Anti-Anti-Americanism

Martin Griffiths, Flinders University

Ellen Ray and William H. Schaap (eds) Bioterror: Manufacturing Wars The American Way, Ocean Press, 2003 (80 pp). ISBN 1-87617-564-8 (paperback) RRP $14.95.

Richard Neville Amerika Psycho: Behind Uncle Sam’s Mask of Sanity, Melbourne, Ocean Press, 2003 (126 pp). ISBN 1-87617-562-1 (paperback) RRP $18.95.

Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies Why Do People Hate America?, Crows Nest NSW, Allen & Unwin, 2002 (231 pp). ISBN 1-8404-6383-X (paperback) RRP $21.00.

Mark Hertsgaard The Eagle’s Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates The World, Crows Nest NSW, Allen & Unwin, 2002 (244 pp). ISBN 1-86508-935-4 (paperback) RRP $22.95.

It’s hard to define anti-Americanism. The term is composed of two words, the first meaning ‘against’ and the second, well, therein lies the problem. If one could identify a movement, ideology or even a vague set of beliefs to bring some order to the term ‘Americanism’, then it would be relatively easy to identify its opposite. In their absence, defining anti-Americanism is a difficult exercise. Nonetheless, the term is part of our vocabulary and we need to have some way of grasping its meaning and significance in the highly charged debates that surround the role of the United States in the world.

Rather than define the term by its substance, a better way to proceed is to think of anti-Americanism as a way of thinking about the United States that a) refuses to be deterred in its judgement by doubt or the acknowledgement of complexity, and b) subscribes to what Brian Fawcett (in his reflections on Noam Chomsky) calls ‘a Standard Total View (STV) of the United States as a demonic purveyor of more or less total evil’ (1991, p. 175). In other words, no matter what aspect of the United States or its foreign policy is under discussion, you know you are in the presence of an anti-American when you detect the Dogmatic Standard Total View (DSTV) in operation. Thus mere opposition to American policies and attitudes is not sufficient to constitute anti-Americanism. Moreover, anti-Americanism can be motivated by completely opposed points of view: for example, dislike of America because it is ‘overly religious’, or because it is ‘overly secular’. In short, anti-Americanism is a disposition rather than a substantive set of beliefs or arguments.

Two of the books under review should be compulsory reading for every anti-American in search of raw material and support. Ellen Ray and William Schaap have put together a collection of brief articles that according to the blurb on the back cover ‘proves that the United States has been the most notorious practitioner of chemical and biological warfare since blankets laced with smallpox were given to Native Americans 250 years ago’. To prove something is to show by evidence and/or argument that something is true. To be notorious means to be known widely and unfavourably. Whatever else this book does, it does not prove that the United States is notorious for engaging in chemical and biological warfare, let alone that it is the most notorious country in this regard. Nor could the editors prove any such thing, since there is no comparative analysis of any other country in the book. Instead, the book simply shows that, yes, the United States has conducted extensive research into chemical and biological weapons, and has on occasion used them, most ‘notoriously’ during the Vietnam War. On closer examination, there is one chapter that looks at a country other than the United States (the possible use of such weapons in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe in the late 1970s) but the only link to the United States is in the form of a mysterious U.S. army biological researcher who may or may not have had links with the regime of Ian Smith. Since each article is only a few pages in length, the book suggests or implies more than it delivers, but of course that is all that anti-Americans need to fuel their disposition.

Anti-Americanism is the product of a relationship between a target (‘America’) and its critics (anti-Americans).

If Ray, Schaap, and their contributors gesture towards proof in the form of footnotes, Richard Neville’s Amerika Psycho dispenses with even a gesture. Claiming that he ‘loves America’ whilst simultaneously hating it (p. 3), Neville has produced a series of reflections about the environment, the S11 attacks on the World Trade Centre, George Bush’s response in the form of the war on terror, and much else besides. What links these pieces together is Neville’s preoccupation with alleged American greed and selfishness. It is not difficult to find statistics to back up his views, since it is a well-known fact that less than five per cent of the world’s population within the United States does use a disproportionately massive amount of the world’s resources; and also creates at least one quarter of the world’s pollution. Similar facts are liberally used throughout the book to support Neville’s accusations that American popular culture is superficial and U.S. foreign policy is hypocritical (it supports some bad guys while bombing others, all in the name of freedom). Whatever Neville claims to love about America is hard to find, although some clues may be found in his unrelenting utopianism, a disposition that he shares with many of his targets. As with so many anti-Americans, Neville holds the United States to a standard that he would not even begin to apply to most other countries. He compares the United States with a vague post-material utopia and finds it lacking, a method of analysis that almost guarantees the conclusions he reaches.

Anti-Americanism must be understood as the product of a relationship between a target (‘America’) and its critics (anti-Americans). Ziauddin Sardar, Merryl Wyn Davies, and Mark Hertsgaard have done a good job in explaining what it is about the target that makes possible the critics. Why Do People Hate America? and The Eagle’s Shadow are very similar books from which one can distill the following characteristics of the target.

First, Americans are parochial. They belong to the most powerful state in the world, yet they know little about the world they dominate. In poll after poll, young Americans find it difficult to locate other countries on a map, few speak a foreign language, and the educational system is weak in the teaching of world history.

Second, the foreign policy of the United States is accompanied by a rhetoric of freedom, human rights, and democracy that it does little to promote in practice. Global inequality is growing, both within and between countries, feeding the resentment of the have-nots against the power and wealth increasingly concentrated in the United States. The United States promotes a neoliberal economic orthodoxy abroad that denies billions of people the opportunity to pursue the American dream that accompanies the aggressive export of its popular culture on television and in Hollywood movies.

Third, in addition to its parochialism, the United States is increasingly arrogant and unilateral in its foreign policy, disregarding international organisations such as the United Nations, international law in its attack on Iraq, and its obligations to clean up the global environment. The institutions for managing the global economy (such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation, and the World Bank) are being transformed into tools for the promotion and maintenance of American hegemony.

Fourth, the United States is increasingly using its armed forces to project its ‘hard power’ overseas. Since its military power is the one dimension of its superiority that dwarfs all others, there is a temptation to resort to precipitate military action at the expense of more complex but perhaps more effective instruments of foreign policy, including diplomacy and international law. In its war on terror, the United States has selectively unleashed its military machine (on which it spends more money than virtually the rest of the world combined) against states that it unilaterally decides are members of the ‘axis of evil’.

It is perfectly possible to endorse the criticisms and yet be ‘pro-American’.

One could add further items to the list, but these four characteristics of the target are its main flaws in the eyes of its critics. The problem is that if anti-Americanism involves a relationship between a target and its critics, merely dwelling on the former tells us nothing about why some of the latter are anti-American and others merely critics. It is perfectly possible to endorse the criticisms and yet be ‘pro-American’. As Michael Walzer has shown (2002), the most effective form of social criticism engages with its target’s own proclaimed values, drawing our attention to the gap between ideals and practice, and examining ways to close that gap. Something else is at work in the mind of the anti-American.

There are books that examine the emotive and pathological impulse to hate America from the other side of the fence, so to speak (Flynn 2002, Hollander 1995). They explain anti-Americanism as the product of many factors, but two in particular are worth noting. The first is that anti-Americanism is a kind of religion for those who hate religion. It appeals to those on the far left of the political spectrum who no longer have to defend the indefensible (the Soviet Union), and can turn their energies against the United States without ever articulating a coherent ideological project. Secondly, and this explains a good deal of anti-Americanism in countries other than the United States, it provides a convenient scapegoat for internal problems.

Unfortunately, there is no sign that anti-Americanism is on the decline. However, it is not at all clear that there is much that the United States can do to combat it. If George Bush broke off relations with Israel, withdrew American troops from Iraq (and South Korea, Japan, and other outposts in the empire), and signed the Kyoto Accords whilst simultaneously endorsing U.S. membership of the International Criminal Court, would Noam Chomsky stop writing books? I doubt it. Of course, the United States should probably do all these things in any case. It wouldn’t stop anti-Americanism, but it might just reduce Chomsky’s popularity among those in search of easy answers for the world’s problems.

REFERENCES

Fawcett, B. 1991, Unusual Circumstances, Interesting Times, New Star Books, Vancouver.

Flynn, D. 2002, Why The Left Hates America, Prima Publishing, California.

Hollander, P. 1995, Anti-Americanism: Irrational and Rational, Transaction Books, New York.

Walzer, M. 2002, The Company of Critics, Basic Books, New York.

Martin Griffiths is Senior Lecturer in International Relations in the School of Political and International Studies at Flinders University. His research interests include American foreign policy, international relations theory and globalisation. He is author of Fifty Key Thinkers in International Relations (Routledge, 1999), and co-author of International Relations: The Key Concepts (Routledge, 2002).