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"What has America done wrong?
September 23, 2001 11:02 AM   Subscribe

"What has America done wrong? In the days since September 11, its president and people have done nothing but demonstrate dignity and restraint. Bush will lash out, the chatterers said. But he hasn't yet. Bush is a bumbling hick, they sneered. But he isn't."
posted by Steven Den Beste (35 comments total)

 
as a canadian, i can say i don't hate america or americans.

sure i've poked fun at them, but then, i've poked fun at canadians too. we're practically begging to be made fun of.

but the article grabbed me. america and the people that died did not "deserve" 911.

no one in the world deserves that.
posted by bwg at 11:26 AM on September 23, 2001


Some decent points-- like the ones Steven pulled-- mostly lost among largely irrelevant pro-American cheerleading. Yeah, we helped out in WWII; so automatically our questionable foreign policies of the past fifty years are okay? We get a free pass from this guy because we invented soda pop and blue jeans?

It's kind of summed up for me by a picture of a female soldier with this caption: "The presence of women soldiers in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf war goaded Bin Laden into extremism", accompanying Appleyard's suggestion that Islamic terrorist groups aren't pissed off so much about the US's oil-inspired dabbling in the region, the abandonment of Afghanistan & Pakistan after the Cold War, support of Israel against the Palestinians, the fact that we waged the Gulf War in the first place... no, what really prompted their hatred was the female soldiers. Way to get to the heart of the problem there. (I'm sure the presence of female soldiers made for a good rhetorical rallying point for Islamic extremists, but I don't see them waging war against us for that-- that's like saying we joined WWII because we thought Hitler was an asshole. It conflates the inciting propaganda with the real political motivations.)

I also love the statement "Of course America has made terrible mistakes in the Middle East... But America was usually trying to do the right thing..." Well, sure, they propped up dictatorships, suppressed democracies, and enforced sanctions against Iraq that every other country on earth wants to lift, but they mean well.

Of course I don't think the US deserved to be bombed and I hate that this happened to innocent civilians. But if we're going to bring peace out of this mess we've got to take a clear-eyed look at our own policies in the Middle East and around the world.

As for this article, I didn't get much out of it. It just reads like Bryan Appleyard is looking to be the second coming of Gordon Sinclair.
posted by Zettai at 11:34 AM on September 23, 2001


Why is it so hard to believe that one of the reasons they hate America is because of feminism?
posted by Cranky Kong at 11:42 AM on September 23, 2001


It just reads like Bryan Appleyard is looking to be the second coming of Gordon Sinclair.

Hate to go all ad hominem, but Appleyard wrote in July that "Nobody, twenty years ago, predicted the Internet", and this piece is just as simplistic in its presumptions.

They saved Europe from barbarism in two world wars. After the second world war they rebuilt the continent from the ashes. They confronted and peacefully defeated Soviet communism, the most murderous system ever devised by man, and thereby enforced the slow dismantling - we hope - of Chinese communism, the second most murderous.

I think that sentence manages simultaneously to insult my father's and grandfather's generation right across Western Europe.

America, primarily, ejected Iraq from Kuwait and helped us
to eject Argentina from the Falklands. America stopped the slaughter in the Balkans while the Europeans dithered.


Blatantly untrue on counts two and three, and the outcome of count one is questionable.

Now let us ponder exactly what the Americans are. America is free, very democratic and hugely successful. Americans speak our language and a dozen or so Americans write it much, much better than any of us. Americans make extremely good films and the cultivation and style of their best television programmes expose the vulgarity of the best of ours. Almost all the best universities in the world are American and, as a result, American intellectual life is the most vibrant and cultivated in the world.

And to cap it all, he insults non-American writers in English (bow down, V. S. Naipaul and Vikram Seth; give back those Nobel Prizes, Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott) and me, for presuming to think my university education of any value.

What a bloody hack.
posted by holgate at 11:57 AM on September 23, 2001


There is no such thing as a European anti-Americanism as described in this article. A lot of people are critical with America's foreign policy, but this is not automatically anti-Americanism. Believing that critical voices are against the US is the same over-simplification as in Bush's "either for them or for us" rhetorics.
posted by arf at 12:00 PM on September 23, 2001


Whose side are you really on?

What an asinine self righteous question.

The most frightening tendency in the aftermath of the WTC-attacks - as illustrated in the Bryan Appleyard article - is the tendency to paint everything in black and white - Good vs. evil. If it did not have such an ominous range of consequences I would be laughing through my tears.

No one - least of all the people of the free world - can hold any interest in playing down the complexity at work in the attack and especially in the reactions to it. Reacting to the attack by denying any and all possible explanations - how horrid they may be - will only serve those that want to act on their warmongering instinct.

It can be compared to turning of the light instead of on when you want to kill the freaking mosquito that just drew your blood. Your attack will not have any positive outcome - except from the point of view of the mosquito.
posted by FidelDonson at 12:02 PM on September 23, 2001


Arf,

You're simply wrong. There really were European anti-Americans who, during the Cold War, said that United States and the Soviet Union were morally equivalent. There are people on the British left who say that we deserved what happened. Read the Guardian -- several of their articles typify what I mean (though not all).
posted by Cranky Kong at 12:06 PM on September 23, 2001


we've got to take a clear-eyed look at our own policies in the Middle East and around the world -- Zettai

Agreed.

This article's main thrust, that America has done a lot of good in the past 100 years, is pretty close to indisputable. Does anyone dispute it?

I humbly request that anyone who simply wishes to agree with Zettai's point simply say they agree. We've made mistakes; we should now try and correct them.

If you think there is a further point that needs to be made, something along the lines of "America should somehow be punished for its errors", or "America owes the world an apology for the Current Situation", please say so explicitly. Then you must explain WHY THE FUCK YOU THINK SO. That is, why do you think this was the result not of mistakes we made, but some deliberate, hurtful actions on our part?

I mean, does anyone really think we deliberately oppressed Muslims? We would owe an apology for that. But for just defending our national interests and our allies? Isn't that what we have national governments for in the first place? (NB: BOTH our recent interventions in Eastern Europe were against Christian regimes and on behalf of oppressed Muslim communities.)

Sorry for shouting.
posted by mattpfeff at 12:21 PM on September 23, 2001


This article's main thrust, that America has done a lot of good in the past 100 years, is pretty close to indisputable. Does anyone dispute it?

I humbly request that anyone who simply wishes to agree with Zettai's point simply say they agree.


I simply say I agree.

But I agree no less with:

We've made mistakes; we should now try and correct them.

It's this second admission - and the fundamentally American cultural attitude it represents - that makes me agree so wholeheartedly with mattpfeff.

(With an extra SHOUT for solidarity).
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:29 PM on September 23, 2001


"Whose side are you really on?"

What an asinine self righteous question


Hardly. It's the most important question of the day, one which every nation in the world needs to address.

Are you on the side of the real oppressors, the admitted mass-murderers? The inhuman scum who are hardly deserving of existance?

Or are you with America?

I know where I fall.
posted by tomorama at 12:50 PM on September 23, 2001


holgate,

The last thing Americans need is to hear how we are morally transgressive compared to Europeans. We Americans really need a lecture from the continent that slaughtered what, about 80 million, over 100 years. Don't make me laugh. You have no legs to stand on. You blew them off in WWI and WWII. We don't START wars, that's Europe's job. We just FINISH them.

Do you think my Grandparents owed anything to your's? Why did they make sacrifices and lose loved ones to ensure that you have the freedoms that you enjoy today? So you could sit back and equivocate away any bit of goodness and decency in their actions? I would tell them today not to bother.

The reality is that Europe has never been able to go very long without starting a continent wide war. The only reason you haven't done so since WWII is that we built better toys and we won't let you play with them.
posted by prodigal at 12:54 PM on September 23, 2001


Cranky Kong, I said criticising the American government (justified or not) is not automatically anti-Americanism. Don't fall for these "good vs. evil" rhetorics. The world is not that simple.
posted by arf at 12:55 PM on September 23, 2001


From Christopher Hitchens http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20011008&s=hitchens:

In one form or another, the people who leveled the World Trade Center are the same people who threw acid in the faces of unveiled women in Kabul and Karachi, who maimed and eviscerated two of the translators of The Satanic Verses and who machine-gunned architectural tourists at Luxor. Even as we worry what they may intend for our society, we can see very plainly what they have in mind for their own: a bleak and sterile theocracy enforced by advanced techniques....

I was apprehensive from the first moment about the sort of masochistic e-mail traffic that might start circulating from the Chomsky-Zinn-Finkelstein quarter, and I was not to be disappointed.... The people of Gaza live under curfew and humiliation and expropriation. This is notorious. Very well: Does anyone suppose that an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza would have forestalled the slaughter in Manhattan? It would take a moral cretin to suggest anything of the sort; the cadres of the new jihad make it very apparent that their quarrel is with Judaism and secularism on principle, not with (or not just with) Zionism. They regard the Saudi regime not as the extreme authoritarian theocracy that it is, but as something too soft and lenient. The Taliban forces viciously persecute the Shiite minority in Afghanistan. The Muslim fanatics in Indonesia try to extirpate the infidel minorities there; civil society in Algeria is barely breathing after the fundamentalist assault.... The bombers of Manhattan represent fascism with an Islamic face, and there's no point in any euphemism about it. What they abominate about "the West," to put it in a phrase, is not what Western liberals don't like and can't defend about their own system, but what they do like about it and must defend: its emancipated women, its scientific inquiry, its separation of religion from the state...
posted by delong at 1:02 PM on September 23, 2001


Definitely not my favourite article in the Sunday Times this week, and in my opinion Bryan Appleyard is one of the newspaper's least impressive minds. Instead John Humphrys' opinion piece is excellent and this article on the FBI investigations is extremely informative.

It seems like we could argue all day over whether or not America's foreign policy has in the past been wrong. But seeing as we are now all focused on America's next move, let's unite to ensure that any future military or embargo response in Afghanistan is measured and with no injustices or human rights abuses coming as a result.

Could anyone here stand up and say that they honestly would like to see the deaths of Afghani innocents? Even when they themselves had no hand in or support for the terrorist attacks or indeed their country's leadership?
posted by skylar at 1:52 PM on September 23, 2001


John Humphrys' opinion piece is excellent

Thank you for recommending this. It speaks to the relevant issues far more intelligently.
posted by mattpfeff at 2:14 PM on September 23, 2001


Skylar, I accept as inevitable that more innocents here and elsewhere will die. Given a choice between killing Afghani innocents and failing to reduce the forces which oppose us so that they can attack us again, then I am sorry but the Afghani innocents must die.

It's not that they are going to be deliberate targets, just that in war it is impossible to avoid hurting and killing them. If the only way we can avoid doing so is to lose the war, then it's too bad. (For them.)

I don't want to see them die. But I don't consider that to be the paramount issue; it is secondary compared to other bigger things. It is evil but not the greatest evil; it is an evil I accept, because the alternative is worse. I don't know of anyone who actually wants the US to go in and slaughter every Afghani, but I refuse to consider the idea that the US should tailor its strategy with the primary goal of completely and totally avoiding killing innocents. To do that would be to cede the war to our enemies right now. (At the most extreme, this would permit our enemies to protect any target just by piling civilians on top of it, as the Iraqis did once during the Gulf War. That didn't stop us that time, either -- the bunker in question was destroyed anyway.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 2:15 PM on September 23, 2001


Ah, Steven, you brought up a comparison with the Gulf War. I don't want to concentrate on the past nor of course to pretend that because of the past America somehow deserves the WTC disaster. That would be madness. But looking to the future, what do I fear? I fear a Gulf War Mark II.

A war in which the US decided neither to kill nor depose the apparent 'enemy' (Saddam Hussein). A war as a result of which hundreds of thousands of completely innocent people, many of whom did not support their dictator leader, died - mostly thanks to embargoes and the effect of radioactive poisoning from the depleted uranium missiles we used. 4,000 children a month die in Iraq as the sanctions continue, an issue which has caused at least three senior UN figures, including two assistant secretary-generals, to resign. I could go on and on but that's for another thread.

The point being that as the Gulf War commenced, George Bush (the first one) said that the Iraqi people were not the ones being targeted. They weren't the ones at fault. Have you heard that phrase being used recently about the Afghanis? And yet the Iraqi people have suffered, enormously, beyond all sense, beyond the logic of even important UN officials. This must not be allowed to happen again in Afghanistan under any pretext, certainly not your claim that casualties are 'inevitable' if America doesn't want to 'lose the war'.
posted by skylar at 2:54 PM on September 23, 2001


just a heads up from the guardian article skallas posted below (seeing as it looks like "America's next move" is happening now):

An administration official in America said that the President would soon sign an executive order naming terrorist organisations and specific terrorists around the world and freezing their US assets. Oxfam said yesterday that Afghanistan was facing a humanitarian crisis as refugees fled south and north to try to escape any military attacks.

The charity had ordered a 15,000 tonne emergency shipment of food to Uzbekistan and was trying to move emergency food into Afghanistan, where millions of people are threatened with starvation. 'Afghanistan hasn't been totally shut off. Why is the world waiting? There is no need to wait. Aid can be got in now,' said Alex Renton, an Oxfam spokesman.
posted by kliuless at 3:03 PM on September 23, 2001


We Americans really need a lecture from the continent that slaughtered what, about 80 million, over 100 years.

Two words: Native. Americans.

And frankly, I'm happy to acknowledge the sacrifice of US troops in two world wars, but it would help if Hollywood, the American media, and Tom Brokaw acknowledged that there were other people on their side. It's not just "us" and "them", especially if the usual elision is made between "us" and "U.S.".
posted by holgate at 4:12 PM on September 23, 2001


I read this today and was amazed. I thought it was about time someone made the kind of argument Appleyard is making but the way he went about it was ridiculous. There are 30 US universities where the brightest in the UK couldn't compete? Really? I don't think he did his homework. But Appleyard's proved himself to be a muddled thinker in the past, especially with his religious arguments.

And as for the argument about Europe being responsible for the slaughter of 80 million, prodigal, you can't just go round treating Europe as one political entity. I as a UK citizen am no more responsible for nazism than an American.
posted by Summer at 4:41 PM on September 23, 2001


I'm sure the presence of female soldiers made for a good rhetorical rallying point for Islamic extremists, but I don't see them waging war against us for that-- that's like saying we joined WWII because we thought Hitler was an asshole. It conflates the inciting propaganda with the real political motivations.

According to an article I read this week in the New York Times, Islamic fundamentalists consider Saddam Hussein one of the corrupted, Westernized moderates in spite of his saber rattling against the U.S. Some Palestinean extremists also believe that Osama bin Laden has turned a deaf ear to their struggle.

I think it's entirely possible that bin Laden, a native Saudi, would be more outraged by the presence of female U.S. soldiers in Saudi Arabia -- home to two of Islam's holiest places -- than at the Gulf War or subsequent embargo. Liberals in the U.S. and elsewhere are too quick to think that the Islamist nutjobs have anything in common with Western critics of this country.
posted by rcade at 8:15 PM on September 23, 2001


I'm torn. I really want to say something here, I'm not sure what. On a gut level, I liked hearing Appleyard's statements, despite their simplistic tone - maybe it's a bit soothing after having the raw unpleasantness of having others suggest (however circuitously) it was our (the U.S.) fault or that we deserved it.

It just feels awful, no matter how culpable we may or may not be, to be punched in the gut and immediately have a bystander say "well, you had it coming".
posted by kokogiak at 8:55 PM on September 23, 2001


Oh, and by the way, I don't know many Europeans, maybe a dozen or so, but I have yet to meet one who hated or even disliked America. I suppose the hatred is there, but does it exist far outside the armchair crowd?

The closest thing I'd ever seen to such dislike was while watching a 3-part show on BBC several years back that had the titles "Dumb America" "Fat America" and some other disparaging title. I saw it when in London, and was amazed at the howling laughter it got there. Of course, I also had a hard time telling why the French were so funny/satire-worthy to Brits in general. (And it must be said I think the Brits are even more savage with their own countrymen).
posted by kokogiak at 9:02 PM on September 23, 2001


I experienced anti-Americanism myself during my travels in Europe.

I won't say it went so far as people hurtling bottles at me in the street or any such nonsense. It was a far more basic kind of dislike for people of my country.

While in Spain, a group of about five of us, at the time ranging in age from 18-25, were out on tours and had the opportunity to speak with some of the "locals." We were all neat, polite, intelligent, and well-versed in the local language although obviously not native speakers. When people would ask us where we were from, we would answer "America" to general shock and/or disbelief. More than once we were thought to be British. We were often answered by comments in the line of "You can't be Americans. You're too (polite, quiet, nice, well-spoken, etc.) to be Americans."

I'm sure in conversation with these folks they wouldn't espouse any hatred for my homeland. But their preconceived notions about what an American should be -- loud, obnoxious, stupid, rude -- are nonetheless inappropriate. If I were to say that the article we have read and are responding to could not have been written by a black man because it was (too well researched, too educated, at too high of a vocabulary level, etc.) I would be branded a bigot for sure. Why is one type of stereotype about a group of people appropriate while another is not?

And just to be clear, I am not saying that the people who made such ignorant comments at myself and my compatriots are representative of all Europeans or even the majority. I'm just saying that contrary to some of the viewpoints presented here, it's out there.
posted by chlumani at 10:10 PM on September 23, 2001


Arf,

Clearly one can criticize the actions of the American government without being anti-American. But you went so far as to claim that there is no crude anti-American of the kind described in the article. Even criticism of the American government can be so crude that it can safely be characterized as anti-Americanism.

Consider this example.
posted by Cranky Kong at 1:00 AM on September 24, 2001


skylar, thanks for the link to the Humphreys piece. I think he addresses a delicate point very lucidly. Many of the writers espousing caution and restraint in dealing with Bin Laden and Afghanistan have no sense of when they cross the line from intelligent questioning of motives, alliances, history and repercussions, to anti-Americanism full of self-loathing, insecurity and fear. When they cross they line, 90% of their audience goes away. (The same extremism is evident on the right, of course, but the country is definitely in the mood to hear that kind of rhetoric.)
posted by JParker at 1:18 AM on September 24, 2001


Many of the writers espousing caution and restraint in dealing with Bin Laden and Afghanistan have no sense of when they cross the line from intelligent questioning of motives, alliances, history and repercussions, to anti-Americanism full of self-loathing, insecurity and fear.

I suspect that's because such a line exists very much in the line of the individual reader.

Anyway, I was thinking about this last night, while of all things watching a recording of the Mets/Braves game. And a good analogy is sports stars. Some are like Al Leiter, who works hard to make the most of his natural talent, and gives a huge amount of his time and money to help in the community. Some are like John Rocker: that is, naturally talented, hard-working assholes. To make things tricky, the US is, in terms of its actions on the world stage, both of these things, often at the same time. That's why everyone's wrestling with ambivalence here.
posted by holgate at 3:47 AM on September 24, 2001


chlumani, your comment is very upsetting. How dare you go upsetting those poor Europeans' simplistic worldview? And, how did you pass through customs without picking up your complimentary guidebook, "How to Act Like a True American"?

It's people like you that make discrimination and rash generalizations so hard to get right, dammit.
posted by mattpfeff at 11:26 AM on September 24, 2001


Maybe the Europeans that chlumani encountered had met many obnoxious groups of Americans before meeting the Chlumani group.

"their preconceived notions about what an American should be -- loud, obnoxious, stupid, rude -- are nonetheless inappropriate"

I grew up in a town that was entirely dependent on tourism. I've met a lot of American tourists. Some were great. Many were loud, obnoxious, stupid, rude and behaved inappropriately.
posted by websavvy at 12:03 PM on September 24, 2001


jah, no, agreed -- most American tourists are pretty obnoxious. I remember being in Budapest this spring, on a crowded street, and I turned to look at a group of people a quarter of a block away, wondering what all the commotion was about, and sure enough they were (fellow) Americans.

But I still think Europeans deserve some ribbing for the generalization....
posted by mattpfeff at 12:09 PM on September 24, 2001


The whole anti-American thing reminds me of the scene from Life or Brian...you know the one.... "What have the Romans done for US anyway???" someone cries defiantly. "The aqueducts?" another tenders, sheepishly "Yes, but besides the aqueducts?" "Sanitation" "Yes, but…" "Education" "The roads" "Yes, but besides, aqueducts, sanitation, education, the road, what HAVE the Romans done for us."
posted by pbeaul00 at 12:46 PM on September 24, 2001


I grew up in an American town frequented by many European tourists. Most of them were very well-mannered, kind, dressed well, and generally were not upsetting the town's balance very much. However they were terrible tippers. Say what you want about Americans; they are generally friends to waiters and hotel staff.
posted by cell divide at 1:06 PM on September 24, 2001


Tipping customs in Europe are different -- 10 percent (for a meal) is considered very generous. I think their waitstaff have higher base salaries, though....
posted by mattpfeff at 1:12 PM on September 24, 2001


We Americans really need a lecture from the continent that slaughtered what, about 80 million, over 100 years.

Two words: Native. Americans.


We only killed the ones you Brits didn't. And then there's Africa, and India. In fact, the US only got involved in the Middle East because the British mucked it up so bad that no one would trust you anymore. This is absurd. Another example of Metafilter navel gazing. Do any of you US haters have a proactive course you would recommend? Or is it another case of lefty nay-saying without an alternative? Question rhetorical of course; the answer is self evident.
posted by norm at 9:33 PM on September 24, 2001


Tourists: every nation produces horrible tourists. People go insane as soon as they go abroad. Normally well-behaved French children become kleptomaniacs, subdued Italian girls become screeching harridans, polite American boys gather in groups and shout about the how crap the local food/transport/women are and British people just generally dither about getting in the way. Tourists are the problem, not the countries they come from.
posted by Summer at 9:36 AM on September 25, 2001


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