"America the Scapegoat"

By Meera Atkinson

Published December 3, 2001 9:00AM (EST)

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Thank you for Meera Atkinson's interesting and impassioned essay regarding the anti-American sentiment following Sept. 11, especially as written by a non-American. Here in Toronto we watched the events unfold in horror, in shock. Canadians have a long history of good-natured anti-American feeling. From our nation of quiet patriotism America has always seemed overdone, self-absorbed and hilariously uninformed about the world around them. Even though we share a border and a culture, Canadians have always been proud of our separate identity and hate being mistaken for Americans abroad. All that changed on that horrible day. I felt as though our own country had been attacked, I felt ashamed of myself for my former simplistic views on U.S. foreign policy. I hated to know that I would have been one of the screaming protesters had the U.S. finished the job in Iraq by wiping out their military. But now, I'm awake. I think we all are. And there are harsh realities to be faced all of us in the Western world. I have been overwhelmed by the resilience and determination of the people of New York and the rest of the United States. If someone mistook me for an American now, I would be proud and say thank you.

--Lawrie Hopkinson

Meera Atkinson's defense of America is touching, and correct. But she need not be concerned about rampant anti-Americanism in her native land. There is no country in the world that is closer to the United States both culturally and politically than Australia. Support for the war on terrorism has been all but universal. I would imagine the Flat Earth Society has a bigger membership than the Sydney chapter of the Osama Fan Club!

This is not to say Australians are uncritical fans of all things American. We are often very irritated by the way successive American governments have subsidized and protected U.S. farm interests at the expense of Australian farmers. But we have exactly the same complaint against the European Community.

Like Meera we are disappointed to see so little reference to Australia in the United States press; but in large measure that is a tribute to our political stability; peace, progress and liberty are not nearly as newsworthy as war, revolution and tyranny.

The genius of the United States is that it has defined its nationhood by reference to a shared commitment to a common set of political ideals. Slightly differently nuanced, we share those ideals and will continue to do so. Our two countries will continue to grow closer one to the other and I am very confident that in so doing we Australians will maintain our special character, similar to America but different. More tolerant, more skeptical, less deferential, less passionate, more egalitarian. There are good and bad sides to our differences. Of course it is good to be skeptical and less deferential, but as Meera points out, one manifestation of that is the "tall poppy syndrome," which is suspicious of achievement.

Our politics is more consensual and much less passionately debated than is America's. Good for everyone's blood pressure, but it also means we are too often inclined to take the middle course simply because it is in the middle and not because it is right.

The two countries are an interesting study in contrasts; interesting because the similarities are so obvious and the differences so subtle. But however one may magnify those differences (and it suits both sides to do so from time to time), we share the same commitment to democracy, tolerance and freedom.

--Malcolm Turnbull

Meera Atkinson has verbalized many of the concerns that have appeared in my heart since Sept. 11. The terrorists are evil, and they do need to be stopped. However, America is not evil for doing so. We must stop mindlessly criticizing America. Let us remember that America can and does change.

The black slaves of the 19th century, and the black citizens of the early to mid-20th century did not blow up America for her wrongs. They strategized and perservered, and America changed. Everyone in the world should look to them as a role model on how to address their issues.

As a black American I know I am a descendant from slaves. I also love my country so much I would fight for it if I had to. However, I know this because my eyes are fully open to the flaws and the good points in her character.

--Zhe Scott

Reading Meera Atkinson's article about anti-Americanism one could be forgiven for thinking that Australia has been seething with this sentiment since Sept. 11. One of the problems with getting your information from the Internet is that extreme opinions get amplified. As an Australian, I can tell you we have actually committed over 1,500 SAS special forces and a number of naval ships to the War on Terrorism -- and have left the door open for more in the future. The naval defense alliance between the U.S. and Australia has had its Article 5 activated by the Australian government for the first time in the treaties' history because of Sept. 11. This effectively cedes operational control of Australian military forces to the U.S. military command to use them as they see fit. In our recent national elections both major political parties tried to outdo each other in their commitment to the war. And on Sept. 12 here there was a palpable outpouring of horror and grief at the destruction we saw wrought on our television screens.

In her search for reasons for Australian anti-Americanism she chooses the most trivial examples of the "over-paid, over-sexed, and over-here" stories from more than 50 years ago. However, a more recent reason could be the hundreds of troops Australia sent to the Vietnam War at America's behest -- a move justified at the time by Australia's "blood debt" to the USA for the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942. During the Cold War Australia was prepared to be a nuclear target by allowing the U.S. Navy and Air Force to refuel at various ports and cities, and by allowing the Pine Gap communication centre to operate on its soil. Meera also could have mentioned the USA's rank hypocrisy when it comes to "free trade." Australian farmers have been going through hard times over the last 20 years to make themselves competitive on international markets. But anytime the United States feels that Australian farm exports might be cheaper, various administrations suddenly extend tariffs and/or subsidies for U.S. farmers to protect their own markets.

Given all this, Australians have some perfectly good reasons for being anti-American beyond the "spoiled isolation" Meera attributes to us. I personally support the War on Terrorism -- but generally speaking I think Australia would be better served on most occasions by disentangling itself from U.S. foreign policy. To speak of anti-Americanism as if it is a homogenous movement or ideology won't help the U.S. reader to understand the range of reactions the rest of the world has to American actions.

--Tim Dymond

I think a lot of this article is about something it doesn't articulate all that well: many people outside the U.S. love America but find George W. Bush shallow and scary. This feeling leapt into sharp focus following his speech to Congress after Sept. 11, which was broadcast live in many nations, including the writer's homeland, Australia.

In his speech, Bush in effect declared as much of the globe as he felt like to be a free-fire zone. This reasonably scared the hell out of a lot of people outside the U.S. -- but excited little or no interest within it. The New York Times "transcript" in fact edited out the scarier parts. The body language of the senior military officers sitting in the front row of the Senate chamber was unmistakable: They were a good deal less gung-ho than their commander.

It's interesting that the fairly widespread pre-9/11 U.S. feeling, that Bush was shallow and scary, has become a point of view almost impossible to articulate since the terrorist attacks. This month's new regulations and laws designed to strip away many of the U.S. Constitutional safeguards for people whom peace officers, perhaps mistakenly, think of as terrorists suggest that Bush does in fact continue to be shallow and scary, and the latter, not just to terrorists.

--Paul Lynch

Beautiful article. I am in immigrant from India and I know how a foreigner feels. I've had the same feelings about the Iraqi children dying or about America's foreign policies. I read articles from a lot of countries and I think I have a little bit of understanding on current issues. I cannot stop myself from admiring America for all its openness, vision of freedom, rational thinking, richness, etc. In the end I do feel, like the author, that this country deserves acknowledgement of its good deeds and compassion for its tragedies. Who can blame America when they see Afghans smiling, or dancing in the streets of Kabul?

--Anupama Rangachar

I read Meera Atkinson's piece "America the Scapegoat" hoping that I wouldn't hear the same age-old defense against overseas criticism -- but in fact she simply gives more feed to all Europeans, without realizing it, for criticism of the U.S. in Europe. (Quick background note, I am an American who has lived in both France and Finland, two years each, currently in France.)

First, all of her sources come from either personal acquaintances or highly reactive members of the anglophone (especially British) press. Most obvious is the fact that all are English speakers, except her French acquaintances, who seem to live in the U.S. Does Ms. Atkinson speak a foreign language that she can use to consult other European news sources and/or non-English opinion forums?

Secondly, her classification of criticism as "anti-American" and "America bashing" is a blanket judgment that makes me wonder if she's ever spent a significant amount of time actually speaking with Europeans living in Europe. I, personally, have never once been unreasonably criticized for the simple fact of being American. I do have extremely interesting discussions about world events with my friends. However, I speak fluent French, which in the eyes of French people does cast me in a different light than that of "average" Americans (read: unilingual, which 85 percent of us are, compared to the 80 percent of bilingual Europeans as well as a substantial percentage or tri- and tetra-linguals). Europeans love certain aspects of America and have strong distaste for others, just as they do for their own countries -- which Ms. Atkinson conveniently ignores, and worse, uses as an argument: "America has blood on its hands: The rest of the world, apparently, does not." Does the name "General Aussaresses" ring a bell? Algeria? Corsica? French nuclear testing? These were and are explosive debates in France, all with French "blood on its hands," quite literally in several cases.

And it is also well known that the French, continuing the example, are a politically active people, often going on strike (this week it was bakers, in January it will be bankers), and who are constantly clamoring for individual rights. In their own country. What they criticize as capitalistic hegemony in the U.S. is also criticized in France When they claim the U.S. is hypocritical, they do so with reason -- because of exactly what Ms. Atkinson illustrates: ignorance of everyday political actions elsewhere in the world, and basing "Europeans are anti-American" on the emotive statements of a few individuals rather than looking further to try and get a balanced picture.

If Ms. Atkinson "has yet to meet a person who refuses to use oil-dependent modes of transportation," she has not yet met enough people. Most buses and metros (subways) in French cities run on electricity, natural gas and sunflower oil (yes, that's right, sunflower oil). Ninety percent of the country's electricity is produced through nuclear power -- clean yet controversial here; recent developments have seen more and more windmills and solar panels sprouting up across the country.

Undeniably, the U.S. deserves compassion, and has received it. This too is easily found in French news sources and among the French people, for example Le Monde's several editorials explaining that "we are all Americans." The newspaper Liberation created a forum after Sept. 11, highly active since, titled "Can we criticize the U.S.?" It's been a seesaw ride between opinions, not at all one-sided. The French supported the U.S. military action in Afghanistan with words and military support. Why is this ignored? The only major criticism agreed upon by all in Europe was that the U.S. humanitarian drops should not have been equated with the military campaign, as well as reminders that the U.S. should not take its bombing campaign to Iraq (France's defense minister made a statement on this yesterday).

Indeed, there are, nonetheless, Europeans who resort to hate speech and simplistic judgments about the U.S. -- just as there are Americans and persons living in the U.S. who resort to uninformed, biased judgments on Europe.

--Anna Stevenson

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