that , have and yes continue to lay down their lives for all the opressed in the world , no matter what their religon or color , or creed . And ask all the hungrey that are getting feed all over the world , by food that either comes out of America or bought with the almighty American dollar, and who was the first to come to the aid of Thailand when in time of need , and the rest of Asia as a matter of fact. think about it where would most of the world be now ,if now for the good ole Red ,White and Blue . And don't judge the whole barrel by a few bad apples , just like me and the rest of the world , and for sure not the good ole USA,We don't judge the folks from the UK, Australia, or other places , by the garbage ,sex perverts that hang around Phuket and Bangkok, and the other sin cities as I call them.

thaikarl said...

having done a bit of traveling, and currently making "home" in thailand, i've paid some attention to how other countries view the USA. and it has reshaped my own view of my birth country. i agree with your hut buddy. and i agree with the commenters who praise the USA humanitarian efforts and her kick-ass warriors. there are negatives and positives about any country. what is of interest i think, is the perception that the man had. unfortunately, this perception is gaining strength around the world. it is not a perception without basis. i find myself embarrassed by the presentation and behavior of some of the Americans i have run across in europe and southeast asia. my own father was a member of that "greatest generation" that fought in WWII and korea. but his time is past. the country he fought for has changed, in many ways. and so has the worlds perception of our present country. and, sadly, so has my own.

Martin In Bulgaria said...

Hi Andrew, just seen your site after reading your commment on Malcolm and CieJay's blog.

Interesting view of the US coming from three different continents. In eastern Europe the US influence has had major impact, most here lack total respect for the US and the now old Bush crusade and untrusting of untried Obama. It has driven a commercially driven society based on materialism that is unsustainable here. We haven't the infrustructure for it. Rap music - a bad influence that breeds violence and lack of respect for society - it is a big craze here along with the rise of grafitti.
There ar emany other factors here that lead me to belive the the US will be directly responsible for the demise of family values in Bulgaria.
Being a Brit, the UK weas also very much influenced by your country and that is one reason I am now an Expat!
this is not a personal attack, just what I have experiecne and seen at ground level, so please don't take offence of my honesty.
Warm Regards Martin

Mitesh Damania said...

I think there's still a lot to learn about what other countries are experiencing. Of course, Americans have been propaganized to see the world in a certain manner which is not truthful in a lot of cases. People are definately propaganized to believe in 'modern' capitalism. Just look at what's happened to AAA investments, people's 401k's, etc. Building an American Empire, in a manner not readily apparent, will certainly do all this.

I don't think any American can rationalize the Iraqi invasion at this point. And the two party system has really shown who they really work for.

I do think that people need to change their behaviors. If people's values are really for freedom, liberty, and justice, not just for their countrymen, but for everyone around the world, then they should support their values through vehicles such as consumption and investments. Make it truly reflect your values and ideals. America's true attraction is it's idealistic values, not it's materialistic wealth.

Please listen to John Perkins. There's many videos of his speeches on youtube.com and video.google.com

http://www.revolutionbroadcasting.com/archives/interviews/John-Perkins-20080628.mp3

Another person worth watching is P Sainath:
http://tinyurl.com/cgpsn4

Asphalt_Jungle said...

For the past 28 years, or since about 1980, the U.S. has changed dramatically.

This latest Recession that we find ourselves in, was planned, conceived and developed, by the FED.

But this time, not only did millions of Americans get screwed with the mortgage crisis, but so did our neighbors around the world.

Wall Street split up these bundles of mortgages, and sold them around the world....and we're no longer seen as this Country that everyone wants to emulate. I FEEL THAT. I SEE THAT. I UNDERSTAND THAT.

Our Government lies to its people repeatedly. The Secret Societies are such that if there is substance to these "Secret Societies", American History will have to be re-written for the past 200 years.

Lloyd said...

A subject not easily broached on a public forum and as you can see from the responses already it is often the Americans themselves who fail to provide an unbiased response to criticism.

Like many people I once had an affinity for America, its citizens and their inventions and technologies through which I have built a career I am proud of. I have lived and travel extensively within the USA and at the time mostly enjoyed my time spent there, like all countries there was good and bad everywhere.

However times have changed, I no longer turn a blind eye to what America and its allies are doing to the world, and it isn't all American led.

What America and its allies have done to the world will take far longer to undo and the world will never be the same again. It would be easy to blame George Bush however he did not vote himself in, nor did he have the power to approve everything.

Right or wrong I would likely have taken a stance more on the side of the other gentleman and I cant see this changing in the short term.

Talen said...

America certainly has it's problems and our government has made poor decisions but show me a government that hasn't.

Yes, the toxic mortgages started in America but every country bought into the idea in their own way and every financial firm in the world pushed them because it made them rich.

I've become very disillusioned with America in the past decade due to the politics and big business greed. We've gone from being a manufacturing economy to that of a service economy that strives to be mediocre.

I've met people from around the world when traveling and sometimes I have detected a cringe when I say I'm from America...I do my best to show them that we're actually a good lot despite what they have heard or seen before.

Steve said...

Andrew,

I think that you can be more secure than to have your cage rattled by this strategic illiterate who seems to claim miraculous insight into global politics.

Comments such as, 'Their toxic fast food’s poisoning the world,' are meaningless.
And, 'Long term American support for Zionism has destabilized the Middle East'. What? Meaningless.
And, 'his ‘crusade’ against Islam has set world peace back by decades.' What world peace? What crusade against Islam? Again meaningless.

An argument conducted in shallow soundbites is not something you should really worry about. The question you pose is also rather binary and represents the ignorance, polarisation, lack of perspective and foresight, lack of knowledge of sheer facts, little understanding of history, of America's traditional ambivalence and reticence towards war and imperialism, a tabloid grasp of exceptionalism, early isolationism and Wilsonian liberalism, an inability to grasp the fact that neo-conservatives are not realists, an ignorance of America' attempts at inducing self-determination in Eastern Europe under Reagan, Kennedy's 'Alliance for Progress' in Latin America, America's efforts to promote democratisation in South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and (albeit unsuccessfully) in Indonesia during the 1980s, the over eagerness to ascribe a Manichean worldview to the US while ignioring the rhetoric of Chavez, bin Laden, Khomeneini, teh flawed belief that a tiny lobby group (just one of thousands) somehow directs US foreign policy concerning Israel, an inability to comprehend America's traditional fiscal conservatism, and just the sheer prejudice that exists when people discuss America's place in the world.

Someone here has actually blamed the US for the decline in family values in Bulgaria! Wow, talk about teh forced conflation of issues.

But remember above all, as Roosevelt said about the Nicaraguan dictator, 'Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch'. UNDERSTAND the complexities and genesis of great power politics and stop acting like children. 'My experinece of youn Americans on TEFL...' Pleeease...I can tell you now that there collective behaviour pales when compared to that of young AQI operatives in Baghdad.

'America go home (but take me with you)'.

Steve (UK)

mikethebike said...

Regarding America I think the phrase 'Drunk on power' springs to mind.

I find it funny that Bush banged on about democracy all the time without realising the he himself was the biggest advert against democracy, as it was democracy that appointed the worlds biggest imbecile to the most important job in the world. Bush is too stupid to see the irony.

Smorg said...

Fascinating. I think it is a given that his proclamation is over-stated. Of course, many good things have came out of America... and so have many bad things. There are at least two sides to any story.

It is easy to get carried away with being mad at the USA, especially after all that we have done wrong in the past decade. :o( Though I wonder how many other country would have done and behaved better than the Americans have had they attained the superpower status in America's place.

I think Lord Acton had it right when he proclaimed that 'Power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely.' America hasn't been enjoying absolute power, of course, but having been the lone or the strongest superpower around since WW II has had quite some detrimental effects on our ability to view ourselves objectively.

I think the biggest sin we've been guilty of is the sin of mistaking our own wills and wants as those of everyone else even when we infringe on their sovereignty and economy and other things.... But... we have been genuinely helpful as well.. at least occasionally.

Our constitution's relative respect for individual rights has inspired others. The relatively free market system has fostered rapid technological development. While people in Thailand, for instance, has better not get caught saying anything even remotely negative about a certain family, our freedom of speech and of the press (something we don't value enough ourselves) allows for freer exchange of ideas that makes it easier for minority groups to stand up to the oppressive majority, allowing many different sub-cultures to co-exist in relative peace.

America may not be a saintly country, but it is not more detrimental to the world at large than most others, imho. Our prominence place in the world also ensures that we have a harder time getting away with things. :oP

It is always easy to muse about the greener grass on a neighbor's lawn. But is that really something constructive worth dwelling on? While it is imperative that we are aware of the mistakes we made, I think it'd be even more interesting to discuss ideas about how to fix the problems we are facing today rather than to play the whether the USA is evil through and through sort of game.

Cheers,

Anonymous said...

Very complex subject.

I think Asphalt Jungle hinted at something interesting: US politics have taken a seriously bad turn 30 years ago - from more or less naive to systematically hypocritical.

The end of German fascism and "old" a.k.a. British/French etc. imperialism was the rise of the American idea of freedom - which is defined by individual liberty, not public welfare.
The US citizen is as educated as the European but mostly not aware and interested of its governments international role and impact. Corporatism and governance are terribly intertwined in the US - much more than in any European country. In the 20th century, that is ;)

"What is good for our corporations is good for you and if you question it you're not American" was established under the Reagan administration. And it has shaped US political culture to this day.

The new guy says he intends to change some of it. I think his team has the potential and hope they're serious and willing to unsettle the greedy, self-serving VIPs of the last 30 years more than a bit. But can they do it?

America 1942: RIGHT.
America since 1982: WRONG.
America 2000? RIDICULOUS. BAD. SHAME. URGH...ARGL...Pff-tooh...
America 2009? At least there's hope, again.

Thai Girl said...

Thanks for all these comments which have raised many valid points for and against.

What comes out of it is the sheer complexity of the issues which cannot of course be other than superficially treated sitting on the verandah of a hut on Koh Chang.

Broad lessons I think are that a super power will attract criticism whatever it does. When that happens individual Americans just have to take it on the chin and not not become paranoid.

"For us or again us?"

No, it's just not like that. Your friends can be among your sincerest critics.

An American friend told me that his compatriots have a tendency to be suspicious of and fear foreigners and outside influences. Does this explain an over-reaction to perceived threats from communists, terrorists, Vietnamese, Iraqis, Iranians?

Surely the most powerful country in the world should not be the one to be so scared but should have the self-confidence to allow others to develop and to coexist. Who has the weapons of mass destruction anyway?

Nor do I think that it was America that came to the support of poor Thailand when it was threatened by the communists. The US had become involved in a destructive confrontation with the Soviet Union and had dragged South East Asia into the conflict. Far away wars were fought for America's perceived benefit and not primarily to help anyone else.

Even many of the strongest American hawks of the Vietnam war era now admit that in many ways their war was ill-conceived. Which should have informed decisions on Iraq and now Afghanistan.. You cannot resolve political issues with violence.

Now of course there's this terrible fear of Muslims that's infecting the world and provoking a new confrontation.

Just like ordinary Russians during the Cold War, just like Vietnamese or Cambodian farmers during the Indo-China conflict, all they want to do is get on with their lives. So to do the overwhelming majority of Muslims today.

If America feared all the communists in Laos, just imagine how afraid was a Laotian child when the American jets came overhead.

The challenge for a superpower is, therefore as some of you have suggested, being able to see world affairs other than from your own viewpoint.

With President Obama in power the US has a better chance to learn this lesson and again to find a proper place for itself in world affairs.

Andrew.

Geoff said...

Not that I necessarily subscribe to this point of view, but for the sake of argument, why should the US government pursue any policies that don't first and foremost further the needs/wants of the American people...the rest of the world be damned?

Certainly a CEO who, to the detriment of his own company's bottom line, acted in ways to be 'fair' to the competition would be searching for a new job in short order.

And after all, shaping the world to suit its needs has been the strategy of empire I can think of.

And I think we learned most of our nasty tricks from the great British Empire anyhow... ;)