UNCLE GULLIVER
"They apprehended my breaking loose, that my Diet would be very expensive, and might cause a Famine. Sometimes they determined to starve me, or at least to shoot me in the Face and Hands with poisoned Arrows, which would soon dispatch me: But again they considered, that the Stench of so large a Carcass might produce a Plague in the Metropolis, and probably spread through the whole Kingdom." Jonathan Swift, "A Voyage to Lilliput," in Gulliver's Travels
Uncle Sam, the American Gulliver, peers down at edgy Europe in "Überpower: The Imperial Temptation of America," a new book by Josef Joffe, editor of the scrupulously centrist German newspaper "Die Zeit." The book gets a review by William Grimes in the New York Times. Joffe gets an essential truth out in the open that is too often forgotten.
It does not matter what the United States does, Mr. Joffe argues. The mere fact that it can act with impunity causes alarm. To Europeans, the new United States looks like Gulliver did to the Lilliputians: a giant whose intentions are uncertain and whom they would prefer to see bound by a thousand little ropes. "Their motto is: let him be strong as long as he is in harness, be it self-chosen or imposed," he writes.
Understanding that could help a lot of us here in America grasp the otherwise (to us) baffling poll results that show whomping majorities in Europe find America a greater threat to peace than Iran or North Korea. It also explains the perverse rooting for American failure in Iraq among many Europeans who ought to know better. Joffe seems to agree:
European opposition to the current Iraq war, in this analysis, becomes clearer. France and Germany, joined by Russia and China, joined forces to frustrate American designs, not simply on the merits of the case, but also as a matter of principle or instinct. Success in Iraq would only make the United States more powerful and therefore more unpredictable and threatening: "America's triumph would grant yet more power to the one and only superpower — and this on a stage where it had already reduced France and Russia, the E.U. and the U.N., to bit players," Mr. Joffe writes.
There's a danger, of course, in treating Gulliver psychology as though it explains everything. One may oppose the American experiment in Iraq on perfectly principled grounds, or even out of a genuine love for the United States. More likely, based on my discussions with European friends, Gulliver syndrome and principled arguments are so woven into each other they're a seamless fabric.

My German friends especially tell me to just get used to the fact that America is going to be hated and resented, rationally or not, simply because it is powerful. But the taint of irrationality makes the resentment too easy to dismiss. Joffe expresses it well:

Anti-Americanism, Mr. Joffe argues, can sometimes be as complex, paranoid and all-encompassing as anti-Semitism. "Like the Jews who were simultaneously denounced as capitalist bloodsuckers and communist subversives, America gets it coming and going," he writes. It is puritanical and self-indulgent, philistine and elitist, ultrareligious and materialist. When it does not intervene, say, in Rwanda, it is wrong. When it does intervene, it is accused of naked imperialism.
Or, as the "Telegraph" put it in a recent editorial:
Americans find themselves damned either way. If they remain within their own borders, they are isolationist hicks who are shirking their responsibilities. If they intervene, they are rapacious imperialists.

Indeed, many of their detractors manage to hold these two ideas in their heads simultaneously. Yet a moment's thought should reveal that they are both unfair.

The Telegraph editorial was written in response to a recent poll in Britain which reveal the utter contempt most of them have for most of us:
In answer to other questions, a majority of the Britons questions described Americans as uncaring, divided by class, awash in violent crime, vulgar, preoccupied with money, ignorant of the outside world, racially divided, uncultured and in the most overwhelming result (90 percent of respondents) dominated by big business.
Which might sting, but only if you don't know your history. In the 18th century Thomas Jefferson had to work hard to rebut Comte de Buffon's scietific assertion that American mammals -- including, according to some of Buffon's French naturalist followers, Americans themselves -- were degenerate runts. Jefferson, then the American minister in France, answered this by having the complete skeleton, skin and horns of a moose shipped across the Atlantic and mounted in the lobby of his hotel in Paris. It was a typical American response.

Eventually America, emerging into a world power, found itself in a world shaped -- or unshaped -- by 300 years of European dominance: Artificial nations strewn across the map of Africa and the Middle East, dysfunctional ex-colonies, all that seething resentment of "the West" in Arab and Asian peoples. Joffe picks up the plot:

The United States is on top for the foreseeable future, in Mr. Joffe's view. That is its inescapable fate. "America has interests everywhere; it cannot withdraw into indifference or isolation, and so all the world's troubles land on its plate," he writes. The problem, as Henry A. Kissinger put it recently, is how to translate power into consensus. Without it, the United States can act, but it cannot succeed.
Kissinger's dilemma seems impossible to solve. How can you convince people they agree with you because they want to, when they -- and you -- know perfectly well you can act without them, or coerce them, or even force them.

But we could do better at it than we have, and we should try. What should the Lilliputians try in return? How about trying to swallow some of the stupid and senseless expressions of contempt. As the "Telegraph" Editorial puts it:

To dislike a country as diverse as America is misanthropic: America, more than any other state, contains the full range of humanity between its coasts.

But dislike us they do, in enormous numbers and with appalling ignorance:

"America, whose core is made up of Europe's asocial elements, is the result of an illegal invasion by Europe's asocials. Their theft of territory from the native population, their genocide of this native population, their import of slavery and murder of millions of african slaves, their killing of over one million civilians since 1944 all over the world, are their greatest crimes."
Good rants make bad history. This one, from "The Guardian" message board, is an example. The notion is 40 years out of date that the U.S. is "made up of Europe's asocial elements" -- an old-time historian put it more colorfully than this writer: "rogues, whores, vagabonds, cheats and rabble of all descriptions, raked from the gutter and kicked out of the country." The old opinion is based on popular prejudice against indentured servants, as preserved in 18th century writings. If you really care about historical truth, you'd no more base your argument on that today than you would use pro-slavery polemic of 1850 to make assertions about African-Americans.

Historians have subsequently corrected themselves, after analyzing quantifiable data rather than literary evidence, and concluded that the bulk of settlers in the North American colonies came from "the middling classes: farmers and skilled workers, the productive groups in England's working population." [Mildred Campbell, who first challenged the old view]

As for subsequent immigrants to America, I'd be interested to see the evidence to prove that, say, the millions of Irish driven out by starvation and English economic policy in the '40s, or the Jews driven out by Eastern European pogroms in the '80s, were "asocial elements" in their native communities.

The "illegal" adjective has been sufficiently exposed as ridiculous. There was no international law governing the colonization and settlement of a continent in the 17th century; without a law to break, the adjective "illegal" is meaningless. This was pointed out on the message board, but rather than back off an inch and admit he should have written "immoral," the writer above clung to it with the tenacity of a 4-year-old.

Genocide of the native population, and slavery, are good hits. They are crimes the U.S. and those who love it have to own up to, accept, and strive to understand.

However, the entire New World, not just the fraction of it that became the U.S., was overrun by Europeans (and their slaves), to the great loss of the original inhabitants, with the full cooperation and encouragement of those Europeans who stayed at home in addition to those who actually crossed over -- and the hundreds of thousands who came over, made money, and took it back to Europe and stayed there. Those who stayed home financed the enterprises, and profited from the rape of the land and the dispossession of its native people. Who, then would be more to blame? The families and institutions in England, France and the Netherlands enriched by the New World, or the American descendants of those they shipped overseas to do their dirty work?

The genocide was a European-based crime, not one particular to the U.S. Others have said so. But the original poster seems to have taken this as an excuse to tack on another rant to the earlier, flawed one: that of U.S. citizens arrogating to themselves the word "American." How this answers the objection I cannot see.

As for slavery, it, too, was by no means a peculiar creation of the U.S., or an anachronism. Slavery still existed in Europe and in Africa in 1492, though it was not economically important in most places (Lisbon, however, had an estimated 15,000 slaves in the 1630s). It was begun in the New World almost at once, by the Spanish, and the imporations from Africa were begun by the Dutch and Portuguese, along with the African middle-men who provided the slaves.

New World slavery fit smoothly into a world economy, and its guilt, if it is to be inherited, can't be limited to the United States. Roughly half of the 9 or 10 million Africans brought in bondage to the New World were sent to the islands or Brazil, to sate Europe's sweet tooth for Caribbean sugar and Amazon gold. Those in the U.S., as has been pointed out, provided the raw material for English looms in the early 19th century. Robert Russell, the observant British traveller, wrote that slavery was "a necessary evil attending upon the great good of cheap cotton."

The only reason the writer here could have chosen "1944" is to start the death-count from the A-bomb attacks on Japan. The atomic bomb is a peculiar horror, and it still haunts us. But if the issue is "killing of civilians" it represents the outcome of military strategy pursued by both sides in World War II, and it wasn't even the most effective one in terms of sheer numbers. Air Marshal Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, the commander of the British strategic air offensive, wrote in 1947 that during the war 23 German cities had more than 60 percent of their built-up area destroyed; 46 had half of it destroyed. This would necessarily involve killing hundreds of thousands of civilians.

It goes without saying that this was achieved by British, as well as U.S., air power, and represents a strategy that emerged in the Allied war effort before the U.S. got into the war.

I suspect the author of the above post wrote more to slap heads than to make sense, but since his thread has offered another chance to hash out old misconceptions, he's perhaps to be commended for it. On the other hand, it wastes the time of U.S. citizens who might be otherwise exploring the legitimate and pressing problems in their society and national character, to have to be continually answering this sort of ranting nonsense.

British accent

Since Americans forced the issue of their independence, the intellectuals in the former colonies have tried to cozy up to the Mother Country, who has returned the affection with scorn, disowning her one-time darling as a red-headed stepchild with only a smidgen of true Anglo-Saxon blood.

The historian Allan Nevins, studying 19th century authors, has noted that "the nervous interest of Americans in the impressions formed of them by visiting Europeans and their sensitiveness to British criticism in especial, were long regarded as constituting a salient national trait."

The British regarded Americans as barbarous upstarts, and British publications, widely circulated across the Atlantic, poured out invective for generations on everything they deigned to notice from the United States.

Even friendly notices of American literary works contained that peculiarly British gift: the insult wrapped in a compliment (to the effect of, "he writes surprisingly well, for an American"). But friendly notices were far between, and only Englishmen already branded as iconoclasts or outcasts (e.g. Lord Byron) openly praised Americans for anything. The usual practice of British authors was to take every slander of one American by another in a hot political campaign as an absolute truism, and to present the most degraded characters from the frontier or the slum as the typical inhabitant of the United States.

"Both the travelers and the literary journalists of [England]," writes Timothy Dwight, the elder, defending America, "have, for reasons which it would be idle to inquire after and useless to allege, thought it proper to caricature the Americans. Their pens have been dipped in gall, and their representations have been, almost merely, a mixture of malevolence and falsehood."

As a result, as H.L. Mencken reported ["The American Language," 1919], "the native authors became extremely self-conscious and diffident, and the educated classes, in general, were daunted by the torrent of abuse: they could not help finding in it an occasional reasonableness, an accidental true hit."

The most notorious indictment was the sneer of Sydney Smith, reviewing a statistical abstract of the United States in the "Edinburgh Review," 1820, who wrote:

"In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book? or goes to an American play? or looks at an American picture or statue? What does the world yet owe to American physicians or surgeons? What new substances have their chemists discovered? Or what old ones have they analyzed? What new constellations have been discovered by the telescopes of Americans? What have they done in mathematics? Who drinks out of American glasses? or eats from American plates? Or wears American coats or gowns? or sleeps in American blankets?"

I know not whether that extended sneer is at all remembered in Britain, but I have seen it in print dozens of times in America in modern times, and the contempt of the sting is still felt sharply. It seems our history of the succeeding 150 years, for better and worse, was one long answer to Sydney Smith.

In 1863 the Very Rev. Henry Alford, DD, dean of Canterbury, wrote a "Plea for the Queen's English" which decried the "deterioration" of English in American mouths. It warned Englishmen to hold aloof from the American way with the language and compared the state of English in America to "the character and history of the nation":

--its blunted sense of moral obligations and duties to man; its open disregard of conventional right when aggrandizement is to be obtained; and I may now say, its reckless and fruitless maintenance of the most cruel and unprincipled war in the history of the world.
It was the familiar list of crimes and vices and hypocrisies. Every learned Englishman could rehearse it and many of the finest writers, such as Coleridge and Smith, bent their considerable talents to spelling it out at length. Except that, coming in the middle of the American Civil War, Alford's screed had gone out of its way to replace a now-doubtful entry in the catalogue of American vice with a freshly minted one. Never mind that the substitution was blatant hypocrisy. As H.L. Mencken noted,
Smith had denounced slavery, whereas Alford, by a tremendous feat of moral virtuosity, was now denouncing the war to put it down.
It was the universal sneer of the Educated European -- one of the things that marked Lord Byron as a dangerous radical was that he actually liked America and Americans, and said so -- but the British took particular pains to say it loud and often, to make it clear that the claim that the United States was an outpost of Anglo-Saxon civilization and a child of Britain was not acknowledged as legitimate in the Mother Country.

Long before 9/11. long before Israel existed, long before the world wars, before America was any kind of player on the world stage, this was the regard European intellectuals had for it. Has the left stopped talking about "squandering the good will of the world" yet? Or is it necessary to remind it still that the three weeks or so in September 2001 were the doomed aberation in two centuries of European attitudes.

Americans gave it back, in the long war over the English language. An American named G. Washington Moon responded to Dean Alford's snobby plea for the Queen's English with "The Dean's English," in which he pointed out Alford himself was guilty, in his writings, of many of the faults he ascribed to American authors.

The language war raged and still rages. The British rarely give ground. Even when they admit an American expression is better than its British counterpart -- sidewalk over pavement was an oft-cited example -- they yet see no reason to admit the "foreign" word. For the core of their argument was racist and ethnic, not linguistic. Articles in Britain on American speech invariably make reference to "their huge hybrid population of which only a small minority are even racially Anglo-Saxons" [New Statesman, 1927] and the sad fate of American English, "imposed upon and influenced by a host of immigrants from all the nations of Europe" [Times].

So the Times wrote, but the times have changed. And here is Europe today, led by the descendants of these academic aristocracies, still tangled up in the contradiction of its prejudices. It now has admitted, under force of economics and post-imperialist guilt, a large alien population into its nations, but not into its souls. It claims to be taking the opposite path of American assimilation -- if the Americans do it it must be bad -- and claims to be on the more enlightened path of respecting the immigrant culture.

But this "respect" is accomplished by subsidizing the immigrant culture in its alien ways and ghettoizing it. The European intelligensia often maintains that the other culture is equal to or superior to the native one -- Do they practice honor killings? well, until recently Europeans were so barbaric as to execute criminals! Who are we to condemn them? -- while it quietly draws an invisible wall around the European societies to prevent the assimilation of the darker skins, and the pollution that might bring.

The result is, there are vast no-go areas for the local police in some European cities, where Shari'a rule is effectively enforced by imams, and third-generation immigrant children who have lived in European capitals all their lives can barely speak a sentence of the native language.

French sneer

An article by two authors of a recent book on the topic offers a workable definition of "anti-Americanism." Peter J. Katzenstein and Robert O. Keohane write, "we define anti-Americanism as a psychological tendency to hold negative views of the United States and of American society in general."

I'll take that (with the addition of "and of Americans as individuals"). It's a label that gets thrown around too loosely. It needs a template. Katzenstein and Keohane write that "[b]oth left and right need to rethink their positions" on the roots and significance of anti-Americanism, and that "big explanations" that attempt to trace it to a single cause are doomed to fail.

Overall, it's an intelligent analysis. Here are a few highlights I liked:

Since liberal anti-Americanism feeds on perceptions of hypocrisy, a less hypocritical set of United States policies could presumably reduce it. Hypocrisy, however, is inherent in the situation of a superpower that professes universalistic ideals. It afflicted the Soviet Union even more than the United States. Furthermore, a prominent feature of pluralist democracy is that its leaders find it necessary to claim that they are acting consistently with democratic ideals while they have to respond to groups seeking to pursue their own self-interests, usually narrowly defined. When the interests of politically strong groups imply policies that do not reflect democratic ideals, the ideals are typically compromised. Hypocrisy routinely results. It is criticized not only in liberal but also in nonliberal states: for instance, Chinese public discourse overwhelmingly associates the United States with adherence to a double standard in its foreign policy in general and in its conduct of the war on terror specifically.

Hypocrisy in American foreign policy is not so much the result of the ethical failings of American leaders as a byproduct of the role played by the United States in world politics and of democratic politics at home. It will not, therefore, be eradicated. As long as political hypocrisy persists, abundant material will be available for liberal anti-Americanism.

Yes. The German theologian Reinhold Niebuhr noted the paradox 50 years ago: America cannot at the same time project its world power and maintain the image of an innocent, virtuous nation. Katzenstein and Keohane note correctly that America's domestic innocense was lost long ago, about the time the first election was held.

They also explain something about France that often is overlooked in the general American dismissal of that nation, based on years of hectoring.

Elitist anti-Americanism arises in countries in which the elite has a long history of looking down on American culture. In France, for example, discussions of anti-Americanism date back to the eighteenth century, when some European writers held that everything in the Americas was degenerate.2 The climate was enervating; plants and animals did not grow to the same size; people were uncouth. In France and in much of Western Europe, the tradition of disparaging America has continued ever since. Americans are often seen as uncultured materialists seeking individual personal advancement without concern for the arts, music, or other finer things of life. Or they are viewed as excessively religious and therefore insufficiently rational. French intellectuals are the European epicenter of anti-Americanism, and some of their disdain spills over to the public.

However, as our book shows, French anti-Americanism is largely an elite phenomenon. Indeed, polls of the French public between the 1960s and 2002 indicated majority pro-Americanism in France, with favorable ratings that were only somewhat lower than levels observed elsewhere in Europe.

Finally, they tackle the bogeyman of "Americanization:" An odd sort of defensive reaction against U.S. popular culture, often made by the same people who, out of the other side of their mouths, sneer that America has created nothing new in the world.
“Americanization,” therefore, does not describe a simple extension of American products and processes to other parts of the world. On the contrary, it refers to the selective appropriation of American symbols and values by individuals and groups in other societies — symbols and values that may well have had their origins elsewhere. Americanization thus is a profoundly interactive process between America and all parts of the world.
A few years ago an anti-war blogger sneered that Americans ought to give up claiming "I don't agree with what you say, but I'll die for your right to say it" was an expression of American ideals, since it was not said by an American. She attributed it to the French and to Voltaire -- a common error.

[The quote is first used in 1906, by a woman named Evelyn Beatrice Hall (1868-1919), an Englishwoman who wrote a biography of Voltaire under the pseudonym S.G. Tallentyre. She said it was a paraphrase of Voltaire's words in his "Essay on Tolerance": "Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too." The quote is so often misattributed that one historical researcher has paraphrased it as, "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to mis-attribute this quote to Voltaire."]

I wrote to her: "Really, very little of America is original, and almost none of the best of it is. We know that, and it doesn't bother us. Everyone here is from somewhere else, ultimately. Every idea that formed our Declaration of Independence and Constitution was first hatched in some European mind -- a considerable chunk of it from Voltaire, in fact. Doesn't bother us. Many of the men who led the colonies into independence were born overseas. ... Arnold Schwarzenegger is a famous American governor, but he wasn't born here."


Meanwhile, George Walden begins his review of the English translation of Philippe Roger's "The American Enemy" with a depressing, if juicy, anecdote. When the U.S. invaded Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, opinion polls around the world showed a plunge in American popularity -- everywhere except France. Why?

The French opposed the invasion vehemently, but the country was already so saturated in anti-Americanism that the index scarcely flickered.
The review is itself a brief history of the warped French contempt for all things American. "Warped" not because America never deserves anyone's bad wishes, but because the French consistently never bothered to look at it before dismissing it. Their hatred of us is irrational -- "a national psychosis " -- and the facts of what we do make little difference.

Walden hits all the highlights: Jefferson's moose, de Tocqueville's valiant swim against the mainstream. De la démocratie en Amérique was printed in France in a mere 500 copies. He's the Europeans who, most Americans agree, got us "right," warts and all, but he's the one the French don't read. But they'll make a best-seller of a book alleging Americans blew up the Twin Towers themselves.

Anti-Americanism increased in bitterness during the interwar years, in inverse proportion to French perceptions of their own national decline. The American role in liberating France earned a nod of appreciation - although obviously it had only come to Europe's aid to enslave her in debt - but with the domination of Marxism in postwar France it was soon back to the old game. Leftists argued that America was the true totalitarian country, more dangerous than the Nazis because of its pretence that its dictatorship didn't exist - the last trick of the devil himself, n'est-ce pas?

"Rabid animals" was Sartre's somewhat rabid phrase for Americans after the execution of the Rosenbergs (Communist spies whose treason has recently been confirmed). His solution was to "break all ties that bind us to America". This he did, refusing to go there, which proved useful, since he never had to justify his increasingly surreal claims about American Cold War atrocities to US audiences. The boycott by the intellectual Left had the effect of sealing France even more hermetically in her anti-American neuroses.

Walden can sympathize, and so can I, with the attempt by France to maintain its independent cultural track in the face of the bulldozer power of the American producers and market in everything from cinema to cheese. I've spent some time in France -- I love it there, frankly. I wish they could, somehow, live like there was no America, as they clearly wish to live.

But that's not the same thing as virulent America-hating. Not by a long shot. And as Roger seems to demonstrate, the hatred goes back a long way before the first Hollywood blockbuster or the first Napa Valley vineyard.

A long way before President Bush, too. Would John Kerry's abilities in speaking French have mattered? Walden thinks not. President Bush "has not improved things," but "French antagonism remains constant, whoever is in charge in Washington -- a malignant infatuation with the force of perverted love."

I was disappointed to learn that President Bush's recent appointment as ambassador to France speaks no French. But then I thought about it and concluded, what's the point of being able to talk to people who won't listen?

For all its amusing vignettes, Philippe Roger's message is sober, and a foreword asks an excellent question: how far is the demonising of America, not just in France but the world over, helping to convert a war of words into a more fearsome conflict?
It is a good question. The "We are all Americans now" attitude in Le Monde, which had a fruitfly's lifespan anyhow, was hardly the only French reaction to 9-11. Philosopher Jean Baudrillard admitted "prodigious jubilation in seeing this global superpower destroyed. ... Ultimately they [Muslims] were the ones who did it, but we were the ones who wanted it."

INDEX - AUTHOR


Online Work

The SCIOLIST

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CIVIL WAR and AFTER

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© May 31, 2002 Douglas Harper Moe: "Say, what's a good word for scrutiny?" Shemp: "uh ... SCRUTINY!"