A Tale of Two Anti-Americanisms
OutlineTop of page
There is, of course no single American tradition or single American set of values. There are, and always have been, many Americas. We each of us remember and appeal to the Americas we prefer.
What does the term mean? That you’re anti-jazz? Or that you’re opposed to free speech? That you don’t delight in Toni Morrison or John Updike? That you have a quarrel with giant sequoias? Does it mean that you don’t admire the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who marched against nuclear weapons, or the thousands of war resisters who forced their government to withdraw from Vietnam? Does it mean that you hate all Americans?
Although most Americans may be largely ignorant of what was, and still is, being done in their names, all are likely to pay a steep price—individually and collectively—for their nation’s continued efforts to dominate the global scene.
1 Anti-Americanism is a hot topic: newspapers are full of references to the terms “anti-American” and “anti-Americanism.” In 2003, Alan Wolfe caricatured the field of American Studies by calling it “anti-American Studies” in a magazine article2 and singling out one of the best scholars in the field, Amy Kaplan, the former president of ASA (American Studies Association). After a 2004 conference the journal Social Research published some of the papers in a special issue entitled: Their America: The U.S. in the Eyes of the Rest of the World.3 In France, a major scholarly work on “French anti-Americanism” by Philippe Roger made the best-seller lists in 20024 and came out at the same time as another book on the topic written by a member of the French Académie, denouncing the alleged anti-Americanism of his countrymen.5 In 2005, Tony Judt and Denis Lacorne co-edited a collection of articles about anti-Americanism based on material from two conferences held in New York and Paris in 2002.6 Two decades earlier Lacorne et al. had published another study on perceptions of the United States.7 In 1993 Richard Kuisel in Seducing the French: The Dilemma of Americanization had traced the roots of current anti-Americanism in France, the country most often accused of anti-Americanism outside the Arab world.8 Salman Rushdie saw anti-Americanism “taking the world by storm.”9 In 2003 the Whitney Museum in New York organized an exhibition entitled: American Effect: Global Perspectives on the United States, 1990-2003 which showed how artists from around the world looked at America. This even triggered a debate about whether the exhibition itself was anti-American.10 In April 2007 Justin Webb hosted three programs on anti-Americanism on the BBC in Britain.11 No less than the president of the United States and the prime minister of Britain have denounced the anti-Americanism of their critics at home and abroad.
2 Those called “anti-American” are always accused of being hateful. In a 2004 book, Zbigniew Brzezinski talked about an “anti-American virus”—a strange biological metaphor, to say the least, long discredited due to its association with the Nazis.12 Yet Zbigniew Brzezinski belongs to a group of people who are convinced that American policies shape its image abroad. He has been making this clear since the start of the war in Iraq in 2003, notably in his book Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower.13 However, as yet there is no clear, widely shared definition of what anti-Americanism is, since the term is extended to cover very different phenomena and the charge of anti-Americanism is leveled at very different targets in more or less ideological ways.14 This paper focuses mostly on the post 9/11 period though the debate about anti-Americanism has much longer roots and has not radically changed since the Cold War.
3 As the title (inspired by Dickens and his “Tale of Two Cities”) indicates, I will try to disentangle two types of anti-Americanisms. One I call systematic or essentialist, which is a form of prejudice targeting all Americans. The other refers to the way criticisms of the United States are labeled “anti-American” by supporters of U.S. policies in an ideological bid to discredit their opponents. I will argue later in the paper that these two “ideal types” of anti-Americanism can sometimes merge, thus making discussion of the phenomenon particularly difficult.
4 The usual pattern in what one may call “anti-Americanism studies” (the study of what is called “anti-American”) is to argue that criticism of the United States is legitimate so long as it is not systematic (or systemic) anti-Americanism. I wish to depart somewhat from this common pattern and study the two broad ways in which “anti-Americanism” is interpreted. This refers to the psychological approach based on prejudice, and more historical and political perspectives (although some historians—or self-described historians—prefer the psychological, essentialist approach). I will come back to the problem of definitions later, for they are themselves part of the problem.
5 Let us therefore start unraveling this complex phenomenon with a quotation by Stanley Hoffmann, a Harvard professor and himself an immigrant from Europe:
The anti-Americanism on the rise throughout the world is not just hostility toward the most powerful nation, or based on the old clichés of the left and the right; nor is it only envy or hatred of our values. It is, more often than not, a resentment of double standards and double-talk, of crass ignorance and arrogance, of wrong assumptions and dubious policies.15
6 Hoffmann published a journalistic piece just after 9/11 in which he asked “Why Don’t They Like Us?,”16 focused mostly on the political reasons for disliking the United States. Two years later, in the article quoted above, he distinguished two types of anti-Americanism. Firstly there were “the old clichés of the left and the right” that include resentment towards the most powerful nation. This is what we might call the usual definition of anti-Americanism (they hate or envy us because we are richer, stronger and democratic) provided by usually conservative defenders of so-called American values. Hoffmann then proceeds to a second very different kind of explanation: “a resentment of double standards and double-talk, of crass ignorance and arrogance, of wrong assumptions and dubious policies.” In other words, “anti-Americanism,” according to this definition, appears as the consequence of something America does, it is a reaction to American actions.17 In a book of interviews originally published in France, Hoffmann proved even more critical of the Bush administration and resisted the more lenient interpretations suggested by his interviewer.18 Hoffmann clearly belongs to those who feel the violent cyclical logic of the War on Terror—with its attendant humiliations and feelings of shame leading to a desire for revenge—should be broken.
7 In this context it is rather interesting that a BBC poll carried out in early 2007 came out with a list of most popular and unpopular countries.19 Iran, Israel and the United States top the list of most disliked countries. Clearly this suggests that popularity is not based solely on prejudice or pure ideology, for Iran and Israel cannot be grouped together ideologically. Rather, what countries do on the international stage explains their standing. This 2007 BBC poll only confirms what Pew Research Center polls had revealed in 2002 and 2003 and still indicate today. The image of the United States took a major dip as the Iraq crisis developed. There is nothing essentialist about this, and no connections with an innate hatefulness of individuals or nations.20 Tony Smith, in his latest book, A Pact with the Devil, also refers to polls and analyses the link between actions and image, without siding, of course, with the terrorists.21 This link is indeed accepted by most scholars and is easy to decipher, because the United States is currently experiencing something that other nations experienced before. When France fought a colonial war in Algeria in the 1950s or when it exploded bombs in the Pacific in the 1990s it was not popular. In 1944-1945 the United States was clearly popular in Western Europe for obvious reasons and when Ho Chi Minh wrote letters to President Truman in 1945-1946 declaring he wanted Vietnam to adopt a U.S. style constitution no doubt the United States was more popular in that country than in 1968. As Martin Luther King said about the Vietnamese in a famous speech in 1967: “Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony.”22
8 Privileging the explanation based on prejudice corresponds to a political or ideological stand. Nationalists or neo-conservatives in the United States will resort to explanations based on essences and prejudices and try to discard political or historical explanations for this exonerates the United States of any responsibility in the shaping of its global negative image. If, as President Bush said, “we are good” and “they hate us” then the fault lies with them. Whereas if, as Hoffmann argues and the BBC and Pew Research Center further indicate, the image of a country largely depends on what it does on the international stage at a specific moment then it means that U.S. leaders and opinion makers would do well to analyze the reasons for what is sometimes glibly dismissed as “anti-Americanism.”
9 Andrei S. Markovits in Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America states that anti-Americanism has become the lingua franca of Europe and tracks prejudices and essences without linking them to U.S. actions.23 He relies on some European writers like André Glucksmann which clearly indicates that political and ideological views cannot be reduced to national affiliations. Revel deploys the same kind of arguments and targets mostly his fellow country-people who disagree about the United States. A Bulgarian writer, Ivan Krastev, adopts the a-historical Rumsfeldian categories of “Old Europe” versus “New Europe” and deplores that “[t]he pattern typical for France has now become common throughout Western Europe.”24 The British publication The Economist writes: “France is the great Satan for American anti-Europeans—remember ‘freedom fries’.”25 Meanwhile a Spanish conservative writer claims that Spain is the most anti-American country in Europe.26
10 On the opposite side of the ideological spectrum, broadly speaking on the left or liberal side, one finds works like Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies, Why Do People Hate America?27 and the more moderate work by Mark Hertsgaard, The Eagle’s Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World.28 These books show that anti-Americanism is a topic which fascinates as much as the United States itself. Two sets of interpretations, or maybe two ideological predispositions, have to be analyzed and disentangled here. These form part of a continuum stretching from “robust nationalists” (a phrase borrowed from Samuel Huntington) defending their country, right or wrong, who see “anti-Americanism” everywhere when there is only disagreement with U.S. policies, to systematic denouncers who feel that America and Americans are wholly bad, wrong, or evil all the time. President Bush’s now well-known statement: ”Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” leads to a kind of awe-inducing, all-encompassing definition of “anti-Americanism” which some researchers do not challenge.29 As with everything in social science, prior prejudices can tend to cloud the perspectives taken in otherwise “objective” research.
11 I chose Hoffmann’s quotation as an entry point into the topic because as a renowned political scientist who emigrated to America he is not usually accused of anti-Americanism, unlike many other American “dissidenters” like Noam Chomsky,30 Howard Zinn,31 or Edward Said32 (who are themselves very critical of the general tone of anti-Americanism). A writer like Stephen Walt, a Realist and certainly not a leftist, comes very close to the same analysis in his book Taming American Power: The Global Response to American Primacy.33 Like Walt, Hoffmann is aware that the United States, as the current hegemon cannot expect to be loved. As he wrote in his 2001 piece: “We were not sufficiently marinated in history to know that, through the ages, nobody—or almost nobody—has ever loved a hegemon.” Following Lord Acton, one could add: Power causes resentment and absolute power causes absolute resentment.
12 Here one dimension of “anti-Americanism” is not therefore specific to America or Americanism as such but rather is a variation of the usual resentment of dominant powers that make their dominance felt beyond their borders. George Kennan explained as much in a 1948 secret memo which has now become a standard and oft quoted reference:
Furthermore, we have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment.
13 The end of the same paragraph also explains why the United States runs the risk of being unpopular among destitute people or nations:
Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.34
14 So what goes by the name of “anti-Americanism” is akin to, say, the anti-Soviet resentment of Eastern Europeans after World War II, or Indian resentment of the British and Algerian resentment of the French. In its milder forms, anti-Americanism is similar to German or Spanish resentment of either the British or the French during the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. Not being dominant even when not directly dominated or colonized creates resentment of the top dog. This has therefore nothing to do with the values of the dominant power. Anti-Americanism of this sort today is therefore a resentment of power, a very usual and common phenomenon which exists outside the political sphere too.35 Many aspects of what is called anti-Americanism are similar to forms of xenophobia which, of course, exist in many guises. Nippophobia, Anglophobia, Sinophobia, Francophobia often work in the same way as anti-Americanism which should therefore be called “Americanophobia” (an admittedly not very euphonious term). When communism was a geopolitical force in the 1950s or 1960s communists often lambasted their opponents by calling them “basic anti-communists.” Disagreement was couched in disparaging moralistic terms that pretended to be a political analysis. The same phenomenon exists with “anti-Americanism.” The conservative American right conveniently recasts those who criticise its outlook as suffering themselves from a moral failing. Thus one of Bill Moyers’s interviewees once mentioned in a commentary about the media and the Iraq war that any critique was denounced as “anti-American” in the United States itself.36
15 Whenever a country conflates its political system with its nationalism, it creates resentment that takes the form of xenophobia outside its borders. Spreading revolutionary ideas at the point of bayonets was not the best way for France to make itself popular under Napoleon; Hegel may have seen history riding on horseback but German Kultur defined itself in opposition to France and anti-French sentiment in Spain struck deep roots which are easy to understand (think of the painting El 2 de mayo de 1808 by Goya). Sonderweg was a kind of answer to French expansion, displaying how one form of exceptionalism can breed not only opposition but also other claims to exceptionalism. America’s so-called “Manifest destiny,” besides working negatively as an ideological justification of the American Indian ethnocide, angered America’s neighbors at a time when the United States did not think of itself as an imperial power.37 Japanese or German attempts to make their countries into an ideology, claiming superiority over their neighbors, also caused havoc. The United States is not outside history, it is a “nation among nations,”38 and its current forms of exceptionalism and domination cause reactions and resentments as is usual in such cases. No one in the West dares to criticize the easily understandable “anti-Chinese” feelings of Tibetans or to blame them for some kind of inherent Sinophobia, a hardly ever used term. One of the best recent analyses of this phenomenon has been provided by Arundhati Roy.39
16 With the arrival of the Bush administration in 2001, and following the attacks on the Twin Towers and the subsequent American military interventions, there erupted a new surge of bitter anti-Americanism and equally bitter retaliatory recriminations. Statements by bin Laden or Al Qaeda leaders are mostly anti-Western and anti-Semitic more than specifically anti-American. Bin Laden despises “crusaders and Jews,” a much broader category than just Americans, although the United States is has been his specific target.40 This is what Hoffmann refers to as the rise of anti-Americanism in the second part of his quotation. Yet here this is linked to the actions of the U.S. administration. For President Bush anti-Americanism is a deficiency on the part of the Other, for he or she “hates” America and its values for no apparent reason. For Bush, Americans are blameless:
Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this chamber—a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms—our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.41
17 For Hoffmann, American arrogance and ignorance play a part. For Bush the world is a simple, black and white, Manichaean place with good guys and evil ones who want to destroy the good guys.42 For Hoffmann, Walt or Chomsky, the world is complex, a complex web of interactions in which what the United States does has consequences and, while by no means condoning atrocities committed by others such as the perpetrators of 9/11, they try to understand what part the United States played in these complex interactions. Hoffmann believes that some critiques of the United States are justified and others unjustified. Colin Powell, even when he was part of the Bush administration, clearly saw a link between American actions and the rise of opposition to them that he called “anti-Americanism.”43 The use of the same term to account for both types of critiques is therefore quite problematic and confusing.
18 In both al Qaeda statements and Mr. Bush’s declarations there is a belief in essentialism: for the radical jihadist “Jews and crusaders” are essentially bad and Muslims (the Muslims who follow his interpretation of Islam) are good. For the president of the United States “you are either with us or with the terrorists,” the United States is good and criticism of its actions is anti-American, or, if you are American, un-American. In the two cases “America” is a coherent whole, either wholly bad or wholly good. There is no space for a political or cultural analysis that distinguishes between rulers and people, sectors of the population and the whole population, moments in history, types of actions.44 But there are problems here. In the words of William Bennett, highlighting the links between domestic and foreign critics of the United States wrote :
The threats we face today are both external and internal: external in that there are groups and states that want to attack the United States; internal in that there are those who are attempting to use this opportunity to promulgate their agenda of “blame America first.” Both threats stem from either a hatred for the American ideals of freedom and equality or a misunderstanding of those ideals and their practice. Our goal is to address the present threats so as to eradicate future terrorism and defeat ideologies that support it.45
19 Here one encounters a semantic difficulty. The adjective “anti-American” can easily apply to any verbal or physical opposition to an action or an idea taken or developed by leaders of the United States. In this sense “anti-American” refers to someone who opposes the American administration, it is descriptive and limited in scope, as in the sentence by Chalmers Johnson: “The Ayatollah Khomeini replaced the Shah and installed the predecessors of the current anti-American government in Iran.”46 In this sense there is no system, nothing specific to the United States as a system of values or political principles. Opposition to French views in Europe may be characterized as “anti-French”, disagreement about the Polish conception of voting rights within the European Union can be characterized as “anti-Polish.” The adjective does not necessarily suggest an essentialist or ontological opposition to the values or the culture or the essence of a specific country. It may be used in a kind of neutral statement. Yet, if for some writers “anti-American” merely means “opposed to U.S. policies,” for others it means “essentially prejudiced, evil or paranoid.” The same term therefore may be axiologically neutral or a kind of moral indictment. When one moves to the noun “anti-Americanism,” things become even more complex. The conceptual term ending in “ism” suggests the existence of a system, a systematic or systemic opposition to America or to “Americanism” (generally defined as “allegiance to the United States and its customs and institutions”). However, this may lead to defining “loyalty” in extreme terms in some historical periods, such as the witch hunts in the 1950s, and therefore may discourage any form of criticism.47 In one case, opposition is context based, in the other it is essentialist.
20 Thus everyone understands that a severe critic of Mr. Berlusconi is not “anti-Italian” in an essentialist sense, which means that political opposition does not imply cultural rejection. In other words, there is no such system as “anti-Italianism.” For the United States, on the other hand, it is much more difficult. Critics of Mr. Putin’s vulgarity or of his violent undemocratic politics are not usually called anti-Russian, except maybe by Mr. Putin himself, and no one thinks there is a system called “anti-Russianism.”
21 Why is anti-Americanism then an apparently so singular phenomenon? Why isn’t it the equivalent of what Timothy Garton Ash has called “anti-Europeanism in the US”48 or even of Francophobia49 which was widespread in the United States in 2003 and is clearly present in the texts written by many critics of anti-Americanism? First there is the prevalence of “Americanism.” America is a country but also an ideology, Americanism. Other countries have chosen different names for their guiding ideologies. Britain was an imperialist power, is a capitalist country and a parliamentary monarchy. It does not call its system of values “Britainism.” Germany used the expression Sonderweg to achieve some kind of exceptionalism but this special way died with Nazism. As the United States is a country and an ideology, any disagreement with this ideology is bound to be perceived as an attack on the country. Within the United States, anti-Americanism often means disagreeing about core American values or principles, but then it is easy to show that the fiercest denouncers of domestic and foreign “anti-Americanism,” like Mr. Bush and his neo-con friends and advisers, have very little respect for such supposedly core American values and principles as freedom of the press and open government, or for the rule of law as far as prisoners or so-called enemy combatants are concerned. Let us just mention the illegality of Guantánamo50 and, on the domestic front, the so-called “signing statements” canceling laws passed by Congress,51 the illegal wiretapping of Americans52 or the sacking of prosecutors directed from the White House.53 So-called “anti-Americans,” whether they are American citizens or not, may be more respectful of these “American” principles than denouncers of “anti-Americanism.”
22 With anti-Americanism one is constantly moving between very different spheres: national pride and nationalism, xenophobia, political or ideological conflict, ideas and feelings, love and hate. Proponents of Americanism or the superiority of American values can therefore constantly translate political analyses into declarations of hatred and their own nationalism or national arrogance into a duty to love America. The denunciation of anti-Americanism borrows from the anti-racist paradigm born in the 1960s. Criticizing America becomes a wound, a slur, an unacceptable world view.
23 Were the demonstrators against a war in Iraq in 2003 anti-American? According to the restricted, descriptive political definition they, no doubt, were, for they opposed what was clearly a war-mongering approach chosen by the Bush administration. But they did not, at least in most countries in the world, have a systematically negative view of the United States, nor of all its values or people and therefore were not anti-American according to the essentialist definition. Indeed they agreed with what is now, in 2007, the dominant view in the United States itself where a majority of Americans know their administration lied to them and led them to an unnecessary war of choice with disastrous consequences for Iraq, the world and the United States itself. Even George Tenet, the former head of the CIA, argues that Vice President Cheney manufactured the supposed threat from Iraq.54 Is the American Historical Association anti-American when it adopts a resolution against the war in Iraq?55 Chileans, Spaniards, Greeks, Vietnamese or Iranians may harbor some rather unfriendly feelings towards the United States which are the legacy of American interventions in their domestic political life. This political distrust of the United States is entirely rational since it is based on more than dubious policies implemented by the United States at different times in the twentieth century in their countries. Thus the well-known Kissinger quote: « I don’t see why we neeed to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”56 This illustrates what is perceived as American arrogance and inability to understand why hostile feelings are aroused.
24 Yet political opposition can, and often does, drift into essentialist and systematic opposition, thus creating the most virulent form of anti-Americanism. Thus legitimate opposition can easily turn into prejudiced Americanophobia. The Schadenfreude which greeted the 9/11 attacks in some places in the world or among some circles in the West belongs in this category.57 The two interpretations or ideological dispositions mentioned earlier are Weberian ideal types but they can also combine or merge into each other creating a conceptual difficulty. In his famous speech against the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King quoted a “great Buddhist leader” who analyzed the passage from “rational opposition” to hatred in terms that have remained topical (and which should be pondered by the denouncers of “anti-American hatred”):
Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the hearts of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.58
25 It is important to emphasize that even in cases of intense anti-Americanism created by actions of the United States, the explanations given for this phenomenon vary tremendously according to one’s ideological position. Martin Luther King did not call this Buddhist leader anti-American but rather quoted him approvingly. On the right, “Anti-Americans” are presented as mad, psychologically disturbed, or even evil, effectively de-politicizing their political viewpoints and transforming politics itself into a branch of psychiatry. Whole groups tend to be symbolically tarred and feathered and reduced to the worst excesses of some of their members. For some on the US right-wing “the French” are simply anti-American and anti-Americanism is the ideology that binds them together. That this is demonstrably wrong does not check them in their denunciation. There is no doubt that some actions undertaken by haters of the United States, like 9/11, are morally repulsive. When bin Laden calls on all Muslims to “kill Americans,” there can be no doubt about his “anti-Americanism” of the essentialist, ontological type. There is no doubt that many forms of terrorism are ugly, unacceptable and cannot be condoned by decent people. Yet the accusation of anti-Americanism, coupled with a declaration of the goodness of America works, even in those cases, as an encouragement not to analyze a given situation in political and historical terms, not to accept any responsibility in a complex web of interactions. So, even when the language of anti-racism and the rejection of xenophobia is resorted to, accusing someone of anti-Americanism may work in return as an act of xenophobic and blind prejudice.
26 With the Bush administration after 9/11, the launch of the “war on terror” and the Iraq war things have become extremely difficult to unravel. As Jonathan Freedland writes in the New York Review of Books:
One of the few foreign policy achievements of the Bush administration has been the creation of a near consensus among those who study international affairs, a shared view that stretches, however improbably, from Noam Chomsky to Brent Scowcroft, from the antiwar protesters on the streets of San Francisco to the well-upholstered office of former secretary of state James Baker. This new consensus holds that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a calamity, that the presidency of George W. Bush has reduced America’s standing in the world and made the United States less, not more, secure, leaving its enemies emboldened and its friends alienated.59
27 As I have underlined there is no consensus about what anti-Americanism is or is not. This is usually the case when dealing with large ideological topics, such as anti-Communism, anti-Semitism or Islamophobia; here too definitions are not stable and accepted by all historians or social scientists. A presentation and study of various polemical or biased definitions is therefore in order to make sense of the impact these definitions can have on public debate.
28 Let us take the definition of anti-Americanism given by Paul Hollander in the preface written for the 1995 edition of his major work on the subject:
... anti-Americanism is a metaphor that stands for alienation, estrangement, radical social criticism or an adversarial view of American society and culture, it usually entails the misperceptions and exaggerations of the flaws and failings of American institutions and values; it also leads or amounts to an unrealistic and inflated view of the responsibilities that the (American) social system has for the problems and difficulties of particular groups and individuals.60
29 This fuzzy definition is quite explicitly ideological. Radical social critics are alienated and therefore anti-American. Anti-Americanism for Hollander means that you cannot oppose “American society and culture.” Here the anti-racist paradigm is exploited and translates into a duty to believe in Americanism. Anti-Americans are therefore anti-conformists in this view. Hollander here excludes a long and glorious tradition of dissent in America, ignores even some ideas of the Founding Fathers, and would probably classify Thoreau and Emerson as anti-Americans. He therefore mutilates America in order to save Americanism. An admirer of Thoreau however is no more “anti-American” than a supporter of President Bush. In the United States things are very clear, the right accuses the left and sometimes liberals of being anti-American, or “un-American,” the local variant.61 Some Europeans follow suit.62 Yet we all know there are different Americas and a diversity of Americans.63
30 The vague definition offered by Barry Rubin and Judith Colp Rubin in their book Hating America: A History operates in the same way as a kind of nationalistic blindness. They mention four points in their definition of anti-Americanism:
- An antagonism to the United States that is systemic, seeing it as completely and inevitably evil.
- A view that greatly exaggerates America’s shortcomings.
- The deliberate misrepresentation of the nature or policies of the United States for political purposes.
- A misperception of American society, policies, or goals which falsely portrays them as ridiculous or malevolent.64
31 This woolly definition can be accepted for the first point, but thereafter begs the question of what constitutes a “misperception.” What “misperception” can there be about the illegality and torture at Guantánamo or “extraordinary renditions”—a phrase which in plain English means illegal kidnappings, most of the time followed by torture in a foreign country? Indeed in their book the authors do not seem to realize that their own views are considered “misperceptions” by many scholars both in the United States and in the rest of the world. They talk about prejudices held by others and only mistakes made by the United States, and they disregard approaches based on analysis of specific policies for, they argue, anti-Americanism has been a continuous phenomenon. Obviously the authors seem to be unaware of NSC 68, or the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance (“Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival”). They seem not to know of “full spectrum dominance,” a term used by the U.S. military in 2000 in the Joint Vision 2020, and even not to be familiar with the 2002 National Security Strategy.
32 The statement by Keith Hall, who worked for both the Clinton and Bush II administrations, extends this desire for dominance to space: “With regard to space dominance, we have it, we like it, and we’re going to keep it.”65 All these documents indicate that, like most empires or dominant powers before it, the United States strives for hegemony, since the end of the Cold War it has striven for global hegemony, and it does not even try to hide it.66 “Washington’s bid for world supremacy” is the core argument of Tony Smith’s recent A Pact with the Devil, in which he claims that this determination represents “the betrayal of the American promise.”67 Meanwhile neo-conservative apologists like Max Boot declares that “America’s Destiny Is to Police the World,”68 and Charles Krauthammer regularly sings the same tune.69
33 The writers of Hating America do not know their own history and display only a rosy view of the intentions of their country. In so doing they can only resent critiques that tear the veil of exceptionalism away from the United States. Yet we can still follow them part of the way: Only anti-Americans would argue that the desire for hegemony is specifically American.70 All serious thinkers and scholars know that there is no exceptionalism here. As Chalmers Johnson writes: “Like the Chinese, Ottoman, imperial German, Nazi, Imperial Japanese, British, French, Dutch, Portuguese, and Soviet Empires in the last century, we are approaching the edge of a huge waterfall and about to plunge over it.”71 If Johnson were anti-American then he would also be anti-Chinese, anti-Turkish, anti-German, anti-British, anti-Dutch, anti-Portuguese and anti-Soviet or maybe anti-Russian. Genuine anti-Americans would argue that only the United States is bad; genuine scholars point out the similarities between historical situations and do not make narrow nationalistic or hateful statements.
34 Let us examine another example of this technique whereby invoking anti-Americanism does ideological cover-up work. “America is not what’s wrong with the world,” Mr. Rumsfeld said in his testimony about torture or as he prefers to call it “abuse” of Iraqi prisoners before Congress on 7 May 2004, adding: “I read all this stuff—people hate us, people don’t like us. The fact of the matter is, people line up to come into this country every year because it’s better here than other places, and because they respect the fact that we respect human beings. And we’ll get by this.”72 What are the relevant rhetorical operations here? There is an undeniable ethical and political problem (U.S. soldiers torturing and demeaning Iraqi prisoners and showing their sadistic enjoyment on digital photographs leaked to the press). Mr. Rumsfeld belittles the problem, argues like Bush that it is “un-American,” and then shifts the ideological and ethical debate to the field of feelings, arguing that people in general love America and that is why they want to emigrate to the United States. So immigration statistics are invoked to sweep the torture and political dimensions of the war in Iraq under the rug. The America that millions of immigrants do indeed choose, rather than “love,” often out of economic necessity, is not the America that decided to invade Iraq under false pretences and the America that condones torture.73
35 Denying the diversity of “America” is often one of the ideological uses of the accusation of “anti-Americanism.” Spanish and Portuguese speakers in the Americas resent the semantic appropriation of a whole continent by one country on this continent. There are obviously several “Americas” in the so-called Western Hemisphere but there are also several “Americas” within the United States a fact that apologists for Americanism and believers in the idea that you have to love or leave America do not want to take into account.74 What is this America that President Bush claims is hated by anti-Americans, a group so baggy it includes al Qaeda and the French? Is it the America of big business, especially the oil business, the America cutting deals with undemocratic Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as it did with Chile and the Iran of the Shah before, the America of tax cuts for the rich and no health insurance for the working poor, the America of organized media censorship among embedded reporters and the America that takes fright when Janet Jackson shows a breast but tolerates floods of violent images on all its screens? “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels” wrote Samuel Johnson in 1775 and this has remained true today. By wrapping themselves in the U.S. flag, or the rhetoric of “American values,” denouncers of anti-Americanism pretend to believe that America, that is the United States, is an undivided whole. But the question is which America do they defend? Patriotism has the same function as psychologizing: Everything becomes blurred and thrown into the same non-political rag bag. A good case can be made for arguing that Mr. Bush’s “patriotism” is indeed deeply anti-American since it departed from respect for the rule of law, impoverished the United States, led to unnecessary American deaths, and created a dreadful image of the United States in the world. Should one consider the writer of the following lines as anti-American, for clearly he seems to be critical of President Bush’s flight into militarism?
Of all the enemies to liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.
36 These lines, which proved prophetic, were penned of course by none other than James Madison in “Political Observations” in April 1795.75 Should one bow to President Bush’s injunction to be “with us or with the terrorists” when the “us” excludes such a famous member of the tribe? Or was Madison “anti-American” too? Or as the historian Charles Beard famously declared in 1935: “One of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in the great struggle for independence.”76
37 What has been said above does not, of course, deny that there are many “anti-American,” that is Americanophobic, essentialist statements and attitudes in many places in the world today. There is a very clear gap between essentialist Americanophobia and non-nationalist critiques of the United States. An anti-American would denounce torture in prisons (Iraqi or American) and claim it is an essentially American practice while an honest critic of the United States would acknowledge that torture was practiced not only by the Germans and the Russians but also by the French, the British, the Israelis, the Spanish and the Portuguese and many Latin-Americans. The anti-American restricts his or her critique to the United States, while the political or ethical critic analyzes a phenomenon that characterizes some situations and does not respect national boundaries.
38 The Iraq war and its preparation clearly highlighted the ideological work done by the accusation of anti-Americanism. The few Western leaders who openly disagreed with the U.S. president and his neo-conservative handlers were too easily called, like the countries they came from, “anti-American.”77 But “Anti-Americanism” is a two-way street. The prejudices of non-Americans are shaped in part by their national and personal histories, including their social position in their societies. Hostility to the United States may be the result of envy or a deficiency on the part of the “Other,” but “anti-Americanism” may also be the logical or rational reaction to something “America” does. By frequently denying responsibility for the impact of their actions, American leaders tend to erase one dimension of this two-sided phenomenon, a move that Walt and others analyze so well. The United States is indeed often chosen as a scapegoat but too often the charge of anti-Americanism is a convenient means to deflect and dismiss justifiable (and often well-meant) criticism.
39 I would like to end with a quotation from a famous British author referring to the nascent British Empire to highlight the fact that the relationship between the United States and the rest of the world is not exceptional but rather corresponds to well known patterns of domination: “We may say that we shall not abuse this astonishing and hitherto unheard of power,” Burke wrote of the British Empire in the 1770s, “but every other nation will think we shall abuse it. It is impossible but that, sooner or later, this state of things must produce a combination against us which may end in our ruin.”78 This is a lesson neo-imperialists might ponder, notably Niall Ferguson.79 In the conclusion of Empire (under the title Bearing the Burden and before approvingly quoting Kipling) he asks “What lessons can the United States today draw from the British experience of empire?”80 He proceeds to highlight the benefits of empire. Indeed, in his book about the U.S. Empire he encourages everyone to stop denying the United States is an empire that benefits the whole world. Neo-imperialist conservatives should read a leading conservative who two centuries ago had understood the difficulties of empire. It was then too early to call Burke anti-American.
Pierre Guerlain, « A Tale of Two Anti-Americanisms », European journal of American studies [Online], Vol 2, No 2 | 2007, document 4, Online since 17 October 2007, connection on 31 October 2014. URL : http://ejas.revues.org/1523Top of page