Date: Sun, 24 Jan 1999 03:56:25 -0500
From: Dave Farber <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: IP: A Taboo: American Anti-Americanism
I found this an eye opening note djf
From: "victor fic" <email@example.com>
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
I apologize for my clumsiness. I sent a version of this post earlier
that leaves out a crucial last point. Please respond to this revised
version. Thank you and sumimasen.
Tom Flanigan's opinion on American lawyers siding with Japan interests
me because for several years now, I have been collecting evidence on
what I call the phenomenon of American anti-Americanism (readers should
note that I am not an American). By this phrase, I mean the propensity
of the American elite to criticize or even bash their country, its
foreign policy means and ends, and its historical figures with an
alacrity that to me suggests self-hatred.
During our December discussion of Pearl Harbor commemorations, I gave
specific examples of conversations and debates with Americans in Japan
who had laughed at, sarcastically refered to, or cynically diminished
the suffering of Americans at Pearl and after.
I received some posts encouraging me to add additional thoughts, and so
here they are, prompted by Tom. There is so much more evidence that I
could cite; certainly, I will oblige those who write to me publicly or
I have long suspected that the American intellectual elite prides itself
on exploding taboos in American society that favor the establishment --
but these elites have their own taboos. It is Europe envy, which is an
attempt to seem sophisticated, and to a lesser extent it is Japan envy,
a related attempt to seem liberal minded.
My sense is that many American elites do not want to discuss the
possibility that they feel inferior to European intellectuals. The
evidence includes the obligatory Grand Tour of the Continent after
graduation, and the worship of leftist European intellectuals after the
war. I must add as well the remarkable stoicism that the American elite
show in the face of European exploitation of US diplomacy: the "allies"
have yet to pay their WW 1 debts, the American muted reaction to the
calculated European failure in Bosnia, the bizarre notion that the
Europeans are more far sighted, mature or wordly in their diplomacy. (I
am proudly half European and I know something about the Old Continent's
political history. I argue that Europea's diplomacy can be summarize
thusly: Europe pisses its trousers, calls the US and says, "what are you
planning to do about this", and then complains about American ignorance
Then we must add the abuse and insults that Americans in Europe
experience personally. One American girl in Belgium was almost raped and
feared she had aids because she bit the hand of the rapist, who then
bled into her mouth. Her host dad called her an "American bitch" when
she used the family phone allegedly for too long when calling her mum,
even though she was using her own calling card. Whenever I was mistaken
for an American in Europe, I was surprised by the abuse directed my way
-- even in brotherly Britain. Several American friends, pro-American
Europeans and I have often commented that there is a level of crass,
ugly anti-Americanism in Europe that would be condemned if it happend in
America, directed at Europeans. One German man who knew that I am a
Canadian told me in Tokyo that he was once in a bar in Belgium that
refused to even serve Americans. He had studied at Stanford, and I
called him a hypocrite for defending a we vs. them mentality, and a poor
student who had failed to learn what is best about America; he had only
come to scalp it for a degree. He was embarassed, and said to me that as
a Canadian, he assumed I would enjoy his anecdote, and I am different
from the Canadians he knew in Europe who hated America, and he just
assumed, you know, that Europeans and Canadians sort of team up ...
Intellectually, most Europeans I encounter are ardent about depicting
the US as a failed society, a freak show, a wild frontier, a joke.
European journalism on America is often incompetent. One French reporter
I knew in Seoul kept insisting that Americans are sexual prudes. Also,
because Lewinskygate made the cover of Time and Newsweek so often, this
shows how mentally shallow Americans are. I had to tell him that most
Americans don't care about the sex, but do care about the lying, and
that in the 1960's, America underwent a sexual revolution. And most want
the whole issue to just go away. I noted as a free lancer with CBS that
the American media is often out of touch with the average American's
wishes, and that 10 editors at Time, not the public, put the scandal on
the cover. But the feeling I got from him was that he feels he -- and
other French people -- understand America better than the Americans do,
never mind the umpteen pro-Clinton polls, or the anti-media sentiment
that has built up since Vietnam and Watergate.
I also recall that in 1996, a British newspaper excerpted in the Japan
Times managed to say that life in America is an unmitigated "hell" for
millions. It gave little evidence for this hyperbole, and there was no
attempt to view the stats showing ever growing optimism and prosperity.
Whenever a person gets executed in some state, the European media covers
it emotionally, high lighting the notion of barbarism. These reporters
never seem to note that some states have never executed, some do not
enforce the law, some only do it here and there. It is "America" that
gets indicted. When that jet caused the gondola to crash in Aviano, the
Italian press howled about the Rambo mentality of American society.
Little attention was paid to the tradition of law and to how lawyers
dominate society, to American diplomats showing sympathy and apology, to
the criticism of the pilots in the US press and society. Nor was there
any hint of irony given Italy's tradition of lawless and bloody rule
breaking. No mention either of its own macho mentality that includes
facists and the sexual denigration of women in ways that Americans would
It is interesting to me how the American elite never really analyzes the
phenomenon of European anti-Americanism: its roots, manifestationss,
American errors, European failings, and the implications intellectually,
personally and diplomatically. They should admit that they admire and
envy British accents, and are prone to believing any nonsense expressed
with such an accent, and that they feel better about themselves if a
Brit. patronizingly tells them that they are ok (Canadians are even
worse accent worshipers)!
I once read a hugely indicative commentary in 1993 or so by Jim Hoagland
in the Washington Post. He said that some French intellectual or
whatever had called him to criticize the US's Bosnia policy. During the
conversation, the term "American civilization" came up because I think
the French guy billed himself as an expert thereof. Hoagland managed the
self-hating statement, it is nice to know that they (the French) think
we have a civilization.
Any how, it seems to this highly sensitive writer, who does not even
insult people who deserve it, that the American elite tries to appear
international, sophisticated and cosmopolitan by being pro-European;
this entails turning against Americans who are parochial. America's
elites dislike steel workers because they cannot tell Brie from
Camembert. And even if they could, they would still eat pizza cheese.
Siding with Japan not only permits the elite to look wordly, but also
liberal minded and anti-racist. Part of this entails knocking down
I once lived in Chiba with an American housemate who was a liberal. I
raised Lee Iacoca with him, and my friend immediately started to mock
Iacoca's tv add in which he solicited donations to refurbish the Statue
of Liberty. My friend went on to insult Iacoca. I wonder if the Japanese
viewer would insult Morita if he did an ad calling for money to save
Another American liberal friend in Tokyo was full of double standards
a) if the Americans accuse the Japanese of protectionism, or of deceit
and the exploitation of good will, the Americans are whining because,
hey, business is war. But if there was evidence that the US was making
excuses for poor performance, or if one proposed that the US mimick
Japan and engage in knavery, that is immoral and dishonorable rather
than good strategy.
b) if the Japanese are playing rough while claiming to be an ally and
friend, well, friendship does not mean being a wimp. That is life, grow
up! But if the Americans play rough, that is bullying and Japan bashing.
c) if the Japanese claim "culture" when they want to avoid modern
standards, and then claim "democracy" when they want to be treated as an
equal, we must recall that Japan is both traditional and modern. But an
American could never be anti-Japanese on the grounds that American
culture has usually been white. The US cannot have two standards, Japan
d) if Japan is accused of racism, recall that there is racism in America
too. But on crime, one must admit that it exits in Japan, but is less
common and less extreme. Plus, social attitudes are different. How
interesting that on crime, my American friend could note context and
degree, but on race he insisted, well, it is everywhere.
e) the Japanes can crow about their economic power during the bubble
years, even issuing anti-black insults and statements about the power of
a racially pure society. If the Americans feel put down, that is tough.
The US must realize that the Japanese have pride and the US should not
beg for crumbs at the table. But what if the US is up, and Clinton and
Rubin are self-congratulatory and criticize Japan far more mildy than
the Japanese did the US? This is triumphalism, provocative, excessive.
Boy, the Japanese won't forget these slights because they are a really
sensitive people and they will even the score one day.
f) on the war, my American elite friends would never make excuses for
Germany, such as the poverty of the Weimar Republic; the vindictiveness
of the French; the threat of Bolshevism; the pro-Hitler views of English
royals, Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford and others; the
legitimacy of anti-semitism in most European countries etc. But these
elites make alibis for Japan: the admitedly sorry history of
anti-Japanese racism in the US; the oil and iron embargo; the scramble
for Asian colonies, etc. Defending Germany is taboo, but seeing the
Japanese point of view is a sign of open-mindedness even though the
Japanese rallying cry for the war was, kill all, burn all, steal all.
The common ideological thread in all of the above I term an attempt to
"delegitimize the American experience." These self-bashing elites want
to promote the idea that the American experience or position is somehow
less valid intellectually, or less emotionally appealing, than the
experience of the Other.
Freelance broadcaster and writer
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