18 January 2010

AMNESIAC AMERICA--GOOD AND BAD

The overwhelming majority of Americans, I believe, has no clue about American adventurism abroad. What do they know of the overthrow of the democratically elected Arbenz government in Guatemala that set in power the Somoza-family dictatorial dynasty? (Read about it in Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala, required reading for a Latin American Politics class I took in graduate school at Ohio University.) What does the average American understand about U.S. involvement in the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadeq government in Iran that set up the Shah as authoritarian monarch? Believe me, every Iranian knows that piece of their history. (See the Wikipedia article: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1953_Iranian_coup_d'├ętat>


Veering off my narrative: If you have not peeked behind the scenes at Wikipedia, you might take a look at the "talk page" at the top of the first page of the article I linked above, or in many Wiki articles. The dialog between dissenters and usually a single or more editors is an eye-opener about what Wikipedia goes through to try to remain neutral. Editors and dissenters will parse single words that someone considers critically pejorative. In this case, to take only one example on the talk page, there is controversy about using the phrase "anti-democratic coup d'etat," subsequently changed to simply "coup d'etat." When reading any talk page, know that "POV" refers to "point of view," which is what Wikipedia tries to avoid in its articles.


Back to the topic at hand: It is news to me to hear that America is considered by some to be the "bad guy" in relation to Japan and Pearl Harbor. Incidentally, Japan is hated by very many Koreans and Chinese because of Japanese conduct in WW II, including the infamous Unit 731 (read about it only if you have a strong stomach); its use of thousands of Korean "comfort women"--sex slaves--at its army bases; the Massacre of Nanjing, otherwise called the "Rape of Nanjing," in which bayoneting Chinese babies and women was its modus operandi de guerre; and its beheading of prisoners of war, including Australians. Every few years, when Japan sanctions a new set of history textbooks for its schools, both China and Korea lodge strong, official protests that Japan does not own up to, does not teach its children, the truth about its war conduct. Does any country? Look at U.S. textbooks re the Vietnam War.


But, this does not let the U.S. off the hook, just because other countries have committed atrocities. I agree, fully agree, that the U.S. has been, sometimes, a very positive force in the world, at least in many instances. However, in many others that people worldwide are very aware of (support for Israel and "collateral damage" in Iraq and Afghanistan, for examples) the U.S. gets blasted, and, I believe, rightfully so.


I believe, too, that it is the case that the most powerful country, after the end of the Cold War, is easy target for criticism. It goes with the territory.


As far as foreign aid, most Americans do not understand the gripe that people around the world have against the U.S. Americans see the U.S. as the most generous country in the world. That is both true and not true. How? Do you recall the storm of controversy that ensued immediately after the tsunami hit Aceh Province, Indonesia, and other places circum-Indian Ocean, that followed Pres. George Bush's announcement that the U.S. would provide $10 million in aid? The administrator in charge of U. N. humanitarian relief blasted the U.S. for its niggardliness. To be fair to the Bush Administration, it was only an initial pledge before the true extent of damage was known (much more aid came later), but it showed the widespread feelings about U.S. aid. (Incidentally, the Bush Administration gets fairly high marks for its foreign aid programs.)


Here is what was behind that animosity and continuing belittlement of U.S. aid. There are two ways of measuring generosity: TOTAL aid and PERCENTAGE of GNP. In the first category, the U.S. has returned to the top, after Japan in the early 1990s eclipsed the U.S. The U.S. does, after all, at least for a couple more decades, have the largest economy in the world. But, in the second metric--percentage of GNP--the international community has for many years called for each developed country to provide 2% of its GNP as developmental assistance . The U.S. is far down the list when looked at this way. And, that is the metric the rest of the world judges the U.S.: not by total aid but by percentage of GNP. By the way, Norway tops the list; seems Denmark is second.


But, to carry this one step further, and to cast a much more benign light on the U.S.: It seems to me that much of the aid coming from the U.S. is not "official" aid anyway. It comes from the private generosity of millions of Americans donating to the non-profits, such as American Red Cross, World Vision, CARE, Save the Children, and the very many faith-based groups. I have not seen this figured into evaluations of American "aid."


Then, those of us who are Progressives usually believe the massive U.S. defense budget must be cut. A few years back, the U.S. defense budget totaled more than the remainder of the next nine countries added together. Now the U.S. defense budget totals more than the rest of the world's combined defense spending! (This might be off-topic.)


So, the U.S. does great good; and the U.S. is responsible for great bad. What we need as a society is to understand the history and continuing foreign-affairs policies. But, I do not have much hope of that due to lack of interest by amnesiac America, including mainstream media which seem to operate on the premise that the previous 15minutes is irrelevant.

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