Dwight Longenecker is shocked by how many otherwise intelligent Englishmen assume that
Americans are only interested in pillaging the world's resources and dominating the weak
As an American who has lived in England for over 20 years I have an four kinds of anti-American attitude. The first is anti-American jokes or anecdotes. English people love to tell stories about the dumb American tourist with camera, cigar, loud trousers and a louder wife. My favourite is the conversation overheard as a couple stepped from a tour bus in Parliament Square. As she squinted in the sunshine, the good lady from Iowa saw the Houses of Parliament, clutched her husband's arm and shrieked, "Look Sidney, it's Oxford!"
Every country has stupid tourists because every country has stupid people. There are equally amusing stories of Basil Fawlty-type Englishmen shouting at French waiters in English hoping that the increased volume will increase comprehension. Every country sends their loud, vulgar people abroad. In this respect, do not English youths on Spanish beaches make American students seem like paragons of modesty, sobriety and good manners? It is true that Americans abroad are sometimes gauche, ignorant and loud. But when making these jocular observations the English must always remember that one of their own most famous exports is the football hooligan. When it comes to jokes the fun can be poked both ways, and there is nothing wrong with this sort of badinage between affectionate cousins.
The second sort of antiAmericanism is, however, more trying. This is the perennial tendency amongst the English to be snobbish towards Americans. No matter how educated an American is, the Englishman will regard him as an ignoramus. This is because, as TS Eliot observed, "The Englishman uses language as poetry, even when he is being practical, and the American uses language as a tool, even when he is being poetic." As a result most English people think Americans sound stupid. This misapprehension causes the English to constantly underestimate and misunderstand both individual Americans and the whole American culture.
Time and again the English make snobbish comments about the stupidity, vulgarity and violence of American culture. The English think snobbery is a witty form of social interplay. But because we use language as a tool we think snobbery is either rude or that it indicates a personality defect. As such, we believe snobbery demands a sharp rebuttal. As CS Lewis's American
wife Joy Gresham said when she suffered a waspish put down by one of the dons at Oxford, "Are you being rude on purpose or are you just stupid?" When will the English learn that snobbishness is neither big nor clever? It is simply embarrassing. Don't snobs realise that anyone with even a smattering of maturity and self confidence can see right through them to recognise their snobbery as a pitiful mask for personal insecurity and social inadequacy?
The third sort of anti-Americanism is blatant bigotry. Rather than jokes or snobbery, America is attacked for a whole raft of political, economic and cultural reasons. Never mind that the attacker has rarely taken the trouble to inform himself with facts or the complexities of an alien culture. It is good enough for them to resort to slogans, caricatures and the broad smash and grab of satire. In this pesture America is the great Satan. Americans are only interested in pillaging the world's resources, manipulating the world's economic system, exploiting the poor, dominating the weak and imposing fundamentalist Christianity on people made vulnerable by their ruthless hegemony. I am shocked at how many seemingly intelligent commentators in the British media assume such bigoted opinions. These anti-American attitudes are not simply amusing or annoying. They're dangerous. It doesn't take a genius to realise it was the same kind of crude propaganda that prompted the fanatics to fly airliners into the World Trade Centre.
Where does such bigotry originate? I believe it arises from the natural human instinct to criticise the man on top. It's natural to be suspicious and antagonistic towards the rich and the powerful. If the top dog is not only invincible, but wields his power with a sense of moral righteousness the outrage is even worse. When this human instinct descends to petty jealousy, bigotry and discrimination it becomes destructive. When it leads people to be closed minded and aggressive it can be dangerous.
However, this same basic instinct can be used as a right and proper check to unlimited wealth and power. There's actually nothing wrong with being suspicious of those who wield enormous power. Rich and powerful people should be criticised. When anti American attitudes are thought through and expressed rightly, they provide a good balance to the invincible power of America.
And that brings me to the tburth form of anti-Americanism. The final form of antiAmericanism is actually a proper criticism of America. Not all the criticism is the result of ignorant and immature jeal.ousy.
This is why the international diplomacy of the Pope is so important. The Pope actually loves America, so his criticism is all the more potent. Furthermore, he speaks from a worldwide perspective and with over 25 years' experience on the international stage. Most importantly, he speaks without an ulterior political and economic agenda. The Pope is not jealous of American power and wealth. He doesn't need to win an election. He has no plans to exploit the oil wealth of Iraq.
Neither is the Pope a simplistic pacifist. In the Iraqi conflict he is not in favour of appeasement. The Pope sees the need to resolve the terrible situation in Iraq, but he insists that the use of military force causes more problems than it solves. Pope John Paul II has seen harsh regimes fall without resort to war. In Poland, the Philippines, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Albania the regimes crumbled from within.
The Pope's criticisms show us the proper way to criticise those with invincible wealth and power. The Pope's method of criticism deliberately avoids naming names. He doesn't criticise America. He criticises greed. He doesn't condemn America, he condemns what he sees as the unjustified use of military might. In other words, the Holy Father teaches us to condemn greed, duplicity, cruelty and the unjust use of power wherever it occurs. If such criticisms apply to America so be it. Americans must have the courage to listen to their critics. Then with intelligence and clear vision they must not only reply to their critics, they must also question their own aims, motives and means, remembering that the only people who are always wrong are those who think they are never wrong.