The Root Cause of Anti-Americanism (I)
June 23, 2003
The Canadian is the first anti-American, the model anti-American, the archetypal anti-American
(Frank Underhill, 1889 1971)
At first sight, Canadians are the least likely candidates for anti-Americanism. We are neighbours, sharing an undefended 4000-mile border. We speak the same language, and interact in innumerable ways through travel, family and business ties, by watching American television and films, reading American books and magazines. We are joined in a defensive military pact, the North American Aerospace Defence Command. Most importantly, our economies are more intertwined than any other two countries; the value of Canadas exports to the U.S. in the year 2000 amounted to $359,551 billion (85.1%), while imports from the U.S. in the same year came to $267,675 billion (73.7%).
Although the birth of our nations took quite different paths, marked by revolution and a murderous civil war south of the 49th parallel, and a more gradual and peaceful evolution in Canada, we are inheritors of the same broad Anglo Saxon mother lode of Western, representative governance. This may explain to some extent the intensity of anti- Americanism in this today country. In this series I simply want to explore what might lie beneath the surface of contemporary anti-Americanism all over the world, beginning with the Canadian scene.
Anti-Americanism is not a new phenomenon, but is has swollen in intensity since the American-led war against Iraq in March and April. The main charge against America is that it declared war on Iraq without first obtaining United Nations approval. Led by France and Germany, the war critics insisted that the route of weapons inspections and diplomacy would have been the better way.
Canadas refusal to join the U.S. in the war against Iraq has angered many Americans, who consider this an act of bad faith at a time when they were looking at least for moral support from its nearest neighbour. The critics of America in this country on the other hand are describing our refusal as an act of courage and an admirable show of our independence.
That the war was of short duration and resulted in far fewer casualties and much less destruction than the critics predicted has changed few minds. That many Iraqis welcomed the armies that within one month managed to enter Baghdad and rid the country of one of the worst tyrannies of our time has made no difference among the anti-American crowd. The reality is that the hatred for America has become more hard-edged. Instead of gratitude for liberating an enslaved nation, the U.S. is accused of being reckless with its massive military power and indifferent to the true well being of the Iraqi people.
I am not talking of Al Qaeda and similar terrorists who have vowed to bring more death and destruction to America and all its allies. No, I am referring to this country where leading commentators in print, on radio and television, and in university lecture halls hold forth about the evil of power-hungry Pax Americana. American students in Canada have felt intimidated and been driven to tears about the hostility they have encountered.
The Chretien government, the left wing of the Canadian opposition, many in the media and the academy are outspoken in their dislike and even contempt for the U.S. president and administration.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien has made a habit of flaunting his independence from American policies. A year after the 9/11 terrorist attack, he stated in an interview that this attack was an expression of anger at the way the U.S. was displaying its power in the world. He warned that the West, especially the U.S., is humiliating poor countries. He said that the poor of the world look upon the rich nations 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.
Mr. Chretien has been very lax in disciplining Liberal members of Parliament who publicly insulted the American people and government. His own assistant who publicly referred to President George Bush as a moron was first excused then shifted to another position in the federal bureaucracy.
The publicly owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation claims to be simply a presenter of the news, but in fact its politically correct bias, including a strong anti-American component, is all too evident. One of the recurring themes in a discussion of our Canadian identity is that we are not just different from Americans, but better. We are better, because we are more caring than Americans. Now there!
There is a steady drumbeat of finding fault with the U.S. and particularly with President Bush and his administration. These are some of the recurring themes of anti-Americanism: The U.S. is a super power and it wants to remake the world according to its design; it has an arrogant cowboy mentality and wants to intimidate the entire world with its impressive military power; in other words, it wants to construct a world empire; it is indifferent to the loss of life caused by its fighting armies; it prefers unilateral action and has contempt for a multilateral approach; it prefers military action to diplomacy; hence its disrespect for the United Nations. And so on. In Canada, these and other faults of the Americans are retold again and again, often done in a sneering manner, as if we are morally superior to those greedy and arrogant Americans. Dont you know the war against Iraq was all about oil!
A survey about Canada-U.S. relations, conducted in November 2002 by the polling firm Strategic Counsel, found that almost seven in ten Canadian respondents believe that the U.S. is starting to act like a bully with the rest of the world. Michael Sullivan explained that instead Canadians are more interested in peace keeping. He said that that this is part of our personality: We take pride in medicare, we take pride in our peacekeeping role. And when we look at the U.S., we dont see those kind of values reflected. (Toronto Star, December 28, 2002,) This is a refrain that you can find ad nauseam. But it gets worse.
The prize for the most insulting smear against the Americans must go to Bill Blakie, a prominent NDP Member of Parliament, who publicly stated: I find it strange that a pro-life politician like George Bush is planning every minute of his life to kill as many Iraqi children as he can in the name of oil or whatever it is thats really on the agenda.
Did this insult call for unanimous condemnation from his colleagues? No, his position as a leading and vocal member of our Parliament is unaffected. His Winnipeg colleague Pat Martin had this to say, I think Bill showed courage to be that forthright. I mean, hes saying what a lot of us are thinking.
You want proof that Canadian shapers of public opinion do not stop at the most outrageous conspiracy theories? Read what a prominent Toronto Star columnist Michele Landsberg wrote in her May 11 column about the work of Barrie Zwicker. Landsberg describes him as a journalist with a long list of solid credentials whose video The Great Deception purports to unmask the real story behind the American war on terrorism. Zwicker raises a lot of far-out questions intended to throw doubt on what really happened on September 11, 2001, such as: Why did the U.S Air Force fail to respond immediately after the 9/11 attacks?
Why did President George Bush remain for half an hour in a Florida classroom after his chief of staff told him about the second plane?
How did the FBI know the names of the terrorists within 24 hours?
What about the billions of dollars made by inside traders of United and American Airlines stock?
Landsberg thinks that these are questions that 99 per cent of Canadian journalists have not dared or deigned to ask, and that most Canadians would prefer not to hear.
What is she suggesting here, in following the line of Zwickers questions? That the highest level of the American government conspired to plan the horrible events of 9/11? That the official version of those attacks is a big lie?
That conclusion, as unbelievable as it sounds, is inescapable, although Zwicker appears to be more careful that that. To make sure that we get the point of Zwickers video, Landsberg tells us that she is familiar with this kind of conspiracy. In January she wrote a column about American declassified documents that reveal the existence of top-level conspiracies. According to her the U.S. government has plotted intricate secret schemes of smuggling, drug-running, and assassination. They even considered rigging fake terrorists attacks that would cost American lives in order to stir the public to war-ready outrage, she claims.
By juxtaposing the Zwicker video and her own January column, the conclusion is unavoidable. The highest level of the current American administration is guilty of an unspeakable crime. Landsberg writes that as she watched the video, a frightening chill came over me. No wonder, for the conclusion she has come to, is too awful to contemplate. But then she seems to back off with this final observation: I agree with Zwicker when he says, I dont know exactly what happened, but something smells very fishy. Even more rank-smelling is the refusal of most Canadian journalists to ask embarrassing uncool questions about one of the worst catastrophes of our time. (Toronto Star, May 11, 2003)
This is what commentary in Canadas largest paper has come to. We are left with a fishy smell and a pronouncement that 99 percent of her colleagues, unlike herself and Mr. Zwicker, are cowards and incompetents.
The mostly state-controlled Arab media, by incessantly pressing home the same message as the one told by Zwicker and Landsberg, have persuaded the Arab population that the 9/11 terrorists were actually Jews, in cahoots with the American government. Is it any wonder that they hate the U.S.? It is a shameful thing that such lies are spread among the Arab population. Many of them are helpless against such vicious propaganda, for they are a captive audience and are barred form access to any other source of information.
What is even worse is that such monstrous lies are given credence in this country by people who are blinded by their visceral hatred of America. I find this totally incomprehensible. (The authors of this nonsense should not forget that their writings are eagerly noted and distributed in the Muslim world. What about their professional associations, do they not have some responsibilities here?)
That such blind and malicious hatred is helping to fuel anti-Americanism in this country is reason to pause and not simply to repeat the standard arguments for thinking ourselves to be so much better than our neighbours to the south. I think that this also has something to do with our Christian duty not to bear false witness but rather to advance the good name and reputation of our neighbours.
The European Case
Since the early 1990s, Europe has developed a strain of anti-Americanism that is almost Canadian in its odious condescension and ignorant resistance to fact. (Robert Fulford, National Post, March 22, 2003)
Anti-Americanism is not of recent vintage. But the rhetoric of the European despisers of all things American has heated up considerably with the presidency of George W. Bush and his declaration of war on terrorism.
The empathy of the Europeans for the Americans at the horrific attacks on September 11, 2001 did not last very long. By now the outpouring of anti-American vitriol has become a crescendo. Here is a sample of the condescension that Robert Fulford referred to in the quotation at the start of this article:
Margaret Drabble, British columnist: My anti-Americanism 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.
Darius/Dario Fo, Italian playwright, winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize for literature: The great speculators [of American capitalism] wallow in an economy that every year kills tens of millions of people with poverty [in the Third world] so what is 20,000 dead in New York? Regardless of who carried out the massacre [of 9-11], this violence is the legitimate daughter of the culture of violence, hunger and inhumane exploitation.
Emmanuel Todd, author of Après LEmpire: A single threat to global instability weighs on the world today: America, which from a protector has become a predator.
It would be easy to multiply this list a hundredfold. The point is that anti-Americanism is now deeply ingrained among the European elite as well as the general populace- at least in Western Europe.
It is impossible to do justice to a subject as many-layered as anti-Americanism in Europe, but it may be possible to untangle a few strands of this tangled web. To be critical of the ideology of anti-Americanism does of course not imply that America is beyond criticism but that must meet the standards of fairness and truthfulness.
A long History
James Ceaser, professor of political science at the University of Virginia, published an extensive article in which he traces the history of anti-Americanism right from the very beginning of the United States in the 18th century (A Genealogy of Anti-Americanism, The Public Interest, Summer 2003).
He writes that anti-Americanism is a construct of European thought although it did not remain confined to that part of the world. He explains that the symbolic Anti-Americanism rests on the singular idea that something associated with the United States, something at the core of American life, is deeply wrong and threatening to the rest of the world.
Professor Ceaser reviews five different themes developed by major thinkers who were sure that the United States was embarked on a journey that was bound to fail or at least deserved to fail.
There was first of all a theory that sounds weird in our ears but that was proclaimed in all seriousness at the founding of the United States: the so-called theory of degeneracy and monstrosity. This was believed to be connected to the atmospheric conditions or climate on this continent that supposedly made normal development of animals and humans impossible.
Furthermore, this principle of degeneration, according to its proponents, not only affected animal and human life but would similarly distort the ideas on which the new nation was founded. (Ceaser reports that Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin felt compelled to debunk this junk science - which proves again that there is nothing new under the sun.)
Next, the author discusses the nineteenth century critics who attacked the United States for contributing to the intermingling of races and people and thus to the decline of racial purity. This is of course the theory on which Nazism was built. (Ironically, many thousands of Americans, of various races, gave their lives to destroy that evil regime.)
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the United States was in the vanguard of developing large-scale industry and the techniques of mass production. The critics claimed that this type of industrialization reduced everything to that which can be calculated and dominated. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) said that the spread of American culture was like a disease. His followers continued in his footsteps and began to denounce everything American as a sell-out to the powerful and the exploiters. They coined the word Amerikanertum (Americanness), not to be understood in the geographical but the spiritual sense.
The fifth argument advanced against the United States is what its advocates denounced as Americas soullessness and rampant consumerism. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889 -1976) was an influential philosopher who viewed the United States as the embodiment of injustice and oppression. He once gave this definition of Americanism as the still unfolding and not yet full or completed essence of the emerging monstrousness of modern times.
Heidegger believed that Russia and America were similar from a metaphysical point of view. He said that the result in both countries was the onslaught of what we call the demonic, in the sense of destructive evil. But in his view America represented the greater threat, since Bolshevism is only a variant of Americanism.
Heidegger also wrote that Americanism is the most dangerous form of boundlessness, because it appears in a middle class way of life mixed with Christianity
When the United States declared war on Nazi Germany, Heidegger wrote: We know today that the Anglo Saxon world of Americanism is resolved to destroy Europe.
Although Heideggers political views are now generally rejected because he was discovered to have been an ardent supporter of Nazism, his influence has remained. His ideas, now cleared of their national socialism, have been enthusiastically adopted by many on the left as a convenient weapon in their anti-American arsenal.
Professor Ceaser says that communists exploited anti-Americanism for their own purpose, so that it was widely assumed that if communism would collapse, anti-Americanism, as a product of communism would also disappear. However, the collapse of communism revealed the true depth and strength of anti- Americanism. Uncoupled from communism, which gave it a certain strength but also placed limits on its appeal, anti-Americanism has worked its way more than ever into the mainstream of European thought.
Paradise Versus Power
Robert Kagan, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, believes that ant-Americanism is not a passing aberration but a reflection of the fact that Europeans and Americans are deeply divided with serious consequences for international politics.
He thinks that its time honestly to face the consequences of the widening gap between the United States and Europe. His Of Paradise and Power; America and Europe in the New World Order does just that in a way that makes this smallish book (103 pages) essential reading for those who look for clarity about this complex and hotly-contested issue.
One of the realities of world politics today is that the United States is the pre-eminent world power, both economically and militarily. Ever since World War II the U.S. has played the role of world cop. Its military became the most formidable presence in Europe during the Cold War, which was accepted and appreciated by most as necessary except by the radical left.
America has devoted much more on defence in terms of the size of its military, training and equipment, than any other Western nation. It has a military presence in numerous world trouble spots, and has actively intervened either unilaterally or in consort with allies to thwart the ambitions of communist regimes, and more recently to fight the war on terrorism whose perpetrators are driven by a fanatical religious zeal.
With the end of the Cold War, the American allies in Europe no longer have the same sense of urgency about their own military preparedness nor about their need for American military protection. In fact, many of their political and media spokespersons are increasingly critical of American policies. They tend to dismiss Americans as cowboys boastful of their military and economic superiority and heedless of the damage they inflict on other people.
But as Kagan shows, the growing antagonism of the Europeans toward the United States is the outcome of more than the huge power gap between them. What plays a key role here is a fundamental difference of views about national and international politics. Europeans believe in the effectiveness of negotiations, compromise and, therefore, in the United Nations. They think that the best way to resolve conflict and counter aggression is to rely on the soft power approach. Especially since 9/11 Americans are more ready to use military force to defend themselves and to advance the cause of liberty in other countries.
What has added to the gap is that the Americans have in fact stood guard over Europe with a large military presence for nearly half a century, while they feel that Europeans are not carrying their fair share of the burden. What is now really galling the Americans is to be lectured to by the Europeans for being trigger- happy and domineering. This is how Kagan summarizes this simmering conflict:
Europes new Kantian [soft power] order could flourish only under the umbrella of American power exercised according to the rules of the old Hobbesian order. American power made it possible for Europeans to believe that power was no longer important
. Because Europe has neither the will nor the ability to guard its own paradise and keep it from being overrun, spiritually as well as physically, by a world that has yet to accept the rule of moral consciousness it has become dependent on Americas willingness to use its military might to deter or defeat those around the world who still believe in power politics.
Kagan minces no words about the contrasting views of world politics held by Americans and Europeans. Yet in the end he suggests that both still have many common interests and responsibilities, which he suggests may yet prevent a slide into an irreversible rupture.
The thoughtful treatment by these two authors is in sharp contrast to the acrimonious tone of the haters of America. They are not engaged in a debate of give and take. No, their fight is against an evil force that threatens the world. At one time that called for the moral equivalence of America and the Soviet Union; now of President Bush and the former dictator of Iraq.
This perception of America involves a dangerous delusion. To the extent that authors such as Ceaser and Kagan explain the poisonous well from which this delusion is drawn, their work can serve as a healthy antidote against this hate-fueled ideology.