how the world sees america

UK Is America's Aircraft Carrier

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“The one right thing we did was to get rid of our colonies, all of them…just as America should get rid of its colonies,” Peter Underwood says as he stocks his canal boathouse. “America runs bombing missions out of Britain” using the isle as an aircraft carrier. It's hard to see how America represents freedom anymore, says Peter.

Peter spent forty years as a journalist covering crime and politics. He had a stint running a PR consultancy specializing in crisis management for big oil. But after a heart attack Peter chose to turn his hobby -- boating up and down England's canals -- into a way of life. He now spends half his time on his boathouse and half at the pub, where “talking politics is part of the fun.” What he hears from the other “laid back” canal-goers -- and what he firmly believes -- is that an arrogant America has become a true threat to global stability.

hmspoodle.jpg
Blairs awaits Bush's landing. (Peter Brookes/Times Online)
Britain suffered from the affliction of arrogance for centuries, but eventually acquired a belief in “individual freedom for people who were not part of our culture and belief system.” America did the opposite, "getting it right in the beginning" but increasingly trying to impose its will on others, Peter says.

Peter considers himself part of the class of British people who naturally allied with America for most of their lives, especially before Vietnam, in love with the ideals of “fairness and freedom.” Now he rebuffs the nation as a closed-minded bully. “Just the very idea that the CIA has the right to run around the world, pick up people they suspect…and beat the hell out of them; that’s not American is it? That’s worse than Saddam for Christ’s sake.”

I’ve heard these sentiments many times here: America is not living up to its ideals, America is too powerful for its own good, America is a great destabilizer, who disrupted the world by invading Iraq. But what I found particularly interesting about Peter Underwood was the way in which he relayed his feelings to me. While most people I’ve spoken to have carefully distinguished between the American government and the American people -- perhaps because I’m American -- Peter instead used the pronoun “you” when speaking of America as a whole. It was slightly off-putting at the time, as he went on “your arrogance…your bullying, your refusal to acknowledge world opinion.”

I set the video aside, focusing on Blackburn’s Muslims at the time, planning to come back to it and edit later. I wasn’t sure if I had enough material from our interview either, because with most interviewees I spend several hours if not a day, but I had less than an hour with Peter.

Peter took my delay as a sign of exactly the arrogance and cowardice he attributes to America. Under email headlines like “Lack of Courage,” Peter said I was censoring myself, unable to “swallow the bitter pill” that a whole class of British citizens now resent my country; I was yet another journalist adding to the “self-delusion” of the American people.

I was a bit shocked at how suspicious he was of my intentions. Crippling voluntary censorship? About criticisms of Bush? I’ve heard far worse, and far more often, from my barber in DC. But it was interesting that he was so convinced that I, along with the "American people," would systematically refuse to listen to him, voluntarily shutting him out, and instead focusing on targeted groups that can be dismissed as representative of a “special interest group” -- Muslims, Irishmen, BMXers.

Perhaps that’s what Peter means when he describes American arrogance, an unwillingness to listen to people like him -- white, middle-class, long-time friends of America who have recently grown upset with the U.S. -- preferring instead to focus on the salable stories of extremists, protesters or pro-American bulwarks. Whether this post will assuage his suspicions or exacerbate them is yet to be seen. Once again, the comment thread awaits.

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Comments (96)

Eric Penner:

I am American and whole-heartedly agree with this fellow. America has long been headed in the wrong direction, and the world has not a shot at taking our country seriously until this regime of intolerance, religious fanaticism and poor foreign policy is eradicated. We need a new vision for America, and a new look about it. One that isn't so focused on Christianity for a country that prides itself on religious tolerance, and a country that allows other cultures to thrive both in and out of America--without letting Ameroggance get in the way.

EMH:

"The U.S. has colonies: Philippines, Puerto Rico, all U.S. territories"

The Philippines hasn't been a colony for decades. You do not know what you're talking about.

-------

Hehe... reading these hysterical posts criticising the country I adopted and gained citizenship in is amazing. The stereotype others project onto America is really a reflection of those critics' own inadequacies.

What's that quote by Tom Wolfe? "The dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe"? That perfectly sums up what I observe here: People decrying the US and ignoring much worse that's happening elsewhere in the world, while holding their own countries up as the example the US should follow. How narcisstic.

Moroccan:

As you can see, it is not just Arabs, Muslims, and Latin Americans who fear and dislike the arrogant US governmentS that have been killing people in millions since the 60s, Britons who are well read share the same feeling.

The US is just new form of Nazism: fanatical patriotism, efficient, developed, arrogant and deadly.

Only Aliens can save the world from this neo-Nazi government.

PLEASE HELP US.

Michael:

The reason most of the world sees the American people as arrogant is that the arrogant ones are the only ones voicing their opinions loud enough for politicians to listen. They proclaim to have all the answers, and the common voter believes them. Politicians placate to those with the loudest voices; earning them the most votes.

The problem I have is that most Americans simply listen to the answers they are spoon-fed, shake their head and pound their fists, and vote to elect someone rash and drastic to save them from the world’s evils. The few of us that take the time to read (and dare I say appreciate) another point of view appear to be in the minority and don’t seem to have the patience nor the desire to argue with a fool that won’t do a little research before getting up on a soapbox.

I am inclined to say the same about Mr. Peter Underwood. The information he receives and hears is what sells. Heaven forbid he learn a thing or two on his own before ripping apart my country and countrymen.

It’s funny, but I read another article in this series about passports and Americans not partaking in international travel. A frequent comment was that the only real way to learn and appreciate another culture and their views is to go there and immerse yourself. I think a little of this will go along way, in both directions across the pond.

Anonymous:

The US self appointed "Global Cop"? or is it more like a "Global Vigilante doing a drive by on a Gas station? heh?

Reminds me of Monthy Python

Oh king, eh? Very nice. An’ how’d you get that, eh? By exploitin’ the workers, by ’angin’ on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic an’ social differences in our society!

I am Arthur, king of the Britons. Whose castle is that?

WOMAN: King of the who?

ARTHUR: The Britons.

WOMAN: Who are the Britons?

ARTHUR: Well, we all are. We’re all Britons and I am your king.

ARTHUR: I am your king!

WOMAN: Well, I didn’t vote for you.

ARTHUR: You don’t vote for kings.

WOMAN: Well, ’ow did you become king then?

ARTHUR: The Lady of the Lake her arm clad in the purest, shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur That is why I am your king!

DENNIS: Listen. Strange women lyin’ in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

ARTHUR: [ Be quiet!
DENNIS: Well you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!

ARTHUR: Shut up!

DENNIS: I mean, if I went around sayin’ I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away!


ARTHUR: Shut up! Will you shut up!

DENNIS: Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system.

ARTHUR: Shut up!

DENNIS: Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I’m being repressed!


ARTHUR: Bloody peasant!

DENNIS: Oh, what a giveaway. Did you here that? Did you here that, eh? That’s what I’m on about. Did you see him repressing me? You saw it didn’t you?

s. palekar:

This has been an incredibly interesting commentary to read as I sit in the Tate Modern cafe looking out over the Millennium bridge in London and observing tourists from all over the world. I am a student from New York City, and came to London to study abroad for one year. The year is almost up, and I'm glad to go home because I've made a few disturbing observations about the British regarding Americans.

America has definitely dug itself into a hole with an unjustified war that has now provoked havoc in Iraq. As a result of our negligence, we have caused the deaths of many Iraqi civilians and widespread regional instability. I know this well since I am a Middle Eastern studies major. Nothing can justify our actions in invading Iraq, not the suspicion of WMDs nor the murder of 3,000 of my neighbors on September 11, 2001. I do believe that our foreign policy is deplorable and a personal humiliation to me, and I don't defend it when I discuss politics with my peers from all over the world at the LSE.

However, whereas I, and most of my American friends in London and in the states decry the destruction that we have caused in Iraq, I have noticed that the British, and most Europeans are sadistically self-righteous towards American tragedies. I cannot count on my hands the number of times I have met someone for the first time, told them I'm from the city of New York, only to get a response like, "What do you think of September 11th? Do you agree that America was asking for it?" Following the massacre at Virginia Tech, I encountered several times, on LSE's campus, jokes along the lines of, "Haha, studying here must be better than campuses back in the states, at least you're not getting shot right?" And there are various times when people around London overhear my accent and interrupt my conversation, unsolicited, to say, "What do you know, you voted for Bush." I might add, I was not old enough to vote in the 2004 election. These are not seldom occurences, but routine insults and bitter diatribes.

What disturbs me most about the British, and most of Western Europe, is that they not only disagree with us, but feel a sick sort of satisfaction from putting us down, or seeing us get put down. They routinely jeer at the bad things that happen in America. For example, the massacre at VT should teach America a lesson or two about gun control. September 11th was the price of our foreign policy in the Middle East.

I don't defend America, but I am sickened by Europe's views. They mourn, as we do, for the loss of Iraqi lives, and yet American lives, of soldiers and civilians who've died in domestic and terrorist tragedies, are dispensible and laughable to them. Is that liberalism? or is that hypocrisy?

Patapsco in Baltimore MD:

I lived in Germany for a bit and I was surprised by the "knee-jerk" anti-Americanism that I found. I agree that Europeans may be a little more aware of the world but in a very superficial way. Most Europeans find a single newssource that matches their political leanings and they repeat its pronouncements religiously. There is constant whining about the overarching US military/ economic world footprint; however, Europe continuously backs down from serious confrontation. I asked several German friends why doesn't Europe disband NATO and get the US out. They looked at me dumbfounded. I asked why doesn't Europe trade and invest more heavily in Cuba despite Helms-Burton. Same reaction. I asked if they were a lawyer, would they recommend that the US sign the Kyoto Protocol (of course they said yes). Then I asked if they read the treaty. Not a one did. Most Europeans forget that the NATO bombing of Kososvo did not have UN approval and thus, by their definition was an illegal war (and a very valid precedent for the US invasion of Iraq).

Now we have this missle defense "shield" that the US wants to put in place. I cannot find a single position statement anywhere in Europe (who you would assume would be against it since it provokes Russia and there are no other current ballistic missle threats). Maybe it is because western Europe wants it.

In a nutshell, the US is the big kid on the block that everyone loves to hate. Some justified; some not. Maybe when China or Russia is the top dog, there will be nostalgia for the "good ole days."

Diana:

US/UK,

Once again, thank you for your thoughtful comments. I do appreciate them. Believe it or not, you are the first person who has explained why the UK follows the US as it does.

I am not convinced it is the only motivation at play - upon arriving in London, a friend warned me that people did not care much for the US, and the attitude predated Bush. Nevertheless, the concern you described is worth heeding and will continue to be no matter what else gets mixed into US-UK dialogue. Thank you.

Best of luck to you and your family as you begin a new (or restart an old?) life in the UK. Come back and visit us sometime.

US/UK:

Diana,

There is no dispute that the British are just as bad as the Americans. You talk of scandal in Britain but you have no idea of teh half of it. You didn't grow up under Thatcher. Those who are growing up under Bush will have a similar inheritance. I lived in Michigan and I can see what is coming there as what came to my home in the mid 80's when all the manufacturing jobs went. ALL of them.

My wife is American and very politically astute so we have talked long and hard regarding both countries and their futures.
Neither of us are blinkered with patriotism and have decided the UK is the better of the two bets for our childrens long term future. My wifes experience in Britain spans years but has not harvested anything like the same results. as your summer in London. Though it should be said that her time has not been spent in London.

For me my time in America showed me many good people doing good things. Some of the best people I feel I have met so far in my 40 years have come from Michigan and Indiana.

So to the point. Why should any Brit talk about the US? Because what YOU do HAS consequences the world over. You think Iraq would have been invaded by anyone else?

The British can talk ALL they want but it amounts to little. Churchill recognised this at teh end of the second world war. If Britain was to stay a world power it had only one option. Become nuclear. It would soon have no credentials otherwise. That and link the UK's fate to the up and coming US.

For many in the UK waht teh US does and says has an impact on us as our leaders follow the Churchill plan and go along with almost everything that comes out to Washington D.C.

So when your country realy starts down the path of disaster at a swift clip yes yo uare going to hear those comments. They are comments born partly of fear. What happens to the US will happen to the UK. The UK citizens can't know about the all the democrats are doing to change the situation. All that comes out is from the governmant in power and until recently that was all republican.

I guess you had a bad experience and that is that. My time in the US has been frustrating for many reasons but I don't give up on the country or what the people can achieve. Bush has done more harm to the US than many people realise and I am not talking about foreign policy at all. th eUS economy is going to pay and pay big for having a failed businessman as their leader.

I am done. None of this is meant to insult, belittle or offend. If it has you have my deepest apology. I just feel sad when I read your blogs and feel the need to try and balance them.

JRLR:

Diana, my final question was (integrating Wainwright's last verse): "Did YOU take advantage of a world that loved you well?"

In Wainwright's context, I assume your answer to that question is "No".

It is my impression your feelings were badly hurt, Diana, and that makes me sad. I hope you realize I did not mean to add insult to injury, here. Yet however painful, people come here to speak their mind. I understand that is precisely what Amar is after: People's honest opinion on a variety of topics, in relation to the US. I can understand it is not easy to listen to what people have to say.

May I talk to you about one of Carl Jung's wisest predecessors, Chuang Tzu, for a second? That old wise man points to the case of a man who was "psychologically tired", being no longer able to tolerate seeing his own shadow, on the ground. His first reaction was to run away from it... to no avail. Thinking he was not running fast enough, he ran twice as fast... He saw his shadow still running ahead of him. In the end, exhausted, he fell to the ground and was about to die when it suddenly dawned on him: Were he to keep in the shade, his own shadow would immediately vanish.

Is it possible the time has come even for us to keep in the shade and rest there awhile, in everybody's company?

Diana:

Yes, JRLR, I did, and so did 49% of Americans in the last Presidential election. Nonetheless, many Britons prefer to characterize Americans as a homogeneous group conforming to stereotype. They do not realize how presumptuous they are when they set out to "teach" or "educate" Americans about their own country, especially without first finding out where the person they are talking to stands.

Constantly referring to one's own presumed superior level of civilization is annoying and hypocritical. Yes, Americans are involved in all the activities you mentioned, but Britons are involved in Belmarsh, cash-for-peerages, military complicity in torture and war, lining Saudi pockets through arms deals, Ecclestone, and God knows what else. Corruption in British government is hardly trivial, and Britons are as responsible for their own government as Americans are for theirs. How can Brits point to the US government's actions as proof positive of the nation's lack of civilization, and continue deeming themselves "civilized" when the British government is mired in its own scandals?

Worse, Britons expect Americans to address directly such confrontations about the US government's failings, but if an American even brings up the British government's failings, the Britons usually change the subject. Immediately.

How civilized.

JRLR:

I don't know why I repeatedly called Mr. Peter Underwood, "Mr. Underhill". My apologies to Mr. Underwood.

Any Freudian can come to the rescue?

JRLR:

As was to be expected hearing how those critical points were worded and thrown literally in your face, Amar, very many comments came in, this time, some of which are particularly revealing.

What I find sad is that there seem to be so few Americans here who appreciate Mr. Underhill’s virile sense of humour, when expressing (with good reasons!) his outrage and anger at America. There is after all some hope (and some love-hate -- they go together) left, when your closest ally insists (looking at you in the eyes) that YOU in fact CAN “give your vote to someone who is not a nutcase”; for after all, YOU undoubtedly DO “have the “potential to be civilized”… That being said, I can understand that the technique used by Mr. Underhill to provoke some healthy reaction be somewhat intimidating and leave one, as Diana put it, “astounded” and “psychologically tired”. When living in England, I myself saw that happen, more than once, to my nicest, most sensitive, newly arrived American friends.

Mr. Underhill wishes America’s "colonies" would kick America out. This has nothing to do with anti-Americanism. It has everything to do with one being opposed to both colonialism and subsequent imperialism. You, listening to Mr. Underhill, are YOU? If so why be upset at what he says?

It is not that Mr. Underhill does not distinguish between American people and the American administration. It is simply that Mr. Underhill is talking to Americans, saying, “YOU, people (that is YOU, and YOU, and YOU, etc.), are responsible for what your nation does throughout the world!” It is not extra-terrestrials who are responsible. You voted for those creatures, you supported those military adventures, you are currently fighting in them, you are killing, and you are torturing. People doing that (including those planning for them, hiring them, training them, producing for them, supporting them, etc.), millions of them who are part of that enormous destructive machine (and don't forget those innumerable mercenaries abusively called "contractors" as well!), ARE Americans. They are your people. They are YOU people. You are democratically responsible. For with democracy comes responsibility to support or to remove from power; unless you wish to claim (like Mike has done, June 7, 2007 5:54 PM), that your “democracy” is a “delusion”, that you rather live under a plutocratic totalitarian regime, perhaps? Yes, for under democracy there is such a thing as “civil disobedience” (Thoreau) when facing abuse of power. That is part of the best in the American tradition.

Common ideals and values need be embodied and become one’s own flesh and blood. Otherwise, they remain abstractions of little more than purely intellectual interest. Professed common ideals make one responsible for living up to them. Beware betraying those ideals lest you be despised and cursed for doing so.

Rufus Wainwright sings:

I got a life to lead America
I got a life to lead
I got a soul to feed
I got a dream to heed
And that's all I need

I'm going to a town that has already been burned down
I'm so tired of you America

You took advantage of a world that loved you well

Let me, JRLR, ask you: Did YOU?


JRLR:

HISTORIAN ON WWII: Chris,it would be good if you could back up your statements with some evidence.1) I'd be reticent to call the western front of a "sideshow"...

CHRIS TO HISTORIAN: ... was big enough that sideshow is probably too dismissive a term--but engagements on the Eastern Front dwarfed the operation on the Western Front and the vast majority of men and material were committed to fighting on the Eastern Front. Look at the casualty figures for Axis and Allies and compare by region.

Chris is absolutely right. If I may: 1. For years, 75% of the coalesced enemy forces fought day and night (they were not there convalescing and resting...) on the Eastern Front, while Western Europe was occupied, after the early collapse of the Western Front. 2. It was the Soviets under Zhukov's general field command who, on multiple fronts, in fact, led those forces back ("by the hand"...) all the way to Berlin, liberating and occupying Eastern Europe in the process. That was done at the cost of more than 20 million Soviet lives (for size, that amounts to approximately the whole population of a country like Canada, at the time. 3. There was no Second Front IN EUROPE (repeatedly requested by Stalin) until the very end of WWII. 4. The Germans surrendered first to the Soviets, prior to Yalta, so the subsequent peace conference was held neither in London nor in Washington but indeed in Yalta.

To refer to how all that was done, one may read Oxford's Omer Bartov's "The Eastern Front 1941-45", as well as the Memoirs published by Marshalls Zhukov (re: the Fronts) and Vassilievsky (re: the Stavka -- i.e. Soviet Military Command and Staff), and accompanied by detailled military maps.


Amar C. Bakshi:

Diana,

I am in Trafalgar Square right now where there are innumerable protests going on (hundreds of nude cyclists just rode by me with their bodies covered in paint bearing signs "Save the Curb", protesting cars; and then I spent time talking to the Young Socialist Movement, and the various factions of the British Communist parties, all housed in separate stands and fiercely critical of the other). The main show here is the Free Palestine rally that's flooded the square.

After a morning interview with a psychologist, talking about her backpacking exeriences around the U.S., I've been here listening to the perspectives of the protestors.

OK, long set up, sorry for that, but here I'm coming to your post, and responding to your very elegant, and moving, points. There is a stunning amount of misinformation. The head of one of the branches of the Communist Party here (the Marxist Leninist one) was talking about the utopias of North Korea and Zimbabwe (I was arrested in the latter so you can imagine how I felt!), and how America was destroying these paradises through military might, a lust for oil, and a capitalist system run-amock (the last of which, I'm told, is destined to be overrun by shovel-wielding workers soon...very soon).

Now this is not a representative sample by any means, but often I hear refrains here about America that I thoroughly question: a lot of which sound like pure fictions to me. And when I see people convinced by them, I feel myself saying, hey now, there are things to talk about but not these! Then I stop and turn to your point, that within this large amount of misinformation are two things to explore: 1) why so much of it, where does it come from, what does it mean for the U.S. if anything; 2) within all of this, there is always a life experience, something, that connects views to a person's lived experiences, his or her personal world that makes ideas come to life, become meaningful. Perhaps my job wondering is to try to do a better and better job of figuring out both of these things, when it comes to misinformation: why is it emotionally appealing, why is it believed with force, and what does it mean? Also, there is always a gem of insight within everybody, I feel, sometimes redundant, sometimes not, but always informed by a different surrounding.

So when I shoot 2-4 hours for a 1 minute clip, it might be worth it, to wait, to sift, to let ideas come and go, and not necessarily respond to every point, often the same point, again and again. All of this is a very long way of saying, maybe we don't need to give up on listening, we just need to listen differently, for longer, and with slightly different expectations. Anyway, this is my job so I'm likely to be partial! But I'll do my best to make some sense out of what I hear, and hope that with your help we can put it in some perspective.

Anyway, I'm back to the protest now. Thanks for engaging here and check out the next post on media which is up. I'm sure you'll have loads to say on that.

Diana:

US/UK - thanks for your comments.

Re: info on world affairs - I usually read the WP and NYT, and skim the "World" sections of British media. I agree American media could do more to cover international affairs, so British media is the alternative. I don't know much about media in the Commonwealth nations; if you are aware of good sources there, please let me know.

I brought up my points to illustrate why I question to what extent "listening to others" is worthwhile, not to indicate what I expect non-US citizens to know. Yes, there are Americans who fit the stereotype, and Brits form their opinions based on the types of characters they meet. However, critiquing American domestic policies requires a more in-depth understanding of the forces at work in the country. I think it is fair to ignore people who say gun policy reform will never work because Americans have a wild west mentality and no culture, or who believe Congress never considers environmental initiatives because all Americans are SUV-crazy consumers.

No, I do not expect non-US citizens to have any in-depth knowledge of the electoral system or Constitution. However, when analyzing US problems, one must first understand the conceptual rules the nation is supposed to abide by. Critiquing government practice involves analyzing how behavior deviates from the rules and recommending how to bring behavior into compliance. In my experience, Brits can point out scandals, but their recommendations do not adequately account for the government's theoretical framework (or many other forces at work in the US). I brought up the contrast between British and American governments because I suspect Brits do not think about the workings of a completely different institutional machine - they contemplate how their own government would look with a few American alterations.

I am well aware that the political system has a lot of corruption. I get my news exclusively through print sources because they cover more detail and listening to a federal government official speak usually ends with me yelling in disgust at the television. The latter is a waste of energy, and it alarms my less politically inclined roommates/flatmates. :) I do not need to turn to foreign sources or foreign opinion to know that DeLay, Abramoff, Plame, swiftboat, Hurricane Katrina, etc. occurred, or to know that the balance of power has shifted in a detrimental fashion. While living in London, British media and conversations with people seldom added anything productive to my knowledge of American issues. I am interested in the BBC report on Florida and Tennessee you mentioned (probably not on-line anymore, but I can try), but due to my experiences, I expect it to be a needle of insight in a haystack of inadequate, slanted, or sensationalist articles.

Listening to world opinion sounds like a noble idea, but my exposure makes me suspect world opinion is 99% claptrap and 1% insight. I don't have the energy or patience to wade through that much material to find the nugget of insight. As my writings have probably made clear, I am psychologically tired from my negative experiences in London, and need a sizeable break from foreign perspectives. Frankly, I am saddened that this is the case. I decided to spend my last semester of law school abroad to broaden my perspectives, and wound up concluding people everywhere (not just Americans) are provincial, and I hadn't been doing too poorly all along...

US/UK:

Diana,

You certainly have raised some intersting points. I agree the British press is not objective. It never has been and sadly the Guardian, Independent and Times are some of the most objective. Obviously a reliance on these sources for information does leave the reader with an inaccurate view of the subject matter.

I am interested what form and source of media you rely on to become informed on world situations. I found throughout my years in the US it was very difficult to get much information on anything non-US related.

The stereotypes you encountered are part in parcel of many brits experiences of holidaying americans. I worked in London a number of years ago and I came into contact with many that would go a long way to fit some if not all of those stereo types. In the end people see what they want to see.

I am suprised that you would expect any non-US citizen to have any deep understanding of the USA's electoral system or indeed the written constitution. Whilst in the States I found it hard to find many who could explain it to me. In the end I dug out my high school notes and went from there.

Yes the British electoral system is flawed. Concentrating power to the biggest minority. There are those of us who would see that changed to a proportional representation system. Sadly the argument that always gets trotted out is that the British public couldn't cope with anything more complex than filling in a box with a cross. Even more dissappointing is that was pretty much the case during the Scotish Parlimentary elections a few months back. ten times the number of ballots were ruined.

The original idea behind the USA's constitution and how it governed itself was a triumph. It is however a long way away from those heady days now.

The level of corruption within the US political system is terrifying. Part of the three branches system relied on not just checks and balances but of any of those three from gathering power to itself and or influencing the others by personnel changes. This last administration has been active in both of those goals and has been altering, some say subverting, all three branches.

Tom DeLay's departure from the House, Jack Abramof's dealings with many, Valerie Plame, the systematic packing of the supreme court with people who have stongly conservative views, the evidence for war with Iraq, swiftboating, the firing and hiring of attorney generals and their actions prior to elections, and please don't get me going on the 2000 election. What you might be unaware is that the BBC did an indepth reseach based report on what was going on in Florida and also Tennessee and how this certainly helped your current president win those states and take the whitehouse. The US media left it striclty alone and even after the election when a lot more information of a troubling nature came to light it was studiously ignored in the US by the very people who should have been screaming. This has been my experience with many topics. I had to repeatedly go to the UK, Eurpopean and Australian media to get any more information than the 'party line'.

The current US federal system has problems aplenty and we haven't even arrived at "State versus Federal'. It is in part these problems linked with a leader who carries out many activities that impinge freedom to protect freedom and does it without following protocol as agreed by anyone outside the neocon inner circle and their supporters.

The most frightening aspect about all of this I found was how if you were a conservative this was all okay and anyone saying otherwise was not a patriot. I found equally liberals who couldn't see any other position other than their own untenable. The polarisation is dangerous because it allows bad actions to occur and then be defended just because of who did it not on its merits.

Okay, sorry for going on and on.

With all of this said I still enjoy living and working in the US and I hope you will be able to likewise enjoy the UK.

Diana:

An addendum to my previous post. My examples center on people's ignorance of US internal affairs, but knowledge of that ignorance spills over into my confidence in the British to critique objectively American foreign policy.

Furthermore, American media gets slammed for being insular and selective, yet I found British newspapers selective in their own right. While in London, I periodically compared what was reported in the two nations' major papers (WP, NYT, Times, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Independent), and the results were often appalling. I skim "Business" and "World" in the Times to get info on Europe, but otherwise, since returning to the US, I've stopped bothering with British media.

Diana:

I spent this past semester in London, and I left with mixed beliefs on the extent and manner in which Americans should listen to "world opinion." I arrived in the United Kingdom interested in other nationals' opinions and willing to listen, yet people's beliefs about the United States soon astounded me. My conversations with Brits usually revolved around attempting to counter ignorant, even absurd, ideas about the US. If I find the underlying assumptions of an argument untenable, it's difficult to take the other party's conclusions seriously. From my point of view, certain ideas are not worth my time, but I suspect Brits may have interpreted my disregard as American arrogance and stubborn refusal to acknowledge self-evident "facts."

According to many Brits, we are all obscenely fat, eat at McDonald's all the time, drive SUVs without any regard for the environment, delight in guns we bought at the supermarket free of any state restrictions, live by a wild west mentality, etc. Apparently, school shootings happen every day. If I contradicted a Brit, I was usually dismissed as somehow being insulated from the "real America" he knew based on "objective data" reported somewhere in British media (hardly an unbiased source, in my opinion), or I was accused of being oblivious to phenomena that "must" be commonplace.

Although the above items are commonly held beliefs by ordinary Brits, things did not necessarily improve when you interacted with educated professionals, even among the elite. An official at the Financial Services Authority (the British SEC) presumed I would buy property because she thought that was all the US economy is based on. One wonders what happened to our blue chip companies overnight.

My internship boss, a prominent law professor, suggested Americans should reconsider the wisdom of having a Supreme Court because, after all, a SCOTUS case put Bush in the White House (probably wouldn't have said that had Gore been installed). I suspect he did not fully contemplate the SCOTUS's role in resolving legal disagreements in numerous federal courts in a country spanning a continent, nor did he consider the need for significant overall in government structures to achieve proper checks and balances if 1/3 of the system were suddenly removed (btw, the British system is based on concentration of power - Parliamentary sovereignty - and does not have a federal system).

A friend of mine, educated at Oxford, read an article in the Guardian on how federal legislation expanded the President's discretion over state militia, and she honestly believes there is nothing to stop Bush from overthrowing the government and installing himself as a military dictator. Alas, the US Constitution orders the federal government's power structure, and Article 5 requires 2/3 of both the House and the Senate to propose amendments and 3/4 of states to ratify for the Constitution to be changed. As much as Bush accords power to himself, he maintains that his actions are constitutional, and written clauses thus preclude his ability to usurp power in such a manner. In making this argument, my friend was probably contemplating the British government's sometimes alarmingly flexible structure, given its lack of written constitution.

I provide these examples hopefully to demonstrate why I believe "listening to others" is not always worthwhile. The above conversations reflect a lack of understanding of basic concepts and realities that make up America. I can understand, as a matter of cause and effect, that limited information and stereotypes result in distorted and inaccurate beliefs. It takes a lot to understand a society properly, and I still felt quite ignorant of the UK even after living there for 4 1/2 months. However, if foreign nationals hold untenable beliefs, I see no reason to go abroad for recommendations on how we as Americans should act, especially when plenty of us are more than willing to criticize our government and our behavior as a society.

US/UK:

Amar,

I hope you had a productive day and am looking forward to the next installment.

I refrained from just saying the main difference in media was the BBC but the gentleman you interviewed today should know better than most.

The UK government under Blair recognised the danger of the BBC and has to some extent tried very hard to tone it down. Obviously a very worrying aspect but so far I have seen no major difference.

I also agree about the papers. Havong returned to the UK I still prefer to read the New York Times and the Washington Post to get my US information and before I forget. National Public Radio in the US is a treasure. Programs such as Diane Rehm's are very well put together and do ask the tough questions.

However, unlike the BBC they seem to be dismissed as liberal rantings and are not always available countrywide.

Chris:

WWII was big enough that sideshow is probably too dismissive a term--but engagements on the Eastern Front dwarfed the operation on the Western Front and the vast majority of men and material were committed to fighting on the Eastern Front. Look at the casualty figures for Axis and Allies and compare by region.

Again an oversimplification to say that Europe ignores Africa--but you will agree that the recent genocide in Africa is a result of Europe bungling the withdrawl from former colonies? You will agree that Belgium did things in the Congo Basin that compare to the rape of Nanjing and even the Nazi Holocaust? You will agree that the national boundaries in Africa are the result of a colonial past and presentreal and lasting obstacles to nation building in Africa? You will agree that European oil, gas and mining companies used extragovernmental forces to secure mineral profits to the detriment of regional stability? You will agree that current humanitarian aid is a poor response for creating the very conditions that make humanitarian aid necessary?

Historian:

Chris,

It would be good if you could back up your statements with some evidence.

1) I'd be reticent to call the western front of a "sideshow"; I think the French, Dutch, Belgians, Italians, Germans, British, Greeks and Italians - to say nothing of American WWII vets - would disagree with you.

2) I'm not sure what you'll make of this, but here is some data for your consideration, regarding European post-colonialism:

- France has directed between 52.7 and 55% of its intl. development assistance to Sub-Saharan Africa since 1962.

- During the same period, Britain dedicated between 69 and 84.4% of its aid to the Commonwealth, including Hong Kong

Both give well above the OECD average (17-29% for Sub-Saharan Africa and 24-26% for the Commonwealth), and France has actually been quite active (for better or worse) in peacekeeping missions in Africa. This doesn't even come close to "making up" for colonialism, but I'm not sure that you can say that *all* former European colonies have been abandoned to their fate...

Demos:

I'd like to reinforce Mr. Calhoun's point about isolationism. Most people in other countries have no sense at all how deep a strain of isolationism runs in the U.S. Most Americans live hundreds of miles from either of our borders. A drive that might take a Parisian to Berlin would simply take most of us into the next state. We can literally cross a continent without leaving our own country. Many Americans enjoy travel abroad - but for most, it's neither necessary nor a routine part of life. Some disagree with our current foreign policies because they believe them to be the wrong way of engaging the other nations involved; most simply don't understand why we're bothering. If it were put to a vote, most Americans would pretty completely pull back from the rest of the world, other than maintaining the minimum military and diplomatic presence to provide a reasonable defense against attack and ensure that trade and tourism are protected. Sending men and women to fight and die in distant lands doesn't seem to have any real benefit to us; nor does shipping foreign aid abroad when we have pressing domestic needs at home.

It seems that most of the world would prefer for America to just pack up and go home. They might just be surprised to learn that most Americans agree. I personally don't think that would be the best course for either this nation or the world - but it's a very real possibility.

Chris:

OK a few minor points. The Nazis were defeated by the Soviets and not by the Western Allies. Most of the fighting occured on the Eastern Front and the Western Front was a sideshow. The real importance of the Normandy invasion was that it caused the Iron Curtain to stop in Germany rather than at the English Channel.

2nd-- US aid to Europe during WWII was of arguable historical importance, the Marshall Plan and the corresponding flood of post-war aid to Japan was the true contribution of the US to global democracy.

3rd-- Every post war adventure overseas has come back to bite us on the ass. Whether it was putting the Shah into power in Iran, Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua or whatever-- they have all failed. The only thing that works is to flood economies with money and when the standard of living goes up people stop bombing. See Ireland for example--nothing stopped the troubles except for lowered unemployment and increased economic growth. Once Palestinians have SUV's and Playstations they will stop blowing themselves up and have less reason to make war-- therefore the solution is a Marshall Plan that floods trouble regions with so much money that they have something to lose by becoming extremists.

4th Africa is the way it is because of Europe, it is hypocritical to blame us for Korea, Central America and the Middle East without accepting responsibility for the disaster in Africa. And face it, SE Asia, the Middle East and Central America are none of the as screwed up as Africa and Kashmir. At least we accept long-term responsibility for our f***-ups.

Amar C. Bakshi:

Hi Jenna, I agree. It takes a lot of shooting for a few moments of video. What types of shots would you have liked to see on this one? And how long is too long? I've been trying to keep these all under a minute since they're coming out each day. Appreciate your feedback.

Jenna:

Some beautiful shots here, but I want more. Going through these, I appreciate the longer vids. There's an art to picking out the gems. Maybe you need to shoot more to get enough usable material.

Jenna:

Some beautiful shots here, but I want more. Going through these, I appreciate the longer vids. There's an art to picking out the gems. Maybe you need to shoot more to get enough usable material.

Amar C. Bakshi:

US/UK thanks for your observations. They prompted me to talk media today with Bill Emmott, former Editor of the Economist, who contrasts UK and US print media. He agrees with you that the TV/radio media in the UK offers much more room for probing questioning than US TV/radio (and a lot of this he attributes to the BBC). In terms of print though, he's less sanguine. That post should be up soon. And Historian thanks for the comment. In many ways your concern motivates this project, and I hope we can explore this topic together.
Right now I'm in the Royal Academy of Sciences where I met Bill. I'm now editing the piece and then tonight am going out with some experimental theater artists, to see what that yields. Anyway, check back soon for Emmott!

Amar

Rcvinson:

U.S.A. wrong? Never! We must use preemptive force to save the world from itself. Our enemies have no rules of engagement. So, why should we? I even adopted this policy to deal with my neighbors and anyone else threatening me. So watch out because I am off my medication too!

Rcvinson:

U.S.A. wrong? Never! we must use preemptive force to save the world from itself. Our enemies have no rules of engagement. So, why should we? I even adopted this policy to deal with my neighbors and anyone else threatening me. So watch out because I am off my medication too!

mrgavel:

It is time for us to pull our troops out of the Mideast, give up trying to make sure that oil flows from the Gulf and concentrate on making this country energy dependent. While we are at it, I would also pull all American troops out of Korea and if there are any left in Europe, pull those out also. We need to focus on ourselves and give us this idea of being an imperial. We aren't very good at it.

pattersonpb:

On a literary note, Britain (in George Orwell's 1984) was called Airstrip One not Runway One. On a more serious note, as a British citizen, living in the USA and married to an American, I get a little sick and tired of hearing how the USA came to our rescue in WWII out of 'altruistic' motives. I do not deny that FDR saw Nazi Germany as the major threat to world peace and did everything that he could to support Britain (often flouting Congress). However, if Adolf Hitler had not been so stupid as to declare war on the USA after Pearl Harbor (in support of his Japanese 'allies', who did not reciprocate) there would have been no support in the USA for a war against the Nazis. Britain and the Soviet Union would have been left to face Germany on our own while the USA faced Japan. (Of course, Britain was also in the war against Japan following the attacks on Singapore and Hong Kong and the threat to Australia.) Whether or not Britain and the Soviet Union could have defeated Hitler without the industrial might and manpower of the USA, I cannot say. But, please, please, spare us the fiction that the USA would have entered the European war unless Nazi Germany had declared war on the US first. It was a strategic blunder of the first order by Hitler.

BB from USA:

A perfect example of U.S. interference (not colonizing quite yet) is Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. How do we have the right to establish a military base--and now a prison--in someone else's back yard? Why doesn't Castro tell us to get the hell out? The rest of the world would back him up. Won't it be fun to see what our government does once Castro is finally gone? But we won't ever call it colonizing, will we?

Roy:

If the US had a Parlamentary system like the UK, Dick Cheney and his little nephew Georgie would have been gone long ago. Lives would have been saved as well. As for the Brits, they are not devoid of arrogance either. Try doing business with them. Oh by the way cousins, brush your teeth, go to the dentist now and then and take a shower at least four times a week.

US/UK:

I agree with the Historian. I am tempted to paraphrase but it was written far more succinctly than I am capable of.

Historian:

Having lived in Europe for several years now, I've seen my fair share of anti-Americanism. When I can travel home, it is often traded for anti-European sentiment. Both sides are offensive, rely heavily on broad and ill-informed opinion... and beg for a moment of self-analysis on both sides of the Atlantic.

Simply reducing the debate to "if you don't like X country, then stay home" not only gets us nowhere, it's counterproductive. The fact of the matter is that international perception of one's country has a profound effect on world affairs.

In the case of the United States, the hard-won international good will that the US gained after WWII (thanks much more to deft and subtle diplomacy than outright altruism) has diminished to the point where international public opinion of the US dropped an average of 10-20% in the last six years.

To put it succinctly, this is not in the national interest. International negotiations, cooperation, influence and the like necessarily become more difficult as a country's perceived prestige diminishes in the eyes of the wider public.

US/UK:

Amar,

I was the annonymous British citizen. Annonymous because I forgot to write in my name :-)

Anyway. I felt the difference was in the level of reverence the politicians were given by their people and reflected by the media that represented them.

In the US I was really amazed by the reverence shown memebers of congress and the administration.

I had just left a culture where the Prime Minister is open to parliamentary questions every week and the main political journalists would go after the politician like in an episode of Law and Order.

We also have programs like "Question Time" that allows a cross section of the public to ask questions of the relevant politicians in a TV studio on a weekly basis.

So I guess I feel the UK has a more robust system of questioning.

The US media tend to act more in a paparrazi style.They always seem to be thinking about scandal.

That is just how I saw it though.

Thanks for running this. It is good to see the variety of oinions and concerns and get a chance to voice some of my own.

izzi:

I just look at oldsters like that and figure in any given moment of any given day he is probably complaining about everything... the USA for now, maybe its his taxes at dinner time, maybe he tops off the evening and hits the bed with thoughts of what people should have done for him; possibly wakes up thinking of all the people who owe him something, and then on back to the rest of the day with the USA...and so his day goes. Does he talk to the WORLD about how great his little houseboat is, how much fun it is to live on a canal, what new recipes he conjured up during the years, how he occupies his time with interesting things to him? No he just goes on the internet, on the Washington Post no less, and tells the world he wants the USA out of his little place to live. Ya gotta love 'em!

izzi:

I just look at oldsters like that and figure in any given moment of any given day he is probably complaining about everything... the USA for now, maybe its his taxes at dinner time, maybe he tops off the evening and hits the bed with thoughts of what people should have done for him; possibly wakes up thinking of all the people who owe him something, and then on back to the rest of the day with the USA...and so his day goes. Does he talk to the WORLD about how great his little houseboat is, how much fun it is to live on a canal, what new recipes he conjured up during the years, how he occupies his time with interesting things to him? No he just goes on the internet, on the Washington Post no less, and tells the world he wants the USA out of his little place to live. Ya gotta love 'em!

Good Ol'Boy:

Wow. That was the most arrogant statement I have read in a looong while.

Gary, in round figures how many Iraqi civilians have now died in the name of their freedom arranged for by the US?

Glib statements are easy to write but don't advance the debate much.

I just wrote two in less than 30 seconds and advanced the debate not one inch.

Siva:

Well said, Rory Calhoun. It is indeed amazing the Europeans have the temerity to even accuse other countries of imperialism, when just about every country from Britain to Belgium colonized the entire damn world over half a millenium.

Any Brit who accuses the US of being imperialist should take a look in the mirror. The US may have a lot of shortcomings when it comes to foreign policy, but it does not have an overbearing imperialist impulse that the Brits, French, Germans, Italians, Spanish, Belgian, Dutch, Portugese ( is there one European country that hasnt invaded another country ??)

Not to mention the two terrible wars that resulted from a mix of European hubris, appeasement and feudalism. Ah ofcourse, lets not forget who gave us the gifts of communism and fascism as well.

And every time, who bailed these bums out ? Yeah, thats right the "imperialist" USA .

I now understand why there is well deserved contempt for Old Europe's politics - all talk and no action. Coupled with more than touch of " We know better than you dumb Yankees" at every chance they can get to bitch about America.

THANK GOD , European influence in world politics is second to the US. The world is WAY BETTER OFF this way, how ever terrible you may think it is right now.

Amar C. Bakshi:

I've been reading down the comment thread (I know I've asked this before, but do you all want me to run it the other way, oldest to newest or keep it as it is, newest to oldest?) and two comments stuck out that I thought'd be good to highlight: one is Agent G's here

http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/postglobal/america/2007/06/america_colonized_us_back.html#1088265

who talks about America and Europe growing together (with the former adopting more humanistic policies and the latter embracing more private sector enterprises) and ADR's here

http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/postglobal/america/2007/06/america_colonized_us_back.html#108832

who warns of U.S. isolationism, saying America must exercise leadership but differently that it has been. Mike, Peter Underwood is not talking about anything close to hatred. He's just skeptical of the U.S. political scene, and as the anonymous British citizen just wrote, of the U.S. media's willingness to share some harsh truths or push buttons hard. I'm curious though, of the British citizen who just posted, what do you think the difference between the media in the US and the UK is and why. Also, I'm talking with Bill Emmott tomorrow, former Editor of The Economist magazine. If there are questions you want me to ask of him, let me know. Thanks for the discussion, and Sarbo Sen and Richard, interesting Orwell connection to Airstrip One (some people call it Blairstrip one too). Amazing how these things seep into popular consciousness.

gary:

i agree . i say we pull back to the usa and shut the door. we will survive because we are free. the rest of the world will devolve into chaos run by socialist mass murderers and islam. just leave one warning behind, don't mess with us. we are watching.

Sarbo Sen, Calcutta, India:

I did a double-take when I read that a Brit thinks America uses Britain as an aircraft-carrier. George Orwell, in his book, 1984, has the world divided into three totalatitian powers of which one he named 'Oceania'. Britain, where all the action is located, is a part of Oceania (read 'the American empire') and is called 'Runway One'.

Anonymous:

As a British citizen I entirely agree with you Carl. Our empire was a travesty of greed and arrogance. Our history programs don't pull their punches (e.g. Simon Sharman). So we are left in no doubt of our cultural inadequacies.

Our dealings with Hong Kong was poor and to many affected rightly unforgivable. Though due to the treaty the Chinese would not have allowed a vote and the UK ended up taking in thousands of people from Hong Kong before during and directly after.

Currently we struggle with many of the same problems the USA faces domestically.

Having lived in both countries over the past ten years I think the major difference I have found is that the US media will not ask the politicians the hard questions. There are many main stream media programs that will aggresively go after any politician who is "soft soaping" the issue. Not to say that it has an amazing impact. It does at least show them up for what they are.

I wish the US would do the same. In all my years in America I never saw the President have to answer a question that could really get to the heart of the current issue.

i laugh at defensive fools:

who arrogantly refuse to acknowledge world opinions.

There are millions of people trying to get into Western Europe as well. Immigration is not the monopoly of the U.S.

I hate the rah-rah fools. They are like alcoholics who perpetuate the family lies by refusing to take a look at themselves and examining their own failures. "I am not a drunk." Yeah right buddy.

Healthy individuals and healthy countries are not afraid of criticism, they welcome it instead of feeling threatened.

What are you hiding from, cowards? Can't face the truth? Nobody is perfect and everyone is eligible for criticism. Accept it.

Carl:

Yes, got rid of the colonies, after abusing their citizens, after arrogantly "civilising" them. The British culture has to be one of the most arrogant in world history. The arrogance is not past tense either.

In 1999 the UK handed over Hong Kong to China with no vote allowed on the matter by residents of Hong Kong. In addition, The UK let very few residents of Hong Kong into the UK as citizens.

A grand tradition in the UK? You can keep your arrogance and Queenly traditions, the UK is at least as bad as the US. I would say that it is a lot worse.

US/UK:

Big Mike real big.

What you don't get is that the rest of the world looks to the US for direction. Not Europe not Russia not China not Japan, the US of A.

Hating those that want the US to be all that it has the potential to be is clearly the smart move.

Happy hating

Mike:

We get that you folks hate us. That's ok. We hate you too.

US/UK:

"What about the U. K. and France, how many American lives were lost fighting Europe's war!!! I know we are not perfect, but people who live I glass houses should not throw stones!!"

Interesting slant. I don't recall US involvement until provoked by one of Germany's allies.

There were many American lives lost in WWII each one honoured as are those who served and survived.

No country is perfect but when the country most vaunted for its freedoms allows and defends torture, and holds people without any recourse to a fair trial the question needs to asked. Are we really talking about the USA? Up until recently I would have laughed at anyone for saying as much. Now? I am left wondering what the effect of bad practices will have on good people.

R. Day, US Navy:

Funny how countries criticize us, talk about American arrogance (yes some truly are) but most are hardworking people. Can Mr. Underwood explain to me while thousands are waiting to get into this country, and once here want to stay?? Yes, we have our problems as most governments do, but for the most part we are free to think, say what we feel about our officials without the fear of having one's head blown off, having or one's family imprisoned!! Whom do other countries turn to when they desperately need military help, yes, you guessed it!! We send our young men and women to their deaths defending some of these countries. I have a friend from Viet Nam who is an engineer. He was a pilot for the South Viet Nam forces. When captured by the North Vietnamese, and sent to prison during the war, he told the guards. "I will be in the United States in two years." Sure enough he escaped and was in this country two years later. He told me that "American soldiers should never have given their lives for Viet Nam. He made it very clear that it was their fight and not ours. He is a citizen, loves this country and feels very strongly that other governments should not involve us (U. S.) in their conflicts. What about the U. K. and France, how many American lives were lost fighting Europe's war!!! I know we are not perfect, but people who live I glass houses should not throw stones!!

US/UK :

Interesting point of view put forward. Sad to mistake the American people with the government of the day. America is the major power today and with that comes a lot of odius responsibility. This latest administration has been poor both at home and abroad and many US citizens will be paying for those mistakes for many years to come.

Sadly there are always those who feel the need to be singularly offensive.

"I guess the "special relationship" can't last forever, but your parents didn't protest when we used your island as a parking lot in that little to-do called WWII" posted by Robert Blue is so far the lowest blow.

Robert, it has clearly escaped your notice that the island that you feel was a parking lot for the USA armed forces had been fighting a losing war for years and every day of each of those years was paying for it in the lives of its citizens.

Far from casting yourself as a member of the country that saved us during that time it may be more useful to think about what the United Kingdom was actually doing during the first part of WWII. It was standing up and fighting for freedom, not just for its own sake but for those unable to withstand the onslaught of the German machine. That decision was taken eventhough it was known that the UK was not ready or able to win the day. Fighting for a principle when you are not likely to win is courageous and noble. Never belittle what was done and what was sacrificed during those early days just to keep the glimmer of freedom alive in europe in the hope that others would see the true worth of the cause.

The USA did not win WWII. It was on the winning side. Don't dismiss those lives lost as not worthy, it says little for you and less for what you claim to represent.

jaded:

So the Islamic Caliphate of Europe hates the Corporate Republic of America. So what?

Rationalist:

Don't like the direction you see America heading in? Join the federal government. We're hiring. Military, law enforcement, public policy, emergency services, border patrol, security, healthcare -- we're hiring in all of them. You can make a difference. You can affect policy.

But you won't do that, will you? Instead, you will whine about America while you drink your $5 coffee and let people like me fight your wars, enforce your laws, run your government, and drive your ambulances. Well, then, you get what you deserve, you selfish whiner.

Find this offensive? Submit your resume. I dare you.

Robert of Los Angeles:

More silliness on who gets to decide where stuff goes.
Well, it looks like Putin wants in on the missiles and radar, and you won't have to worry about local Azerberjani voters that much, don't ya think? (short of riots and terror, which they save for Armenians).
Anyhow, basing decisions are made at the national level. Otherwise you never get rid of the old fort (we had them for years defending against our native Americans who had gone off the warpath long ago) because of the good money government facilities bring, or, to match the point, can build a new fertilizer plant because of the negative impact assumed? By the way, some of these post smell like that, or rather the unwashed, unrepentent fellow travelers of the Nuke Intermediate missile freezes of awhile back.
Anyhow, is somehow the British Empire now weaker than a much poor group of islands in resolve and resistance to "being bought" since the Phillipines kicked us out of bases a dozen years ago???


Mike:

The big American delusion is that it's ruled by its people through elections to Congress and the Presidency. It's not. In effect it's ruled by corporate and other special interest groups that have Congress in their pockets. Look at the poor, deluded American soldiers dying in Iraq at the rate of 100+ each month, without realizing that the Bush administration has turned them into Big Oil's unwitting and underpaid mercs.

Neo:

Why do the posters make personal attacks on the Brits instead of addressing the criticism? This is the problem in america today.

Mike:

The big American delusion is that it's ruled by its people through elections to Congress and the Presidency. It's not. In effect it's ruled by corporate and other special interest groups that have Congress in their pockets. Look at the poor, deluded American soldiers dying in Iraq at the rate of 100+ each month, without realizing that the Bush administration has turned them into Big Oil's unwitting and underpaid mercs.

Laura W:

Mostly, I agree with Underwood's assessment of the American people, although I do think that in general we are fair-minded and open to change. Witness last November's election where the people's will sent a Democratic majority to Congress (albeit razor-thin in the Senate). This was a repudiation of the bullying foreign policy that put us in Iraq, created Abu Ghraib and clandestine torture chambers around the world.

On the other hand, the current debate over immigration does seem to prove his point: we don't tolerate or assimilate immigrants very well. Instead we want to build a fence along the southern border, and we institute new passport policies designed to dampen visitation to and from other countries.

Another point: our media often seems to be in league with those in power instead of more thoroughly and honestly questioning their policies and motives. The war in Iraq is a case in point. During the run-up to the war, few media outlets were inclined to question the decision (or the intelligence) and instead became part of the news by embedding journalists with invading military units. At times there seemed to be a romantic fascination with war by many of the journalists reporting from Iraq, which helped to dampen any criticism at home, and which emboldened the administration to punish critics.

Finally, most Americans seem easily swayed by rhetoric. Again, I point to the Iraq war. This administration got huge mileage from terms like "terrorists," "nuclear weapons," or "destroy our way of life," not because there is or was any truth to them but because of the contexts in which they were invoked. This seems to support Underwood's view that we aren't very curious or concerned about the world outside our borders. Only if we are led to believe that our possessions, or our 'freedoms', or our capitalist system is going to collapse do we sit up and take notice. That doesn't say much about our intelligence or our moral compass. And this administration has done a terrific job of playing on these fears to justify its immoral and unethical policies, both foreign and domestic!

Robert Blue:

Oh Italy is using our Air force bases to invade space. This must mean the Vatican has designs on owning the moon. http://www.spaceflightnow.com/delta/d324/status.html

Now that we have non-sequiturs out of the way. I guess the "special relationship" can't last forever, but your parents didn't protest when we used your island as a parking lot in that little to-do called WWII

Blair suggested regime change for Iraq to both Clinton and Bush for quite some time. And sorry if Britain is still going to be engaged in World Affairs it has to have allies, so it HAS to decide who its friends are. I don't think there are any questions about that and what country is first in line.

Bruce A. Dembroski:

With the U.S such a lousy place to live, I wonder why 20 million people are living here illegally.

I also love the "Report offensive remarks" button.
That is not really what is meant. This column is offensive to me. How do I report that?

Anonymous:

Peter is right. I find it amazing that the author is amazed. America has been an empire since WWII. What seemed to separate us from many other empires in history was our openess and our desire to help.

9/11 gave all the ammunition the NeoCons and Bush needed to alter the American Empire to have a more imperialistic focus. With 9/11 they could use fear as a way to transform America into a classic Imperialist Empire. The Bush doctrine of preemptive attacks and the alterations of our privacy, further federalization and milarization of our society tipped the US over to more of a normal empire where the greatness of the empire is measured by military might.

There are many similarities to what has occured here and other facist regimes. Germany experienced many similar forces before they became Nazi Germany.

We lost our country. One of these days America will be itself again.

Anonymous:

Peter is right. I find it amazing that the author is amazed. America has been an empire since WWII. What seemed to separate us from many other empires in history was our openess and our desire to help.

9/11 gave all the ammunition the NeoCons and Bush needed to alter the American Empire to have a more imperialistic focus. With 9/11 they could use fear as a way to tranform America into a classic Imperialist Empire. The Bush doctrine of preemptive attack and the alterations of our privacy, further federalization and milarization of our society tipped the US over to more of a normal empire where the greatness of the empire is measured by military might.

We lost our country. One of these days America will be itself again.

Some Guy:

I'm glad to hear we "have the potential to be civilized human beings"

Why is it OK to paint all Americans with George Bush's Foreign Policy brush? Yet, when Tony Blair has the same polices, UK citizens still blame America? Now they're European all of a sudden and Bush is the evil puppet-master? Give me a break!

The UK is a sovereign nation last time I checked and its citizens can't wash their hands of this mess anymore than Americans.

Anonymous:

In a poll of British university students during the 1930's, some absurdly high percentage stated that they would not fight for king and county. In a similar poll of Brits during the same time, W. Churchill was described as the most dangerous man on the planet.

A lot of people are upset with Bush and America right now. That is fine. If the folks in the Middle East turn out to have been fine fellows all along, Bush will be remembers as a war monger. But if he is right and the folks in the Middle East really are following in the foot steps of past Islamic aggression against the West, he will be seen, with Blair, as having foresight.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves and think we know it all. Obviously those university students in the 1930s did go and fight for king and country once they opened their eyes.

Augusto:

The romans, british, japanese, most european monarchies, the soviet union, even the nazi Germany, believed they were appointed by god (whatever that god is) to rule the world, to bring order and stability, to spread their own values, to civilize the "uncivilized". Americans love to think they are a democracy but they fail to realize they've become another empire. I don't need to tell you what happened with all these empires.

The world will accept America in terms of mutual cooperation, respect, fairness and understanding but not in terms of being told what to do or by imposing unilateral conditions that only favor the U.S., or even worse, by interfering in other countries' affairs or imposing agendas by force.

It's up to you, 2008 is coming soon and you americans need to decide how to change your country's image once for all.

Neo:

Any Nation that believes the world was created in 6 days cannot long endure.

Augusto:

James, you just described a totalitarian regime, did you realize that?

kevin:

Please spare us any claims about America being a "policeman". Real policemen do not consider themselves above the law.

There is a law against aggressive, unprovoked war. It's just that no-one in America (even Democrats) seems aware that it applies to them like it does to everyone else.

OD:

America's true attachment to democracy abroad and its respect for Europeans can be easily seen in the debate over the proposed missile system in Czech/Poland.

A poll by Poland's Rzeczpospolita newspaper found 63% of Poles opposed to having the base on their soil, and just 23% in favour. Czech polls have shown even less support.

In recent weeks, four Czech villages near the proposed radar site held votes on whether to welcome it. In Trokavec, 73 people said no and 1 person said yes.

In the Hvozdany municipality, 389 out of 409 voters opposed the site.

In Tene, 139 voted against it and three people were in favour.

And in Zajecov, of 740 votes, nearly 99 per cent, or 728, asked their council to do its best to hamper the US plans. Ten people supported the plan and two ballots were spoiled.

Opposition to Bush's plan was at over 95% in all four local villages. But none of this slowed the US Govt down in the least. As they have traditionally done in third world countries, they just buy off the local politicians and ignore the local people. Way to spread democracy, USA!

Neo:

Prophet: I fear you are right. The posts from my fellow americans only show their ignorance and stupidity.

Prophet:

The comments on this board simply demonstrate how out of touch Americans are with the rest of the world. And it's not their fault. The media have kept the worst from their own audience, whereas the torture, kidnappings, concentration camps, suspension of the Geneva Conventions, deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi women and children, the failure to capture bin Laden, and the fact that America is clearly losing the greater battle for hearts and minds as well as the military battle in Iraq, are all in plain view for the rest of the world to see.

American insecurity and nativism are all well and good when the country is riding high, but they are no help to a country that has suffered such serious reversals. Americans would do well to turn a friendlier face to the world, but the posts on this page demonstrate that the damage of Bush will linger for decades to come.

Neo:

I see America as a bunch of delusional religious wackos on the verge of letting this once great Nation become a police state and I live here. I think the British guy has got it right.

Chris:

The real problem is that there is no center that can hold us to our ideals. Our increasingly balkanized opposites neutralize each other allowing our professional ruling class--career bureaucrats, ivy league lawyers and executives--act in increasingly undemocratic ways. Our real problem as a society is that we have been so safe and prosporous for so long that we have stopped recognizing the large ways that our interests coincide and focus on the minutiae that divide us. Our "political leadership" exploit this division to act, for all practical purposes, like oligarchs anywhere in the world.

James McGraw:

I see America, in the international arena, like a police officer. Everyone respects them when they're around, but as soon as we turn our backs they are trying to subvert EVERYTHING (good or bad) we try to accomplish... all of this just to be able to say 'America couldnt...' And 'they're' going to dare and say WE are arrogant?? When all they can do is scratch and claw and fight just to un-do WHATEVER we do anywhere in the world... THE ENTIRE world makes me sick to my stomach just as much as I'm sure a rich and powerful America makes them sick to their collective stomachs

James McGraw:

I see America, in the international arena, like a police officer. Everyone respects them when they're around, but as soon as we turn our backs they are trying to subvert EVERYTHING (good or bad) we try to accomplish... all of this just to be able to say 'America couldnt...' And 'they're' going to dare and say WE are arrogant?? When all they can do is scratch and claw and fight just to un-do WHATEVER we do anywhere in the world... THE ENTIRE world makes me sick to my stomach just as much as I'm sure a rich and powerful America makes them sick to their collective stomachs

rick geiger:

I know it is the hip thing to do to bash America and American ideals, but we can live with it. We can live with it because when decent people act rather than talk, they take on American ideals, proving that the America bashing is either Islamists that want to kill or subdue the non-muslims, or it is people that really have no idea aboout what is happening in the world and they are talking out of a place where the sun does not shine.

The truth is that the United States and its ideals are the only thing between a civilized world progressing, and a new dark ages where genocide looked upon as good politics.

Thank goodness for the United States military and enough voters in the US to support American ideals.

Artie:

What he hears from the other “laid back” canal-goers -- and what he firmly believes -- is that an arrogant America has become a true threat to global stability.

If this is what our closest allies are now saying about our Nation, then how can the current ReThuglican administration be seen as anything other than an ABJECT FAILURE, and their replacement as nothing other than a National Emergency?! Can we wait until January, 2009?!

Edna:

Mr. Underwood should remember who is going to be by Britain's side if they decided to go to war with another Falkland Islands.

dvg:

Europeans think Americans are arrogant, and Americans think that Europeans are arrogant.

We're all probably right.

I think people are missing the boat though, when they try to say that these attitudes come from particular events. These I think are more justifications, the real cause being a feeling of national economic, military, or cultural inadequacies.

ADR:

Carl,

Remember - Bill Clinton inserted us into Europe's powder keg (the Balkans) and was within a few minutes of invading Haiti for reasons that had nothing to do with US national security. Several Democratic candidates announced they'd support intervening in Darfur - again, no US national security interests present.

Your Republican / Democrat dichotomy here is, to put it mildly, not very illuminating.

Victor Yun, Silver Spring, Maryland:

Paul Johnson, the author of A History of the American People, dedicated his book to the people of America-Strong, outspoken, intense in their convictions, sometimes wrongheaded but always generous and brave, with a passion for justice no nations has ever matched.

Just remember that we are not arrogant...we are just close to perfect.

stevieb:

It seems that these days there are plenty of reason to criticize America, the fact that the Mr. Underwoods of the world would change places with us in an instant notwithstanding.

Carl W. Goss:

America has become a force for instability in the world mostly by projecting power into situations where it shouldn't.

But this has been going on for years, under both parties, ever since the 1940s. The problem has become worse lately, owing to the influence of the Neocons on US foreign policy.

Hopefully with the defeat of the GOP and the election of a Democrat in 2008, the new administration will conduct a re-assessment of US foreign policy goals.

ADR:

The question is not whether America is perfect. She isn't. It is whether (a) the world needs leadership and whether (b) the US is the right nation to provide it.

Does the world need leadership?

There are many problems that can't be solved by nations acting alone. Terrorism and global climate change are two prime examples. International institutions have not shown themselves adept at dealing with either.

Is the US the right nation?

I don't know of another with the necessary resources to exercise leadership. Even when acting under the "UN" or some other International umbrella, a quick look reveals that most of the resources involved come from the US.

My sense is that a lot of frustration with the US is in recognition of these facts and that the US isn't fulfilling this stewardship in a manner they would prefer.

Would other nations really prefer a world in which the US took its ball and went home? Truthfully, I think most foreign diplomats are very fearful of that prospect.

None of this is to give the US carte blanche. We all need to accept that there is a need for American leadership, but in a manner different than is being exercised presently.

Richard B. Simon:

America using England as an aircraft carrier is exactly what George Orwell warns of in Nineteen Eighty-Four. England has been turned into "Airstrip One," a launching pad for continental incursions against the Soviets and the Chinese -- and the ongoing resource wars fought over the riches of North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.

http://scorpionbowl.blogspot.com/2007/05/george-lucas-american-orwell.html

Richard B. Simon:

America using England as an aircraft carrier is exactly what George Orwell warns of in Nineteen Eighty-Four. England has been turned into "Airstrip One," a launching pad for continental incursions against the Soviets and the Chinese -- and the ongoing resource wars fought over the riches of North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.

http://scorpionbowl.blogspot.com/2007/05/george-lucas-american-orwell.html

Skyblue:

Mr. Calhoun writes:
"Historically the United States has been and presently is highly adverse to imperialism and colonialism. We have just learned the hard way that if we retreat into isolationism, the rest of the so-called "balanced" world inevitably lets everything fall apart."

Do you consider only two viable options: imperialism or isolationism? How about international cooperation that seeks the benefits of all parties and not just American corporations?

Having military bases in Europe, Middle East and Asia is hardly called ISOLATIONISM. Could you
elaborate what you are referring to when you say:
"We have just learned the hard way that if we retreat into isolationism" ?

Bert W:

Agent G is exactly right when he says that every country in this world has some sort of dirt stuck to its heels.

No country is perfect, they all have advantages and disadvantages, good and bad (which ever ways those are defined by the individual). None is better or worse than the other, especially when history is factored in.

The one big thing, however, that really ticks many of us non-Americans off, is that noone else strutts around this world unilaterally claiming the moral high ground and presenting itself as Mr. SqueekyClean and morally superior as the United States of Amnesia does.

AgentG:

People (and nations by extension) love to criticize each other, preferring to maintain their own blind spots on their own shortcomings. And it is true that you only get a good perspective on yourself (or your nation) by considering other's views about you.

But we can only change ourselves. We cannot change Briton nor can they change us.

The truth is that both European countries and America have a lot of changing to do to improve themselves, regardless of how good and right anyone may feel themselves to be at the time. Interestingly, Europe and American need to change in exactly the opposite ways.

America needs to adopt a more humanistic economic system, with greater attention to the social costs of unfettered private enterprise. For example, we are not yet honest with ourselves about the long-term economic damages accrued when human labor is regarded as a mere commodity, rather than a resource that deserves investment for the future.

Europeans need to understand that the private sector is the ultimate source of wealth and that initiative and innovation are retarded with an overblown public sector.

Imagine how many problems we could solve if Europe and America grew to be more like each other, grew together to find a near perfect optimum.

Augusto:

Despite some historical inaccuracies from Peter Underwood, after reading the previous comment, it is clear that the arrogance is alive and well in the U.S., who appointed your country as a police force around the world?, who appointed your country as a reference to tell us how to live our lives and conduct our own destinies?, can you answer that Mr. Calhoun?.

The U.S. has colonies: Philippines, Puerto Rico, all U.S. territories, appoint their own SOB's in power (as Truman said). Let's be honest, spreading "democracy" and "freedom" means that as long some regimes (doesn't matter what kind, dictatorship, democracy) act in the best interest of the U.S (so called allies) and not necessarily of themselves, then everything is ok.

meuphys:

Rory Calhoun is wrong. In my position as a foreign language editor, I have met highly-educated people from around the world who share this view. True, unlike Mr. Underwood, most of them distinguish between American individuals and the American government, but they are right on the money in terms of our commonly-held assumption that because a thing or person is American, it is therefore better/more developed/more forward-looking. Several point out that this is a country in which the majority do not believe in evolution and believe in the literal truth of the bible, among other things. Interestingly, although not surprisingly, this feeling is now dramatically more prevalent and much stronger than it was at the beginning of the Bush presidency. It is long past time for us as Americans to get over ourselves if we wish to maintain our traditional status and influence. Persuasion and proof are more effective tools than bullying and braggadocio.

Bert W:

Oh Rory, you have just soooo proven Peter Underwood's point !

America good, everyone else bad, stupid, lethargic, ignorant.......

tony:

Oh man, this is hilarious. I agree that America's image is pretty bad, both at home and abroad. BUT please, British interests of the past 300 years ARE STILL part of the problem, too, okay? Let's not overlook that reality.

I don't even know where to start. The half-assed creation of Israel out of the British administration of Palestine? If just a little more time and money were to be invested in that process, I wonder what the outcome would be today?

One word: Africa. A total mess, no thanks to British policy and colonization.

Another word: Iraq. That's more British handiwork in bygone days for ya.

Look, I know Bush and the neo-cons are the worst Americans ever, but I don't delude myself with illusion of humanitarian grandeur.

We all have our ideals and when we downplay how much hard work it is to live up to just some of them, then we start thinking like Mr. Underwood.

I do envy the canal life, though. Sounds cool.

David Snyder:

Mr. Calhoun would do well to remember a few things before he calls anybody else a fool.

1. We declared war on Nazi Germany only after they declared war on us.

2. Britain did indeed fight to hold on to some colonies (Ireland, for one) but also was more than willing to divest itself of the headaches of colonization elsewhere (Palestine, India, much of Africa).

3. The US defintiely fought a war to hold on to the Philippines over the objection of the Filipinos. It was called the Philippine Insurrection. Nor is the US currently willing to give up Puerto Rico. Indeed, you still have a fair number of Americans who feel that the US should never have given up the Canal Zone.

4. As with Hitler, the US stood by on the sidelines while Europe struggled to deal with the Balkans in the late '80s and early '90s. Brtiain, France, and even Russia sent peacekeepers to Bosnia while the first Bush administration refused to get involved.

Keep right on talking/writing, Mr. Calhoun -- you're proving Mr. Underwood correct with every word that issues forth from you.

Rory Calhoun:

Mr. Underwood is a fool for reasons including but hardly limited to the following:

1) Britain did not "get rid" of its colonies. It fought tooth and nail to keep them, with only a successful few able to fend off their rampant aggression (the U.S. included). Mr. Underwood's wildly inaccurate glossing over of Britain's own moral inadequacies renders his entire commentary suspect.

2) The U.S. does not have any colonies. It does have some territories and protectorates that often decide to voluntarily vote themselves into statehood. If they do not wish to stay, a la the Phillipines, they are allowed to chart their own course through history without need for a war against a "colonial oppressor." Historically the United States has been and presently is highly adverse to imperialism and colonialism. We have just learned the hard way that if we retreat into isolationism, the rest of the so-called "balanced" world inevitably lets everything fall apart. Ignore the obvious examples of the World Wars - even the genocide in the Balkans took place under the "watchful" eye of the Europeans and, as usual, it took US intervention to fix it.

3) America is willing to listen to opinions. In fact, given the lethargy of Europeans, it seems like all we get out of them are opinions. But listening to them in no way requires us to then follow them. If we actually followed the opinions of the Europeans, we would have surrendered to the Soviets long ago (if not the Nazis). We listen to you, we just know you are full of hot air. Mr. Underwood himself is a classic example of this.

The world is a huge, chaotic, and largely cruel place where human rights, peace, and scientific endeavor are largely jettisoned outside of a few bright spots in the West and Asia. The reason the United States has been forced to continually come out of its self-imposed and desired shell is precisely because nations like Britain and people like Mr. Underwood will not deal with problems on their own. Perhaps the question he should be asking is what alternative would he prefer? A world dominated by despotic Russia or communist China? Let's hope he and other Britains aren't the sort of people to cut off their own nose just to spite their face, because America is one of the few points of balance and democracy left in the world.

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