T Nation

The Dilemma of Being America


#1

May 25, 2004

Like most Americans I believe this is a good country, and is a lot better place to live than many other places. We are not perfect, and terrible things do happen, but we do have rules and laws to limit those unwanted events.

What makes our country so much different in my opinion is that this country was born out of frustration, pain, fear, and anger. It was built by the heart and souls of people that were not happy with where they were, and had enough faith and courage to believe they could find happiness in a new world. Because of the passion of these people and the pain they went through we now have an amazing country with what has proved to be a rather stable and dominant force in eyes of the world.

America has had men and women readily willing to give their lives to protect the freedoms that their predecessors created. We are like a sleeping giant when someone tries to take what we hold dear, much like in Pearl Harbor. Because of this there is an amazing feeling of pride that most of us share. This feeling is much like a religion in a way. We feel like we are saved from the worlds of other countries where women are oppressed, torture is common, and people don't have liberties and freedom. And much like religion we wish to spread our "way" of thinking, and share our democracy so that others can live in a free world and can pursue their individual happiness.

Unfortunately conversions of someone's lifestyles and beliefs is much like conversion of one's religions and the struggle is much the same often times resulting in violence in order to show them the path to righteousness. More people have been converted by the use of destruction and colonization than by peaceful changing of their minds.

Another side of America's personality is this overwhelming feeling that we are the "Big Brother" of the world and it is our job to take care of it. Maybe in part believing nobody else will, or that nobody else can. Or it could be as simple as political or financial reasons, which are proving to be more of the reason in recent years. No matter the reason on some levels we feel a moral obligation to helping the world. In all of our good intentions though each time; in recent decades, that we attempt this we cause ourselves more problems than we solve.

By way of having to choose sides we automatically alienate one population of people in a 2 sided conflict. We pick a political regime that we feel is the better one and we back them. The question is: who are we to choose? Well we are America and we feel we always know best. Obviously this is not always true.

So, if this school of thought has brought us nothing but troubles then what do we do? For example the aiding of Israel has probably been the single most influential political position America has made since WWII. By choosing the side of these people we alienated and offended others in the region.

I often wonder if Israel would have been left to fall to the rest of the Middle East if there would have never been such thing as a terrorist organization. It is our constant meddling in other countries affairs that have made us so hated among other cultures. Honestly I just don't feel we understand people in the Middle East, and I don't believe they understand us.

On the other hand I ponder what would happen if we would not interfere any longer. What if we suddenly changed our foreign policies and proclaimed to the world that they can take care of their own problems. They can express their own political agendas and we will not pass judgment.

Would this now be morally wrong? Do we have an obligation of some sort to help, or should we just stand back and watch while countless people die under dictatorships, people live without basic rights, and the only way to make change is to overthrow the leaders?

In some ways America is much like an adult at a public playground with their kids. They look over and see that a fight has broken out between children that they have never seen before, and it seems there is nobody else around to stop it. As responsible adults we have to pose the question to ourselves and in the end determine if we should interfere because it seems morally right, or if we should just stay out of it because it is not our problem. The dilemma of America is much the same question only on a greater scale.

The biggest obstacle we have in installing our way of thinking in a country like Iraq is that the struggle for change has not come from within the country. It is not the Iraqi people deciding that they need change, and then coming up with a plan on how to do it. It is us giving them a template of what we used, and saying "trust us it will work". The majority of the people in the country do not want a system like ours.

We feel religion is separate from government, theirs is more intertwined. We are free to practice whatever religion we wish until it crosses over governmental laws, their religion is the law. We just have two distinct differences in the way we feel governments should be run, and with the majority of their people being on the side of religious rule our system may fizzle away after a short time of being installed.

I wonder if Iraq should just divide up into the dominant religious groups and let them each rule themselves, or will one central government work. I am very skeptical that after the first elections are held, the government will hold any resemblance to the people that were put together in the interim government, or that their democracy will be anything like ours after a couple years running.

I am not a journalist, a politician, or member of the government in any way. I am just an average American that is tired of being force fed the government terd shakes all my life and then being told they taste good. There is a good chance I will offend a lot of people, but that is better than this watered down, pathetic way of conducting life known as political correctness. I just hope this gives people a different way of looking at things, and maybe one day help to put an end to the blinders that people put over our eyes.

Dan


#2

Interesting post.

I guess it's where you decide to draw the line. What if one of those kids in that hypothetical fight up above drew a knife? Wouldn't you say to yourself: "Oh this is getting out of hand, now. Holy crap!" It is a fact that the middle east has been a place of conflict for centuries. It would take a force of incredible might, determination, and focus to put an end to the violence there. You know... somebody like us.

This line of thinking has its holes. So you think that the Iraqi people WANT to be poverty-stricken? They want to be dominated by those who care very little for their personal welfare? Common sense would have us answering these questions "no". Unless there is a way for the citizenry to have a voice in their destiny, to actually have some freedom to control some of what happens to them as a nation, then they will continue to be dominated, whether by a secular dictator, or an oligarchy of uncompromising religious leaders. I say we give them a taste of that freedom, and then they will find out if our template is so bad or not. Hey, maybe I'm wrong... maybe the Iraqis actually do want to live in squalor and fear.

Maybe we should let that one kid knife the other one in the gut, and let history judge us. I am proud of us that we did not turn away this time. I would hate to look back and think "Man, we should have DONE SOMETHING. Why didn't we? Were we scared?"

I'm sorry you feel this way. At least admit that if you had written this essay to a newspaper in many other countries, you would suffer consequences for it. You don't have to drink those "terd shakes" if you don't want to, pal. That's called being free.


#3

In practise, I am under the impression, and this is only an impression, that when wealthy countries intervene and help poorer countries, they also tend to do things like take control of their financial institutions, take ownership or control of many of their key industries, and basically permanently play an important part in the future of ownership, foreign policy, industry, economic policy, and so forth so that the now "free and democratic" nation in fact winds up, essentially, a colony to be exploited by rich foreign powers for their own benefit.


#4

I'm hearing you John, but is that what is happening here? If not, why assume that it will? I can't remember the last time that we as a nation said, "Ya know what this world needs? Another United States colony!! Go get 'em!!" And then we subjugated the populace and turned them into little robots which feed our economic slavetrain. Yeah, that's us.


#5

The Germans and the Japanese seemed to turn out just fine under American "colonialism," to the point where there were legitimate fears about Japan overtaking us barely a decade ago. Some imperialism.


#6

Nice replys, there are a lot of blury lines here. I don't think Iraq people wanted to be dominated, but I think there is a difference between not wanting, and being willing to die to fix it. America was born out of that willingness, Although the tyrant in charge was not the same. England at least had some class and some sence of decency, Saddam was pure evil in a tight fitting army suit.


#7

Yeah, but these guys wanted to be in charge of everything, if you look at other countries that just wanted to be in charge of themselves only, there we always have worse luck. Can you say Viet Nam, we came, we medled, we accomplished almost nothing.

It is so hard to know when to get involved, I just notice we tend to open a can of worms each time. I do think a lot of times that we are doing what we feel is right.


#8

GDollars37,

Germany and Japan had histories of being organised nationstates before they went berserk. The German Kaiserreich (1871-1918) and the Weimar Republik (1919-1933), as well as Meiji-Japan (1868-1912) and Taisho-Japan (1912-1926) had established civil laws, relative peace and modern structures, before they turned fascist for some time. Having been freed by the allies, they received preferential treatment (McArthur's support of Japan), infrastructural help (Marshall Plan) and a chance to restore many values held before. It was within the western block's interest to bolster them pretty quickly against the communist block. No wonder there was not much resistance against that kind of "occupation".

Iraq is the result of a UK intervention, an artificial state founded 1920, until 1958 factually a british colony which in 1963 due to a externally supported coup turned into a military regime, with a Saddam in power since 1979. It has not had a unified cultural and stabile legal system. Its religious and moral values stand in stark contrast to the ones of its current "saviours". I really see many differences here as Germany and Japan were back in the day basically on common ground with the US. Iraq was not.

If you defined "imperialism" only as a forceful takeover of a less developed country, introducing new values and a foreign political, social and economic system, one might argue that this is happening in Iraq. I wouldn't say that though, as imperialism also includes a willingness to milk a country of its resources and crush any resistance against that. I don't think that this is the US's intention.

Makkun


#9

Because, of course, the US worshipped its God-emperor, believed in mass suicide attacks in defense of the homeland, felt an almost astonishingly intense racism for all non-Americans, had an alien and mysterious Oriental religion, spoke a language totally foreign to its occupiers, had a recent history of killing or driving away non-Americans who came to their shores as the US was so fiercely isolationist, held its soldiers up to be heroic knights as the US raped its way across the neighboring nations, and had to be almost completely destroyed via bombs and atomics and to have millions killed before becoming a democracy.

Our conquerors still have bases here 60 years later, although oddly enough they don't tell us what to do! We've even become strong allies and from the ashes of empire our conquerors have spent hundreds of billions of dollars rebuilding our shattered country, protecting us, and not interfering in our affairs.

Oops! I'm sorry! That's right! After failing to unify the American States via the ballot box, a brilliant Virginian statesman unified the USA via a series of crafty and bloody wars culminating in the crushing of France in 1871 (there was no USA before that, we just pretend that our country has been there forever as a way to sneer at "younger" nations like France [1946]).

During several decades of nervously guarded Continental peace under a Caesar and his General Staff we raped our way across, well, wherever was too weak to keep us out. We allowed men to vote for representatives in our House, but reserved all real power to our unelected Senate and the Caesar. We managed to help start a war which led to the death of millions. Having lost this war, we gave democracy a chance. The people who had beat us in the last war, far from moving in and helping us, imposed a punitive treaty and ignored our distress. Our government wasn't particulary stable and all kinds of whackos tried to seize control of it, and the public generally derided it.

We tried to let everyone vote, but found that too hard, so we soon elected a Leader who seized power with our tacit consent, who allowed voting just like King Henry VIII did. We then went along and opened up another war, which ended up killing millions of our own citizens and untold millions of citizens of other nations. We were absolutely smashed into submission -- our cities destroyed, our Leader and his cronies dead, and a second generation of men crippled or killed. Our conquerors then forced us to embrace democracy and universal sufferage (except, of course, non-Americans like Turks and other undesirables.)

They then spent billions of dollars helping us rebuild, spent hundreds of billions of dollars protecting us from aggressors without further interfering in our affairs of state or asking for repayment. They still maintain military bases on our soil and we feel perfectly free to stab them in the back whenever it's convenient (politcally of course, we don't maintain our OWN capable military, why would we want to pay for that when we could have free checkups instead?), but then launch an absolute shit-fit if they threaten to take their troops away, because we'll be damned if we're going to pay for our own defense.

Ooops! Shit... That was Japan and Germany. With a combined FOURTEEN YEARS experience (Weimar Republic) with a democratic government that any American, Brit, Canadian, modern day french"man", modern German, even a modern Russian, Greek, or Mexican would have recognized before the war.

I think the Iraqis actually have about a comparable familiarity with representatitive government as Germany had, and certainly more than the Japanese. So while democracy might not work, as you always say, it's just as likely to fail from the craven opposition to Iraqi democracy in Old Europe as it is from some kind of insurmountable cultural or historical barrier to self-governance.


#10

Cream,

Thanks for typing that response. You did what I don't have the strength to repeat.

I guess if you say, "Germany and Japan are not comparable to Iraq" 8,000,000 times, then some people believe it.

Or you could read some books and become an informed citizen.

I am the latter.

Oh, saddam=hitler.

I love you, Makkun!!!!

JeffR


#11

Makkun,

By the way, the Icelandic Nation and the Canary Islands had more of a Democratic tradition than Japan pre-1945.

JeffR


#12

The analogy about kids at the playground and us being parents, is fairly accurate. The worst part is that when we step in to stop the other kids from fighting, we're not realizing how badly our very own kids are behaving. Meaning we sometimes step over our own to help others. Kind of backwards.


#13

Cream,

Quite a deluge. A bit weird though. The rethorics aside, I guess you tried to make the point that there are no similarities between Germany and Japan and the situation in Iraq. And - that is exactly the point I tried to make as well. Thanks for agreeing. :wink:

The only thing I tried to convey is that Germany and Japan were developed nations (on par with the US), before being subjected to US "imperialism" as GDollars pointed out (which under the definition given in my earlier post is no imperialism). Iraq was not. Are you really sure you disagree with that? Because for once I thought I'd speak out against that "imperialism" argument, and you really seem not to have gotten that point...

Right. Could you, just to humour me, use a reasonable argument as to how?

But let's talk about the Meiji-Constitution a bit, because it shows interesting features:

"The Constitution of the Empire of Japan, more commonly known as the Imperial or Meiji Constitution, was the fundamental law of the Empire of Japan from 1889 until 1947. Enacted as part of the Meiji Renewal, it provided for a form of constitutional monarchy based on the Prussian model in which the Emperor of Japan was an active ruler and wielded considerable political power, but shared this with an elected diet. In 1947, following Japan's defeat and occupation at the end of the Second World War, the Meiji Constitution was replaced by a new document, called simply the 'Constitution of Japan', which attempted to replace the imperial system with a form of Western-style liberal democracy." http://wikisource.org/wiki/The_Constitution_of_the_Empire_of_Japan

Short history lesson:
From 1854, after more than 200 years of isolation (a measure against western/catholic christian missionary activities), the US started to push Japan towards opening up its markets (look up Cpt. Perry and his fleet of black ships) Japan started actively rebuilding its society into a modern nation state, in order to be able to compete with the then ruling nations. For this, it sent out missions to the "West" in order to integrate what it deemed useful for that purpose. And here we go - Prussian constitution, German civil law... and that decades before the shit hit the fan in the 1930s. Not that the two countries were great democracies (off course they were not), but they were organised, modern nation states with representative features.

Now that we have established these facts (any book on Japanese history and its cultural contacts to the West will help you understand that better): As for similarities, I would say that is a lot, and it supports my point that Germany and Japan were developed nations well before the necessary allied intervention. If you would like to prove a similarity for the case of Iraq, I would be happy to discuss that with you. But you would have to come up with facts and sources, instead of satire.

Wakatta?

Never said the first, never the latter (must have been another makkun posting this), so I can't really comment.

Again - as you did not seem to get my first point: My argument was that the alleged "imperialism" put upon Germany and Japan after WW2 fell on a different ground (organised, relatively stabile and for the time modern nation states with basic democratic institutions) than it does in Iraq. That's all.

As you didn't seem to get it (JeffR, I am disappointed - I hoped you would), I for once defended the US policy in Iraq against the claim it was "imperialist".

Sorry guys, but I just don't seem to be able to make you guys happy - even when I for once defend the US...

Truly disappointed,
Makkun


#14

America F@#k Yeah. Comin' again to save the motherf@#king day


#15

JeffR,

Beg to differ.

Iceland:
Constitutional monarchy under the Danish kingdom (1874-1940). After that (1940-1944) british and US occupation. 66 years.

Canary Islands:
Part of Spain (since 1495). 2 years under 1st Spanish Republic. Spain: Constitutional Monarchy (1874-1931) with 7 years of dictatorship, and then Franco from 1936.
A bit sketchy, but in the span of 57 years, there are only 41 years and that under a ... constitutional monarchy.

Japan: Constitutional Monarchy under meiji constitution (1889-1947). 58 years.

Just to check the term: Constitutional Monarchy

So, if you accept constitutional monarchies as "democratic" forms of government (which you must, otherwise your whole argument falls into pieces and Spain is left in the contest with 2 years), Japan joins the club. And then it stands with its 56 years (strictly pre 1945) between Iceland (67 years) and the Canary Islands (41 years).

Oh God-substitude almighty,
I need a life. :wink:

Makkun


#16

I believe that Post WWII Japan developed its economy with an industrial policy that had a very central role of the state, and did not rely on "American principals" such as the free market.

If you read someone like Chomsky's view of how intervention with countries such as Haiti and Brazil have turned out, you get the kind of picture I'm referring to.

Or if you look at the statistics for how a deal like NAFTA has affected Mexico (purchasing power has gone down 50% for minimum wage earners) or Canada (more jobs have been lost to foreign imports than have been gained by increased exports) you start to see a picture for "who wins" when making any sort of deal with larger, more powerful countries.


#17

Exactly- I think we spend so much money, time and effort to fix everyone exept for ourselves!


#18

I liked what you had to say in your post. Our country is in a pickle having to play big brother all of the time. And, having the right wing moral agenda shoved in our faces day in and day out sucks too. G B is a complete buffoon and we know this, as are most of his supporters. The saving grace of our government is that we are privliged to have checks and balances and voting. Knowledge and will always trimph over ignorance.

I truly belive that in our lifetime a huge political shift will occurr, opening the door for free thinkers and progress. The old industrial age mentality will fall by the wayside and a new rennisance will come to life. With the advent of the informaton age, its only a matter of time. Unfortunately, were living in a time of fear right now. But until the at least l I have the right as an American to disagree with good government bullshit


#19

Funny you say this, I think both side end up with the same result but for different reasons. BG has his religion, but democrates just tend to believe they should help everyone, the result a lot of the times can end up the same.

I would be a more liberal supported if I didn't feel like government programs to help everyone no mater what would not spring up all over with them in charge. I just think doing good has got no end, and this is truth!

I think our government has too many programs that drain it and cause taxes to go up. I believe people should take care of themselves, and only get help if they really need it, the problem is with the morals of current people too many are willing to take advantage of the free ride.
That is what I personally hate about our government structure. Theoreticaly I believe in social welfare, the reality of it is that too many people are suckling on the fat tit of the nation.