Hating America: A History » Chapter 8-America as a Super-Villain
CHAPTER EIGHT: AMERICA AS SUPER-VILLAIN
In thriller novels and films so typical of the modern era (and, ironically, a frequently exported American cultural product) the hero battles a super-villain seeking world domination. At times, these evil forces have been communist or fascist, individual megalomaniacs, or even extraterrestrial or supernatural invaders.
Yet today it is the United States—in Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere–which itself is assigned the role of Great Satan by the post-Cold War version of anti-Americanism. Hating America is no longer just an idiosyncrasy or historical footnote. It had become part of a doctrine involving not only a view of the United States but an all-encompassing ideology explaining how the world works. And this perception, in turn, is more widely and deeply spread across the world than at any previous time.
The basic points of historic anti-Americanism have fused into a new powerful concept combining the stereotypes of two centuries with critical developments from recent times. On one hand are the internal factors of bad culture and society used to condemn America; on the other hand are the international sins of evil foreign policy and pervasive cultural influence.
All these factors relating to values, institutions, and policies are mutually reinforcing. To some extent, the intensity of anti-Americanism may prove to be a transient phenomenon linked to specific events and the personalities of U.S. leaders. But there are also deeper, longer-term forces involved as well.
From 1999 to 2003 the U,S. image plummeted in Europe from a 83 to 48 percent favorable rating in England, 62 to 31 percent in France, 78 to 25 percent in Germany and 76 to 34 percent in Italy. Fifty three percent of respondents in the European Union in late 2003 saw the United States in the same league as Iran and North Korea as a threat to world peace. By March 2004, anti-Americanism was hitting all-time highs in Europe with 34 percent of British having a very or somewhat unfavorable view of the United States, 62 percent of French, 59 percent of Germans.
But Europeans also drew a distinction between the American people and the United States as a nation. Toward the former, ratings were generally favorable, standing in 2004 at 73 percent in England, 68 percent in Germany and 53 percent in France. In contrast, President George W. Bush did not fare much better than Usama Bin Ladin with 85 percent in France and Germany having an unfavorable view of him, compared to 93 and 96 percent against Bin Ladin. Many people obviously made a distinction between a policy or policies they did not like and a continuing good regard for America. As such, this was not an anti-American notion even if influenced by intellectuals or writers who wanted a broader condemnation.
And yet there was more to the problem than just the mannerisms of George W. Bush and the controversial Iraq war. Much of the world was searching for a post-Cold War worldview and threat. Europeans had reached a critical point in their progress toward continental integration, with many seeking a common identity and a foe to set themselves off against. The Middle East, bogged down in domestic and regional paralysis–including a failed revolutionary Islamist movement which needed a scapegoat–was ripe for a new interpretation with the United States defined as its chief enemy. After all, that was the whole purpose of the September 11 attacks in the first place.
It was no accident, then, that this highest stage of anti-Americanism spread after the Cold War ended with the Soviet Union collapsed and its bloc dispersed. America was the world’s sole superpower, an outcome appearing to be the ultimate proof of the United State’s cultural, political, social, economic, and military success. And that was precisely the problem, for this was equally the moment when the long-feared American takeover of the world appeared credible. Even the spread of modernity throughout the world or “globalization” was widely seen, as it had been by nineteenth-century Europeans, as Americanization.
Post-Cold War anti-Americanism was inspired by the fact that now the United States was the world’s sole superpower, deprived even of the justification of protecting others from Soviet imperialism. The immense power of the United States in itself was a cause for mistrust and alarm, upsetting people whose nation’s or region’s fate seemed to be in American hands.
Many countries, movements, and individuals could not imagine that a state finding itself in possession of such wealth and power would not seek global hegemony. They claimed to find ample proof to show that the U.S. ambition was to rule the planet in general and themselves in particular. After all, wasn’t that what they would do in America’s situation? In fact, though, the United States had not used its post-Cold War position of potential domination in a fashion deserving such a response. On the contrary, its response had been to reduce international involvement and focus more on humanitarian ventures.
Nevertheless, some charged that the world takeover had already happened, like Pakistani-British Marxist Tariq Ali, a purveyor of anti-Americanism since the 1960s, who now proclaimed America’s “military-imperial state” had already conquered all: “In the absence of a countervailing power since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has been able to impose its model of economics, politics and culture on the world at large.”
Such ideas were mixed in with all the traditional complaints about American values and institutions, which some hated because they understood them correctly; while others hated because they interpreted them in wildly inaccurate ways. Objections to U.S. policy were systematized in a way that easily fit into historic anti-American critiques.
With the Cold War and the danger of Soviet domination past that victory’s costs now came under increasing criticism. Saving the world from Communist dictatorship had often required—or at least occasioned—compromises with unsavory regimes as well as immoral behavior. Real and imagined trespasses could now be judged harshly, especially when the lack of choice and dangers to be surmounted were ignored.
As one British writer charged in discussing this era, “The United States forfeited any claim to moral leadership long ago. It has a history of undermining international law, contempt for the human rights of others and promoting its own brand of international terrorism.” The usual list of real or alleged American sins in Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua, and elsewhere was recited as if this proved the case for that country’s clearly evil nature. Even correct criticisms of specific past U.S. policies were often distorted by being made into basic and inevitable traits of a distinctly American civilization.
In a far more moderate tone, the British scholar Timothy Garton Ash suggested America “has too much power for anyone’s good, including its own.…Contrary to what many Europeans think, the problem with American power is not that it is American. The problem is simply the power. It would be dangerous even for an archangel to wield so much power.”
But why was such a view “contrary to what many Europeans think?” Why did they view the problem as distinctly American in origin? Here the view of the United States as different, inferior and dangerous came into play. The United States must be behaving as it did because it was the land of irresponsible cowboys, ignorant religious fanatics, greed-obsessed capitalists, uncultured fools, intolerant buffoons, and so on.
At a minimum, America’s ways were not those of one’s own country, religion, society. At worst, they were thought rotten in their own right. Whether someone was devoted to Spanish, French, or Arabic; Islam, atheism, or Latin American Catholicism; preserving tradition or utopian revolution, America could be said to block their dream of the future or replace it with a nightmare. A different style of anti-Americanism existed for every need or taste. America was too revolutionary and too counterrevolutionary, too elitist and too mass-oriented, too far left and too far right, the friend of one’s enemies or the enemy of one’s friends.
Along with the fear of American world dominance and criticism of the United States for its nature or actions was a new poisonous element. According to the old views of anti-Americanism from the nineteenth century through the Cold War, the United States had been a failure despite its apparent success. Its people were miserable and its stability questionable. Yet what happened when these claims were no longer sustainable, when the competing systems collapsed or seemed to be left behind?
A different approach to anti-Americanism developed along the following lines: Not only was America a threat to the world but its achievements were based not on the virtues of its system, ideas, and institutions but rather on the massive oppression and exploitation of the world. America’s higher level of development was at everyone else’s expense and, by the same token, the relative failure of others to duplicate it was due to America’s sins. Rather than, what it was in practice–a reluctant activist in the world–America was portrayed as a vampire whose life depended on sucking other’s blood.
This response arose from various non-mainstream Marxist theories, mainly in Germany and France, as well as Third World doctrines pioneered in Latin America and independently developed in the Middle East. Yes, the new perspective agreed, America may have a successful system with relatively happy and well-off people, but its prosperity and joy comes at everyone else’s expense. Its success was less the result of hard work and innovation than of theft and oppression.
Moreover, by refusing to revolt against the system and actually benefiting from it, the American people, not just a small capitalist class, were the enemy. There was an intriguing hint about the embryo of this notion in Lenin’s “Letter to American Workers” of 1918. American workers, he said in 1918, were merely “playing the role of hired thugs…for the benefit of [the] wealthy scoundrels” who really ran the country.
A comprehensive theory about why America was imperialistically different from all other capitalist or Western countries was built by intellectuals, academics, and journalists sounding like a satire of traditional Soviet doctrine. While the last French anti-American generation had predicted that the United States was an imperialistic menace that would collapse, the task was now to explain how it still survived and flourished. Thus, French journalist Emmanuel Todd explained in a 2003 book how the system works: the United States deliberately fosters conflict “wherever it can” because it must keep up an inflow of loot to fund its voracious consumption. “It cannot live without the goods produced by the rest of the planet.” So it invents bogus threats to justify its military presence and keep foreign clients in line. The fact that the United States actually runs a constant trade deficit and that military costs, many of which go to protect Europe, are a drain on its economy had no place in this analysis.
It was hard to foresee such trends and ideas developing at the beginning of this era. Despite the total victory in the half-century-long Cold War, the coalition success over Iraq in 1991, and the lack of serious disputes with Europe, a majority—but fewer people than might be expected–liked the United States at the start of the 1990s. In 1992, those with positive attitudes stood at only 66 percent in Britain and 51 percent in France. At the same time, when asked whether American culture was a threat to their own, 54 percent in France, 40 percent in Britain, and 38 percent in West Germany said “yes” in 1993. While a 74 percent popularity rating was recorded in Britain that year, the figure in France had fallen to 48 percent.
By 1995, while 78 percent in Italy and 72 percent in Germany had a favorable view of the United States (lower West German figures being increased by the merger with the more pro-American ex-Communist East) popularity in England stood at 62 percent and France at only 55 percent. Sixty-one percent of French people and 50 percent of those in England thought America to be a cultural threat. In 2000, the figures had risen to 83 percent of Britons, 62 percent of French, 78 percent of Germans and 76 percent of Italians.
As always, the ridicule of American culture was tightly linked to a fear that these characteristics, ideas, and products were successfully assaulting one’s own country. This was most immediately felt in England, where interchanges of ideas and culture with America were most common. In the 1990s (as had happened in the 1950s), the left responded to a pro-American orientation by the Labour party’s centrist leadership with a wave of anti-Americanism. At a debate held at a mid-1990s’ British literary festival, 40 percent of the crowd supported a motion that “it is the duty of every European to resist American culture.”
If other Britons disagreed and decided that they liked American culture or ideas that choice seemed to others a betrayal that made them even angrier. For if Europeans wanted to adapt such things than the danger of America being the model for the continent’s future was a very real one. In the despairing words of one British writer, in an article charmingly entitled, “America has Descended Into Madness”:
“Every week one [cabinet minister] tells us it is all done far better in the United States before announcing policies to further the Americanization of Britain. We must have their damned highway [system]….What next? U.S.-style justice which leaves the poor and disenfranchised without half-decent lawyers, merciless boot camps and barbaric death chambers? Or a health service which can give you wondrous help if you are middle class but which fails millions of others who cannot afford to have the right kind of insurance? And schools and neighborhoods grossly divided along race and class lines?”
America, once disdained in Britain as too egalitarian, was now savaged for allegedly being the opposite. Often, as in this case, anti-Americanism is put in the context of a losing battle accompanied by bitterness that the obviousness of that country’s evil nature is not obvious to everyone. In the words of another left-wing British writer in the Guardian, the flagship daily of the intellectual class there:
“All around you, you can hear people choosing to ignore the fact that America is greatly responsible for turning the earth into an open sewer–culturally, morally and physically–and harping on instead about American `energy’ and `can-do.’ Of course, nine times out of ten, that energy is the energy of the vandal, psychotic or manic depressive, fuelling acts of barbarism and destruction from My Lai [a massacre by U.S. troops in Vietnam] to Eminem [a rap music group]; and it’s a shame that that legendary can-do usually translates as can-do crime, can-do imperialism and can-do poisoning the seas.”
But this was not entirely new. Deploring American popular culture precisely because it was seductively popular had been a mainstay of anti-American complaint for well over a century. Thus, even partaking of Americanism simply reminded one of the danger. Salman Rushdie, the British novelist who himself stirred up a minor anti-American wave among fellow intellectuals when he announced his decision to move from London to New York, remarked, “In most people’s heads, globalization has come to mean the worldwide triumph of Nike, the Gap and MTV….We want these goods and services when we behave as consumers, but with our cultural hats on we have begun to deplore their omnipresence.”
Indeed, during an anti-American demonstration over the 2003 Iraq war in London, a British journalist recorded her ironic observations along these lines. One student wearing Nike shoes and standing in a long line outside a Starbucks coffee bar told him, “September 11 was the fault of the Americans. They want to rule the world, like, literally, but also with cultural imperialism.” A yuppie wearing a hat emblazoned with the name of New York City explained, “I’m marching against hypocrisy: America is the greatest terrorist in the world, but they call their terrorism war.” While a hippie type eating a McDonald’s hamburger insisted, “Socially, we’re not allied with the United States.”
Nevertheless, one major reason for American culture’s popularity in Europe is that it was something Europeans, regardless of their national origin, could share on an equal basis. It is less divisive to adopt something from the United States than a characteristic cultural product from one European country alone, whose success could be seen as representing that state’s domination over a united Europe. For example, using American food, music, or clothes is less politically problematic than, for instance, Germans and Italians adapting the French equivalents.
As one expert put it, “There is no pan-European identity among youth,” except for American popular culture. “The only true pan-European culture is the American culture,” said French television commentator Christine Ockrent. Even the English language–though also of course Great Britain’s native tongue–is more acceptable for common European use because of its “outside” credentials.
Equally, Europeans, especially young people, tend to view the meaning of American ideas or items in a way far different from the mass-produced banality which is all the critics see. As a European student of popular culture puts it, the attraction is one of a “youthful and dynamic life full of excitement, adventure and glamour,” providing anti-establishment escapism, “a projection screen for people’s fantasies.” Thus, for instance, American pop music is a symbol of rebellion to both Third World immigrants and white natives in Europe, an alternative to the existing society.
Those rebelling against the United States intellectually are simultaneously using America to rebel against their own cultures. It is precisely America’s individualism—the opposite of the conformity and standardization alleged by anti-Americans to dominate there–which “offers a way out of everyday boredom” and the “restrictions set by existing social structures.” Rather than imposing imperialist and reactionary ideas, the impact of America is to encourage a demand for change at home, which is exactly what is feared, as it has been for two centuries, by those who govern European culture and society.
Missing all these realities, ideologically oriented writers argue that those attracted by American products are victims of an insidious political assault. One such critique claimed that America was like a terrorist using biological weapons to infect progressively larger groups of people until it can seize cultural-intellectual power. Taking McDonald’s as an example, he explains how American products, unlike others, are dangerously addictive and politically subversive: “When the natives start behaving more like the burger [companies] and start infecting themselves with their attitudes and behavior (impatience, obesity, heart disease, etc,), they become even more susceptible to even more America interventions.” By this time, they will be too weak to resist the spread of U.S. imperialism.
The real purpose of the “homogenization evidenced by Coca-Cola and McDonald’s,” according to a sociology professor in Britain, is to universalize dreaded American values and lead to an “end of history” directed by “arrogant American superiority and self-centeredness.” The outcome will be a form of global slavery: “The Disneyfiction of the world, its transformation to Waltopia, the cocacolonization of the globe, the McDonaldization of society.” So predestined is this kind of “analysis” that even the fact that Ford produced a car called Mondeo (world) is simply one more example of the horrifying American lust and greed for total domination.
“Watch out, the process of globalization, lacking logic and seeking modernity, will inevitable lead us all to McDonald’s,” warned François Guillaume, member of French parliament, former minister and leader of the agricultural lobby, whose economic interests were damaged by the import of competitive American foodstuffs.
In many ways, the campaign against McDonald’s was simply a replay of the post-World War Two battle of Coca-Cola. As early as 1986, several thousand Italians demonstrated against the opening of the first McDonald’s in Rome as signaling that city’s “degradation” and Americanization. In August 1999, this battle greatly escalated when Jose´ Bove´, French farm activist, trashed a McDonald’s under construction in Millau, France, He complained, “McDonald’s represents anonymous globalization with little relevance to real food.” He was also protesting American sanctions on French farm products in retaliation against a ban on the import of hormone-treated American beef, as well as leading protests to wreck genetically modified corn and soybean fields managed by a U.S. company.
In France, the stomach was often presented as the main front in the war against American imperialism. France’s very identity, though certainly seeming solid to any observer, was allegedly under siege by an objectively inferior but more powerful rival intent on stealing its people’s souls, or at least taste buds. Thus, a 1999 anti-American book, No, Thanks, Uncle Sam, accused the United States of trying “to make us gobble up his hormone-fed beef—we, the country of [the world’s greatest chefs].”
The argument continues with this oral fixation of outraged patriotism: “We are certainly used to humiliations; our soil is the most regularly invaded of the Western world. But who bites into the Frenchman always ends up finding him too spicy, probably because we season the stuffing: cut into the Gaul, he is copiously filled of Jose´ Bove.” The implication is that the American cultural onslaught is somewhat equivalent to three German invasions.
Compared to the bon vivant French, the Americans are food fools. They are obese people who think only of eating pizza and hamburgers washed down with coca-cola. This is what passes in America, the authors add sarcastically, for “varying the gastronomy.” In exchange for the great French delicacies of foie gras, truffles, shallots, and Roquefort cheese, the Americans offer only to force the French to eat McDonald’s beef full of hormones.
But food is just one aspect of the problem. Underneath the sauce is the traditional complaint of anti-Americans going back to the earliest days of the United States: “The symbol is McDonalds but the real enemy is the world organization of commerce, the conversion of the whole planet to the American model.”
Of course, there is—despite all the talk about bad food—a delicious irony in much of this contemporary America-bashing. There are endless complaints that Americans—in the words of the same French authors—don’t “know who we are or where we are, and [don’t] give a damn about us.” The authors sum up the problem of America’s global power in these words: “Omnipotence, added to ignorance: a dreadful cocktail.”
Yet such people repeatedly show their own remarkable ignorance about the United States and indifference to its concerns. Ignorance is not an American monopoly.
The same point applies to the real causes and effect of spreading American culture. To hear the anti-Americans speak about it, the future world will be based on Europeans eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at McDonald’s, as Americans already presumably do. In fact, in most cases when Europeans consume American products this behavior simply joins the mix of mildly exotic things one does occasionally. Going for an occasional hamburger is the equivalent change of pace for Europeans as visiting a Chinese restaurant is for Americans, which also explains why McDonald’s has not wiped out all the wide variety of alternative eating places in America.
Even fast-food globalization is not as simple as it has been portrayed. If American companies want to succeed they must adapt to local tastes rather than force American customs down people’s throats. In London, McDonald’s sells the McChicken Korma Naan, intended to please local South Asian immigrants. In India, where Hindus eschew beef, there is the lamb Maharaja Mac. In Hong Kong, Starbucks sells green tea cheesecake while in New Zealand one can get a kidney pie at its outlets.
It is also easy to exaggerate cultural differences between Americans and Europeans, especially since these influences flow in both directions. As an Italian journalist explained,
”When I moved to New York as a young Fulbright fellow, there wasn’t a single McDonald’s in Italy and it was impossible to buy a decent bottle of olive oil or sip a warm cappuccino in Manhattan. Now the McDonald’s in my hometown, Palermo, attracts hungry teenagers, but I dress my salad with the dark green olive oil produced in Palermo that’s now available all over the United States. And I rate American cappuccinos the best outside the old country.”
It is amusing to recall that next to hamburgers, the food probably consumed most at McDonald’s is “French fried potatoes,” an extremely popular dish from France where it is called “pommes frites.” And, finally, the columnist Thomas Friedman pointed out that while Europeans were shunning U.S.-grown food containing genetic manipulations, “even though there is no scientific evidence that these are harmful,” everywhere he looked during a high-level European meeting, they were smoking cigarettes. Moreover, contemporary anti-Americans are unaware of how their ancestors once ridiculed health-consciousness about diet as a silly American affectation.
But the problem involved guns as well as butter. There was also a large element of old-fashioned economic rivalry involved, in which anti-Americanism was simply a way to run down the competitor. For example, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie complained that U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld allegedly believed, “The United States is the only military, economic and financial power in the world. We do not share this vision.” She urged European firms to unite and resist what she called an American “economic war” against them, under French leadership of course.
Of course, America was criticized over far more than just food, with many issues manipulated to put on it the worst possible light. For example, the use of the death penalty was portrayed as a profoundly revealing factor about the American psyche. Charging that Americans were extraordinarily violent had been a common theme in nineteenth-century anti-Americanism. Now, according to Raymond Forni, chairman of the French National Assembly, the death penalty in the United States, was pure “savagery….There used to be slavery, then organized racial segregation. Today there is the death penalty.…The country of scientific innovation deploys innovation in the service of death.”
One French anthropologist suggested that Americans engaged in human sacrifice because they knew their society was doomed. “Facing the threat of destruction of their social order, modern Americans, like the Aztecs, are terrified by the prospect of an end to the current cosmic cycle. Only the deaths of countless human beings can generate enough energy to counter the danger.”
But no one pointed out that the death penalty was a matter of individual choice by the individual states, not even practiced by a majority of them, and hence told nothing about America in general. Typically, U.S. engagement in a practice was seen as sinful and symptomatic even if others doing it were forgiven and not so stigmatized. For example, a prominent Italian writer exclaimed, “I’ll never visit the United States while the death penalty is in effect” but then proceeded to travel to other countries at a time when they used that punishment.
There were, of course, many variations in the causes of anti-Americanism among different countries. For example, the Soviet Union had been the most systematically anti-American country in the world, with such attitudes officially inculcated by every institution over many decades. Thus, when Communism fell anti-American doctrine was associated with a discredited regime. After a brief interval, however, many of the same historic anti-American themes and arguments revived.
According to a March-April 1990 poll, as they were only beginning to be able to speak freely, 25 percent of Soviet citizens had a very favorable view and 47 percent a somewhat favorable view of the United States. Only seven percent had a negative view. In 1994, seventy percent in Moscow and St. Petersburg were favorable compared to 21 percent negative. Yet while these results were typical, there was also an undercurrent of hostility visible in these polls, with a majority of Russians consistently believing the United States was seeking world domination while reducing their country to a second-rate power dependent on raw materials’ export and Western aid.
In a November 1999 poll, only 4 percent of Russians thought “the West was doing everything possible to help Russia became a civilized and developed state,” while 41 percent thought, the West wanted Russia to be a weak ‘Third World’ state and 38 percent saw its goal as destroying Russia entirely. Polls taken in 2002 showed that as many viewed the United States negatively as positively. America was seen as being an alien cultural influence, a rival, and a would-be master.
An article in Komsomolskaya Pravda in March 2003 explained that it was now proven to be a myth that the United States was a paragon of virtue which respected human rights. It could now be seen to be a selfish, money-grubbing, oil-stealing war criminal. The American army was shown in Iraq to be inferior to that of Russia, because of accidents and “friendly fire” incidents there. And there was no freedom of speech because the mass media were obviously censored, this despite the unprecedented live coverage of the fighting and the numerous commentators who felt free to criticize U.S. policy on television.
In April 2003, Russians polled said they liked Saddam Hussein by a 22 to 17 percent margin (most were indifferent), but that they disliked George W. Bush by a 76 to 11 percent margin. A poll conducted the following month showed that 44 percent had a “strongly negative or mostly negative” view of the United States, while 46 percent had a positive attitude. Speaking on the anniversary of the 1941 Nazi invasion, former defense minister General Igor Rodionov told war veterans that their own country was now occupied by America. “Our geopolitical enemy has achieved what Hitler wanted to do,” he said in an emotional speech. General Andrei Nikolayev, chairman of the parliament’s defense committee, warned that the United States was seeking to establish its domination over the world and that no one “would be able to stop the U.S. military machine.”
A popular film, “Brat-2,” showed a Russian hitman killing large numbers of Americans, telling his victims, “You’ve got money and power, and where has it got you?…You don’t have truth.” One hit song was entitled “Kill the Yankee.” And sophisticated intellectuals, like economist Mikhail Delyagin, argued that Russia could only survive if it fought, the “aggression of the United States and its NATO allies against Yugoslavia,” a country for which Russians have a special feeling as fellow Slavs.
As in Western Europe, nationalistic self-definition was often being done against an American threat and alternative. Not only had this idea been an element of the Russian left but it also was incipient in the main opposing philosophy of Slavophilism, which exalted the Russian spirit, religion, and culture against a decadent Western counterpart. Although usually focused on Europe in the nineteenth-century, it had been applied against the United States as early as Dostoyevsky and was taken up by the new Russian political right as well as such intellectuals as Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
The remaining Communists, of course, never changed their view and now even sounded close to the Slavophiles on this issue. The Americans, warned Communist leader Genady Zyuganov in 1996, “are trying to impose on us a style of behavior that does not fit in our character and our uniqueness.” But these basic ideas were held far more broadly. Much of the media and even the government began to churn out a systematically anti-American message, including constant accusations of U.S. subversion against Russia.
Very specific local factors are also at work in Greece, providing a good example of how a mixture of historically “good” and “bad” actions created hostility toward the United States. In the 1940s, the United States helped Greece defeat a Soviet-backed leftist insurgency. The United States was generally popular thereafter as having saved Greek sovereignty. But U.S. support for the 1967-1974 right-wing junta made it unpopular in many quarters, especially—ironically–after the United States refused to back an ill-conceived nationalist plot to seize Cyprus. Once the junta was overthrown, the ruling leftist PASOK party– led by a politician who had lived in the United States for many years and was married to an American—expressed its hostility. In the 1990s, a new issue arose as the United States opposed Yugoslavia, a traditional Greek ally, over its dictatorship’s brutal campaign against the Kosovo Muslims.
In the long-run, then, Greeks were angry at two American actions that supported the Greek right against the left along with two others that did the exact opposite. In the first category was the U.S. effort to stop a Communist takeover and later to support a military dictatorship in Greece, while the latter included a policy of blocking covert Greek aggression against Cyprus and to prevent massacres of Muslims in Kosovo. Thus, anti-Americanism was promoted by both ends of the Greek political spectrum but merged in a generalized patriotic hostility.
By the post-Cold War 1990s, the main Greek anti-American antagonism was Kosovo, and the main target of Greek anger was President Bill Clinton. Among the epithets flung at Clinton in the mainstream Greek media were: criminal, pervert, murderer, imposter, blood-thirsty, gangster, slayer, naive, criminal, butcher, stupid, killer, foolish, unscrupulous, disgraceful, dishonest, and rascal. One writer claimed, “Clinton is a miserable little Hitler that Adolph himself would not have made him even deputy commander of an army camp, because [Clinton] is stupid.”
This barrage of hatred was directed at Clinton’s imminent visit to Greece in November 1999. A broad coalition of leftists declared this “representative of American imperialist policy” unwelcome as it would “contaminate the sanctified…soil of our motherland.” Clinton was “a murderer of people, ideals, values, beauty and life” who aspired to be “the lord of the planet.” Despite Clinton’s apology for past U.S. backing for the junta, violent demonstrations erupted against his visit.
The upsurge of anti-Americanism in the 1990s was strong in the Middle East and well underway in Europe before President George W. Bush took office in January 2001, the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 happened, or his administration began to talk about attacking Iraq during 2002. Bush’s policies certainly further fed foreign suspicions of America—his rejection of a strong international court and environmental agreements, for example—his personality and how it was perceived played a big role in setting the negative attitude toward him and America.
Many Americans who didn’t vote for Bush also regarded him with unconcealed horror. It would be hard to invent a person more likely than Bush to inflame further already rising anti-Americanism in Europe. As noted above, he fit many of the main historic negative stereotypes that Europeans and others held about the United States. As noted above, he was from Texas and had a drawl, which played into prejudices about cowboys and violent, ignorant, impulsive frontiersmen.
Definitely not an intellectual and hardly erudite or articulate, Bush appeared in every way a European intellectual’s worst nightmare. As a conservative, Bush grated on the left-leaning sensibilities of these same people. Yet, ironically, it was his rejection of a traditionally conservative, realpolitik foreign policy which convinced his European critics that he was a virulent nationalist embarked on a drive for world conquest.
Bush himself almost seemed the personal embodiment of all the deepest hostile stereotypes. For a start, he came from Texas, the purported land of the cowboy and death penalty, and even had a drawl. The president’s relatively inarticulate speech and disinterest in intellectual matters did not endear him to Europeans either. His professed religiosity was still another negative that fit the stereotype of the American religious fanatic. And Bush’s “just folks” manner was a feature of anti-American derision for U.S. politicians going back to the early nineteenth century.
Bush’s policies, from his early stance on agreements concerning an international court and environmental agreements to the Iraq war seemed to be flaunting and using his nation’s power in a way which disregarded European viewpoints. It could be made to appear that this was at last the U.S. drive to world rule so long predicted by anti-Americans and which could be made to seem both logical and possible now that the United States was the world’s sole superpower. Of course, U.S. policies were also defined by events and against a European lack of cooperation on key issues as well.
Whatever its basis in reality, the European image of Bush was drawn and exaggerated from the historical litany of anti-American charges. He was said to be an “ignorant, self-righteous Christian warrior,” “smirking executioner” and “Toxic Texan.” It was a time when some Europeans were ready to view the United States as a threat replacing the USSR, and thus some found that “today’s Washington has a whiff of Soviet ways; suffocating internal discipline, resentment of even reasoned, moderate opposition, and a refusal to admit even the tiniest error.”
But even before Bush had a chance to do anything he was already classified in a hostile manner. When Bush was elected a Le Monde headline called him the “global village idiot” The mass-circulation British newspaper the Daily Mirror, which played up Bush’s role as governor in a state that frequently used the death penalty, asked, “Do we really want a man like him making snap decisions on whether to drop bombs or go to war? Do we really like the idea of his finger on the big trigger? No, we don’t.” Bush, it continued, “is a thoroughly dangerous, unpleasant piece of work who shouldn’t be let anywhere near the White House.”
There was, however, another man more accurately described as a wild-eyed extremist ready to use any form of violence to further his own plan for world conquest, Usama bin Ladin. The attacks of September 11, 2001 simultaneously unleashed a wave of pro-American sympathy and anti-Americanism in Europe and everywhere else around the world.
To put it bluntly, many and not just in the Middle East liked the terrorist assault. Some delighted at the blow against America because it was so evil, hoping this was the start of some new form of global revolution. Others, in their voyeuristic revenge, were happy that America was suffering because it was so powerful. Indeed, one hallmark of the anti-American reaction to September 11 was that almost all of them were reacting against alleged injuries to others, very few of those who most felt and expressed hatred had suffered directly due to the United States.
An international poll of opinion-makers worldwide two months after September 11 found that more than half of those outside the United States agreed that American policies in the world was a major cause of attacks, two-thirds agreed with the idea that it was “good that Americans now know what it’s like to be vulnerable,” And, of course, there were also voices within the United States that said the same thing.
The attitude of either rejoicing in or rationalizing the September 11 attack was an especially powerful one in France. In Paris, right-wingers in the National Front party drank champagne and cheered while watching the World Trade Center crash down. Meanwhile, some leftists in the audience heckled a call by Communist party national secretary Robert Hue for three minutes of silence in memory of the victims. Such attitudes were reflected, albeit with more elegance, at the highest levels of the French intellectual and cultural establishment. Prime Minister Lionel Jospin hinted that there was some merited punishment in the attacks.
Any such criticism was quite hypocritical since bin Ladin would have been arguably more “justified” in destroying the Eiffel tower as revenge for France’s energetic backing of Algeria’s military regime, a far more active intervention against Islamist rebels than any American involvement in such internal Arab battles. Other such examples could also be offered. On such matters, there was a European double standard in judging America. Similarly, no Europeans judged past colonialism or current interventions proved their own societies’ evil character.
It should also be noted that according to those who actually made the attack, the main U.S. policies being punished were its support for Saudi Arabia—i.e., accepting that country’s sovereignty, thus refusing to engage in “imperialist” bullying—and two actions undertaken on the basis of UN resolutions and multilateral agreements: defeating Iraqi aggression in 1991 and backing sanctions against Iraq thereafter.
Ironically, the most famous French pro-American statement about September 11 demonstrated the broad extent of anti-American hostility in the country. A Le Monde editorial of September 12, by publisher Jean-Marie Colombiani was entitled, “Nous Sommes Tous Américains” (We are all Americans), writing, “Indeed, just as in the gravest moments of our own history, how can we not feel profound solidarity with those people, that country, the United States, to whom we are so close and to whom we owe our freedom, and therefore our solidarity?”
But even in his original article, Colombiani suggested that the United States itself created bin Ladin. A few months later he wrote a book questioning his own earlier thesis, entitles Tous Américains? Le monde après le 11 Septembre 2001 (Are We All Americans? The World After September 11, 2001), unleashing the usual range of caricatures and charges, many of which had aged far longer than the finest French wines. For him the United States was a country that violates all the world’s laws, glories in the death penalty, and treats its own minorities in a racist fashion. What especially galls him is his vision of America as a fundamentalist Christian state which is no better than fundamentalist Muslim ones. For him, September 11 clearly changed nothing and taught him nothing.
The same could be said for Jean Baudrillard who wrote on November 3, 2001, in Le Monde that the perpetrators of September 11 had acted out his and “all the world without exception[‘s] dream of destroying “a power that has become hegemonic….It is they who acted, but we who wanted the deed.” Others like the respected philosopher Jacques Derrida, simply found September 11 to be a “symptom” of globalization, which itself was an American sin.
Yet such ideas arose from a European view of the United States with no connection to the actual motives of those involved in the attacks. Bin Ladin and his men were not acting as they did to fight globalization but to promote a radical Islamist revolution as a way of forcing their own brand of globalization on the world by force.
If there need be anything to prove the madness in this venture of blaming September 11 on the United States and creating a European version of bin Ladin’s anti-American jihad, it was provided by one Thierry Meyssan, a member of the far-right French lunatic fringe. Meyssan wrote a book entitled L’Effroyable Imposture (The Horrifying Fraud) claiming that September 11 was in fact a propaganda stunt by American intelligence agencies and the military-industrial complex to justify military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq.
This book became a gigantic commercial success in France and other European countries, with Meyssan also being lionized in the Arab world. But even while few in the West—the Arab world was a different story—believed that the United States faked the attacks—Meyssan’s idea that September 11 was a mere excuse for advancing the American goal of world domination was widely accepted by anti-Americans in Europe.
Still, what could be more shocking than the fact that German polls showed that twenty percent of the population—rising to thirty-three percent among those below the age of thirty–believed the U.S. government might have sponsored the attacks on itself. In April 2002, only 48 percent of Germans considered the United States a guarantor of world peace compared with 62 percent who did so in 1993. Meanwhile, 47 percent considered the U.S. war on terrorism as aggressive, with only 34 percent seeing it as justified.
The following year, The CIA and September 11, published by a reputable German company and written by former minister of research and technology Andreas von Bulow, suggested that U.S. and Israeli intelligence blew up the World Trade Center from the inside, with the planes being a mere distraction. The reason was an American conservative plot to take over the world. The book was also soon on the best-seller list, as were left-wing American writings that made similar accusations. In June 2003 a German government-run television station broadcast a documentary claiming that no airplane ever crashed in Pennsylvania. In cover stories with titles like “blood for oil” and “warriors of god,” the German newsweekly Der Spiegel described U.S. policy as a conspiracy to control the world fomented and led by the oil industry or Christian right-wingers. Not to be outdone, a Stern magazine cover showed an American missile piercing the heart of a dove of peace.
While less widespread than in France, partly because leftist intellectuals have less influence there, or Germany, parallel themes were developed in Britain. Chelsea Clinton, daughter of the former president who was working on her master’s degree there, wrote, “Every day at some point I encounter some sort of anti-American feeling.”
That she felt this way is not surprising when scholars of the caliber of Mary Beard–a Cambridge University academic specializing in the classics, not contemporary affairs–explained, “The United States had it coming….World bullies, even if their heart is in the right place, will in the end pay the price.” Anatole Kaletsky, chief economic correspondent for the Times, claimed, “The greatest danger to America’s dominant position today is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is the arrogance of American power.”
Mary Kaldor, a professor at London School of Economics, came close to Meyssan’s position: “It could be argued that if September 11 had not happened, the American military-industrial complex might have had to invent it. Indeed, what happened on September 11 could have come out of what seemed to be the wild fantasies of ‘asymmetric threats’ that were developed by American strategic analysts as they sought a new military role for the United States after the end of the Cold War.”
Mainstream politicians were driven to crackpot extremes. Member of parliament and former environmental minister Michael Meacher insisted that the September 11 attacks were definitely known about in advance by the U.S. government and possibly even planned by America. The U.S. goal was to use this as an excuse to seek to dominate space and cyberspace, overthrow China and Iran, and permanently occupy the Persian Gulf region to secure the globe’s oil fields. It was nothing short of “a blueprint for U.S. world domination” using the “bogus cover” of a “so-called ‘war on terrorism.’”
The flavor of such thought can also be gleaned by an extended quotation from Guardian columnist Charlotte Raven, explaining:
“The United States might benefit from an insight into what it feels like to be knocked to your knees by a faceless power deaf to everything but the logic of its own crazed agenda. There’s nothing shameful about this position. It is perfectly possible to condemn the terrorist action and dislike the US just as much as you did before….
“If anti-Americanism has been seized, temporarily, by forces that have done dreadful things in its name, there is no reason for its adherents to retreat from its basic precepts. America is the same country it was before September 11. If you didn’t like it then, there’s no reason why you should have to pretend to now. All those who see its suffering as a kind of absolution should remember how little we’ve seen that would support this reading. A bully with a bloody nose is still a bully and, weeping apart, everything the U.S. body politic has done in the week since the attacks has confirmed its essential character.”
In other words, anti-Americanism was too important to leave in the hands of the terrorists. It should return to the control of those responsible people who recognized that the United States was evil but were not themselves seeking to seize the globe on behalf of radical Islamism.
Such people were clearly not going to allow the United States to prove itself not guilty of these charges. The supposed proof that the United States was an imperialist aggressor, well before any debate began about a war with Iraq, was that it attacked those directly responsible for the attack. Even action in self-defense was taken as proof of their assertions, despite the dignified and determinedly anti-hysterical American reaction to the September 11 attacks which included a strong rejection of prejudice against any people or religion–as, of course, the critics were doing to the United States—which actually disproved them.
As for the record of bullying, the United States at this point had spent more than the previous dozen years encouraging democracy in Latin America and a longer period without much coercive intervention there. The same point applied to Asia and Africa, where the main U.S. effort was involved in humanitarian missions as in Somalia. In the Middle East the main evidence for supposed U.S. bullying would have been its leadership of an international coalition against Iraq’s aggression in 1991. It had expended extraordinary energy to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict through compromise. In Europe, its involvements had largely been those of leading a multinational effort to protect groups—and Muslim ones at that—in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Raven condemns the United States for offering its own view of the events as proof that it is allegedly guilty of an imperialist attempt to “control meaning” and is angry because the United States wanted to go “into a war [against terrorism] that doesn’t exist.” Yet it had been bin Ladin, and his ally the Afghan government, which had declared war on the United States. Before September 11, far from being a bullying state, the United States had done little to respond to that assault. And if no such war existed, what in fact had happened on September 11? Indeed, the true war that did not exist was that purportedly being waged by the United States against the rest of humanity, the phony war of an alleged American drive for world domination.
In Latin America one rarely found such sentiments but they were most evident in Brazil, where the eminent economist Celso Furtado termed the September 11 attack a provocation by right-wing Americans to justify seizing power, as had the Nazis in Germany in 1933. The prominent theologian Leonardo Boff said he was sorry more planes hadn’t crashed into the Pentagon. Even the country’s president, the sociologist Fernando Henrique Cardoso told a cheering French parliament, “Barbarism is not only the cowardliness of terrorism but also the intolerance or the imposition of unilateral policies on a global scale.” His audience knew who he was bashing. Cardoso, a French-educated veteran advocate of the view that the United States was responsible for Latin American underdevelopment, had also been frequently feted in America and received honorary degrees from Notre Dame and Rutgers universities. In a September 2001 poll, 79 percent of Brazilians opposed any U.S. military attack by the United States against countries hosting those responsible for the destruction of the World Trade Center, with higher levels of opposition among the wealthiest.
Such ideas were heard even from Canada, America’s northern neighbor, though Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, in sharp contrast to many European statements, blamed the whole West generally for responsibility regarding the attack:
“You cannot exercise your powers to the point of humiliation for the others. That is what the Western world–not only the Americans, the Western world–has to realize….I do think that the Western world is getting too rich in relation to the poor world and necessarily will be looked upon as being arrogant and self-satisfied, greedy and with no limits. The 11th of September is an occasion for me to realize it even more.”
The fact that the attackers were mostly from well-off families and came, as did their political movement as a whole, from Saudi Arabia, the Third World’s richest country, did not seem to affect his judgment. Part of the problem was that the critics reinterpreted the attack as a symptom of whatever complaints they had about the United States and its policies. Blaming the United States for the attack or denying it the right to self-defense were unfriendly actions reflecting hostility rather than some deeper wisdom.
Since the September 11 attack clearly originated with Usama bin Ladin, the United States had every right to respond with military action against him and his cooperating host, the Taliban government in Afghanistan. To the anti-Americans, however, this was an act of aggression. The attribution of responsibility to bin Ladin was doubted, the domestic oppression of the Taliban was ignored, American motives were called into question, and the worst possible face was put on the conduct of the war.
When the Taliban did fall in December 2001, the French radio correspondents at the scene spent more time attacking the United States as behaving in an imperial way and accusing American journalists of collaborating in this effort. They explained that claiming Afghans did not support the regime was an example of American propaganda. One common motive for anti-Americanism, jealousy, was in full display as the French reporters bitterly complained that their American counterparts arrived “with pockets full of dollars” which enabled them to rent helicopters and hire the best interpreters.
Matters were somewhat different regarding the U.S. decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003. Whether or not the attack was warranted, this was a policy that certainly did feed into anti-American preconceptions which had already become quite powerful. It could be said to show that the United States was too powerful, ignored other’s wishes or interests of others, and appeared eager to attack countries. But the infusion of a massive dose of anti-Americanism into the debate made the opposition more passionate and hostile, interfering with efforts to find some way to avoid the crisis or increase international cooperation to deal with it.
Of course, even in the United States the war was most controversial and condemned by many, sometimes in terms similar to those heard in Europe or the Middle East. Yet once any of the actual motives for the United States to confront Iraq were dismissed it was easy for people in many countries to see themselves as the potential victim. In this sense, the invasion of Iraq, having nothing to do with any element of the Saddam Hussein regime’s behavior, came to be seen as a precedent for the future conquest of any other given country in the world.
The extreme response was to accuse the United States of engaging in an imperialist action to steal Iraqi oil as another step in its plan for world domination. Another theme was that this was an action against the Iraqi people, who were in fact suffering under perhaps the world’s worst dictatorship. Ironically, one of the main accusations against the United States by anti-Americans had been that it was indifferent to the depredations of such regimes. Anti-American critics played down the Saddam Hussein regime’s misdeeds, a tremendous irony for those portraying themselves as defenders of human rights and freedom. Throughout Europe, anti-war demonstrations turned into hate-America rallies. A study of the five main French newspapers’ coverage of the Iraq war showed 29 headlines condemning Saddam’s dictatorship and 135 blaming Bush for the conflict.
At times, whipping up hysteria—as opposed to disagreeing with U.S. policy in a constructive manner–was related to cynical partisan considerations. This approach was clearly true in the September 2002 German election. The victory of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who had been suffering during the campaign because of the country’s poor economy, was probably due to his demagogic anti-American appeals. Among other things, Schroeder made a nationalist appeal, stating that to go along with the American policy would make Germany a puppet of the United States. His justice minister, Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, went so far as to compare Bush to Adolf Hitler, which in Germany was no mere rhetorical flourish.
Indeed, Schroeder’s German Social Democratic Party became a consistent sponsor of anti-Americanism. Ludwig Stiegler, a member of parliament, likened Bush to an imperialist Roman emperor bent on subjugating Germany. Oskar Lafontaine, the party’s deputy co-chairman, called the United States “an aggressor nation.” Rudolf Hartnung, chairman of the youth organization, accused the United States of “ideologically inspired genocide” in Central America and other places. State legislator Jurgen Busack claimed, “The warmongers and international arsonists do not govern in the Kremlin. They govern in Washington. The United States must lie, cheat, and deceive in an effort to thwart resistance to its insane foreign policy adventures.”
Anti-Americanism had become a coherent ideology that seemed to have replaced Marxism as the left’s dominant idea. One of this doctrine’s more articulate purveyors of this doctrine was the Pakistani-British radical Ali Tariq. The U.S. government, he explained, had long previously planned world domination and then “utilized the national trauma of September 11 to pursue an audacious imperial agenda, of which the occupation of Iraq promises to be only the first step.” Iran was seized in order to profit from its oil assets and benefit Israel.
More broadly, the goal was to intimidate the rest of the world so it would be subservient to American orders. In Aziz’s summary,
“Just as the use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had once been a pointed demonstration of American might to the Soviet Union, so today a blitzkrieg rolling swiftly across Iraq would serve to show the world at large, and perhaps states in the Far East—China, North Korea, even Japan—in particular, that if the chips are down, the United States has, in the last resort, the means to enforce its will.”
The real goal, according to Ali, was a classically imperialist one: “The United States is now deciding it wants to run the world. The United States should come out openly and say to the world, `We are the only imperial power, and we’re going to rule you, and if you don’t like it you can lump it.’ American imperialism has always been the imperialism that has been frightened of speaking its name. Now it’s beginning to do so. In a way, it’s better. We know where we kneel.”
There was also a seemingly less extreme, but roughly similar, anti-American version of events which had wider credibility. It began by saying that the United States was not a crazed, world-conquering nation but merely one with a bad government at the present time. But while Bush at first appears to be the target, the argument soon moved into a blanket condemnation of U.S. policies over a very long period of time.
This approach was exemplified by the Guardian columnist George Monboit. The United States, he said, had no right to wage “war on another nation because that nation has defied international law.” He charged the Bush administration with having “torn up more international treaties and disregarded more United Nations’ conventions than the rest of the world has in 20 years.” This list included rejecting agreements on biological, chemical, and nuclear tests. But he then went on to accuse the United States of illegal experimentation with biological weapons, assassinating foreign leaders, and torturing prisoners.
While he was apparently just criticizing the Bush administration’s specific policies, the article is entitled, “The Logic of Empire,” viewing this as the logical goal of American society. This is the classical anti-Americanism which views its imperialist drive as an inevitable outcome of its structure:
“The United States also possesses a vast military-industrial complex that is in constant need of conflict in order to justify its staggeringly expensive existence. Perhaps more importantly than any of these factors, the hawks who control the White House perceive that perpetual war results in the perpetual demand for their services. And there is scarcely a better formula for perpetual war, with both terrorists and other Arab nations, than the invasion of Iraq. The hawks know that they will win, whoever loses. In other words, if the United States was not preparing to attack Iraq, it would be preparing to attack another nation. The United States will go to war with that country because it needs a country with which to go to war.”
Thus, the ostensible reasons for the war have nothing to do with it. The cause is a thirst for killing and conquest which America’s survival—and the employment needs of certain individuals—require. This is a classic statement of anti-Americanism because it argues that the United States is integrally and inevitably evil. As a result, the people of France did not just oppose the war, many of them hoped for a U.S. defeat. According to an April 2003 poll, 34 percent supported the U.S.-led forces, 25 percent wanted Iraq to win, and 31 percent declared themselves neutral.
The key element in all this discussion was not so much opposition to the Iraq war based on the immediate issues but a generalized antagonism toward the United States. In the popular BBC radio show, “Straw Poll,” on July 26, 2002, Professor Mary Kaldor debated Washington Post reporter T. R. Reid on whether “American power is the power of the good.” She argued that the U.S. role as the sole superpower was a danger to the rest of the world. At the end of the program, 70 percent of the studio audience said it agreed with her.
When it came to the purer expressions of hatred, however, this was best expressed by literary figures who do not require even the most basic forms of alleged proof for their inflammatory claims. Harold Pinter, one of Britain’s leading playwrights, put his view of the perpetually evil American into verse:
Here they go again,
The Yanks in their armored parade
Chanting their ballads of joy
As they gallop across the big world
Praising America’s God.
The gutters are clogged with the dead….
The riders have whips which cut.
Your head rolls onto the sand
Your head is a pool in the dirt
Your head is a stain in the dust
Your eyes have gone out and your nose
Sniffs only the pong of the dead.
And all the dead air is alive
With the smell of America’s God.
America is thus prodded into mass murder by its fanatical religious beliefs that take joy in killing and destruction. Viewing Americans as a nation of religious nuts is as common among European anti-Americans as is seeing the United States as a country of atheists who hate the deity is for Middle Eastern critics.
Arguing that the United States was wrong on any given issue was certainly a fair response but often the point being made—and requiring major distortions of the facts–was that something intrinsically wrong with America caused the real or alleged shortcomings. It was blind, ignorant, and aggressive, driven by religious fanaticism and greedy imperialism. Perhaps most of all it was different, not subject to the kinds of motives and ideas that shaped civilized Europe.
America was retaliating to terrorist attacks in Iraq because, according to an Italian writer, it was driven by the “Christian God of the army of the righteous” and was about to invade Iran mainly because it had the capability to do so.. A colleague suggested that the U.S. goal in Iraq was “to show the UN and Europe that the control of the entire world is firmly in American hands….”
The novelist John Le Carré engages in an only slightly more sophisticated frothing by seeing the United States both as a serial murderer as well as a society whose repression is on a plane with that of Saddam Hussein’s. It is an approach merging critiques of U.S. foreign policy and domestic society into one big imperialist package:
“America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this [one is]…worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War. As in McCarthy times, the freedoms that have made America the envy of the world are being systematically eroded. The combination of compliant U.S. media and vested corporate interests is once more ensuring that a debate that should be ringing out in every town square is confined to the loftier columns of the East Coast press….
“But the American public is not merely being misled. It is being browbeaten and kept in a state of ignorance and fear. The carefully orchestrated neurosis should carry Bush and his fellow conspirators nicely into the next election. The religious cant that will send American troops into battle is perhaps the most sickening aspect of this surreal war-to-be. What is at stake is not an Axis of Evil–but oil, money and people’s lives. Saddam’s misfortune is to sit on the second biggest oilfield in the world. Bush wants it, and who helps him get it will receive a piece of the cake. And who doesn’t, won’t.
“What is at stake is not an imminent military or terrorist threat, but the economic imperative of U.S. growth. What is at stake is America’s need to demonstrate its military power to all of us–to Europe and Russia and China, and poor mad little North Korea, as well as the Middle East; to show who rules America at home, and who is to be ruled by America abroad.”
America, then, is a society that lies as systematically abroad as it does at home. Being struck by the largest single terrorist attack in world history has no bearing on its motives. Its very nature forces it into an imperialist role, the type of idea that would previously have been expressed only by doctrinaire Communists. The American media, which featured a massive discussion over every aspect of the U.S. response to September 11 including a heated debate over the prospective Iraq war, is merely a captive organ on the level of the Soviet press. The overwhelming conformity and lack of real freedom that nineteenth-century anti-Americans claimed characterized the United States are still mainstays of the critique. In short, the ignorance of America, a constant feature of anti-Americanism for two centuries, has not diminished among major groups of European intellectuals.
Indeed, bizarre interpretations of the American domestic scene were very much a factor in the anti-Americanism around the Iraq war. In England, an American journalist was asked on one show whether he saw, “Any parallels between the security state that George Bush has created in America since 9/11 and the Gulag?” Another British interviewer asked whether people in America are often arrested for insulting the president on the internet.
Canada, located right next-door to the United States, might be expected to have a better understanding of such things. Indeed, hostility there is lower and more reasoned. While 53 percent of Canadians held unfavorable attitudes toward the U.S. government in 2003, 70 percent thought favorably about Americans, while 62 percent had a very or somewhat favorable view of the United States.
Yet at the same time Canada has a specific problem in regard to its ten-times-more-populace neighbor. Whatever the differences between the two countries, they are close enough in linguistic, historical, and society that Canada must define itself as the “un-America.” Canada’s self-image is that of a kinder, gentler nation that is nice to people around the world, environmentally conscious, and has a more sedate pace of life. In a book published in 2003, The Myth of Converging Values, Michael Adams assures his fellow citizens that the two countries were moving in opposite directions. Americans were becoming more socially conservative, fatter, and deferential to authority figures. Meanwhile, Canadians were becoming more tolerant, open to risk, and questioning the institutions that governed them.
In intellectual and media circles, however, Canadian attitudes toward the United States do not always display such high levels of tolerance. These are the groups that are on the front lines of defining Canada’s difference from the United States since, otherwise, they had no marginal advantage over their more powerful American competitors. Like European counterparts, it evinces a great deal of fear, jealousy, and resentment. The Canadian novelist Margaret Drabble is typical of a large element of this group’s opinions, writing in February 2003:
“My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me, like a disease. It rises up in my throat like acid reflux, that fashionable American sickness. I now loathe the United States and what it has done to Iraq and the rest of the helpless world. I have tried to control my anti-Americanism, remembering the many Americans that I know and respect, but I can’t keep it down any longer. I detest Disneyfication, I detest Coca-Cola, I detest burgers, I detest sentimental and violent Hollywood movies that tell lies about history. I detest American imperialism, American infantilism, and American triumphalism about victories it didn’t even win.”
In Australia, too, where the government supported U.S. policy on Iraq, the parliamentary debate revealed hatred and resentment far beyond this specific issue, as demonstrated by the title of a book by Richard Neville, Amerika Psycho: Behind Uncle Sam’s Mask of Sanity. Such attitudes were amply demonstrated in parliamentary debates. Australians “are sick and tired of this government’s compliance with every demand the United States makes,” said Martin Ferguson. Julia Irwin complained, “In the empire of the United States of America, are we to be merely citizens of a vassal state…not as a proud and independent nation but as a deputy sheriff to the United States; a mercenary force at the bidding of the president.” Mark Latham added, “Along with most Australians, I do not want a world in which one country has all the power.” And Harry Quick remarked, “The dilemma facing the world is that America has a caricature of a Wild West gun-toting Texas bounty hunter masquerading as a U.S. president and desperate for a rerun of the Gulf War.”
Here were several of contemporary anti-Americanism’s basic themes. Any support for the United States was subservience, a complaint combining hurt national pride and a partisan opposition effort to score points against one’s own government for doing so. Using the crudest stereotypes of the United States, America was said to be an irrational state lusting for war and world dominance.
Clearly, the problem here is not just the Iraq war, regardless of how much that specific event inspired expressions of anti-Americanism or seemed to provide proof of its claims, or even the personality of George W. Bush. These attitudes were caught up in traditional views of America, the struggle to maintain one’s own national identity, the left’s search for some new political doctrine, the snobbishness of an elite which hated mass culture, fear of American power, and many other factors.
Of course, America had its defenders, in part inspired by the extremism of the critical barrage and not necessarily because of support for the Iraq war. The Italian writer Oriana Fallaci, appalled by what many Europeans were saying about America after September 11, celebrated American impudence, courage, optimism, geniality, and integrity:
“I compliment the respect [the American] has for common people and for the wretched, the ugly, the despised. I envy the infinite patience with which he bears the offenses and the slander. I praise the marvelous dignity and even humility with which he faces his incomparable success, I mean the fact that in only two centuries he has become the absolute winner. ..And I never forget that hadn’t…defeated Hitler today I would speak German. Had he not held back the Soviet Union, today I would speak Russian.”
Added the British journalist Gavin Esler, the caricatures of America had exceeded all bounds. He questioned whether there were many Americans who matched the image of fat and lazy, gun-obsessed people who are loud, arrogant, and sought to dominate the world. Observing the daily fare of the British media, Esler pointed out, “Americans are the only people for whom it is acceptable to have negative stereotypes, modern-day Nazis with cowboy boots instead of jackboots.” It was a no-win situation for the United States since if Americans “do nothing about the world’s problems…they are ignorant and isolationist, selfish and gutless” while if they do try to act, “they are arrogant and naive, greedy and bullying.”
Even in France there were those who defended the United States. The leading French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy recorded that whatever one thinks of any specific mistaken policy,
“America does not threaten peace in the world. Peace in the world is threatened by North Korea, Usama bin Ladin, by the Pakistani jihadist groups and maybe its secret services, by the terrorist organizations financed by Saudi Arabia. No, you can’t say America threatens the peace of the world without a certain hatred that makes you completely blind and deaf to reality….
Certainly, America has its faults and has committed its share of tragic errors. But that is not the issue….Anti-American sentiment we see today, not only in Europe but in the world at large, hates not what is bad in America but what is good…..What they hate is democracy. They hate sexual freedom and the rights of women. They hate tolerance. They hate the separation of religion and state. They hate modernity.…”
What contemporary anti-American really represented, he concluded, was the structuring passion for “the worst perversities of our time,” including the contemporary manifestations of fascism, communism and Islamism.
Indeed, for two centuries anti-Americanism had always represented something more than merely a critique of the United States but a specific political position in opposition to what that country was seen as representing. At times, the focus might be on a specific policy or feature of American society which might well be worth criticizing.
Yet there were also long-term themes which were merely applied, often without serious examination, to some current situation. Such an approach might involve an assault on real or purported American values, exaggerated or inaccurate stereotypes about the United States itself, or distortions about the facts or motives regarding U.S. policies. There was also the factor of self-interest on the part of the anti-Americans themselves, using the doctrine as a weapon to promote the interests of a group, party or state.
Despite the effect of contemporary personalities and issues which heightened it still further, the upsurge of anti-Americanism following the end of the Cold War and enhanced by September 11 was a natural continuation—a fulfillment as it were—of a trend that can be traced back two centuries.