The Fable of Anti-Americanism

by Erik Koht

"Anti-Americanism" is a label of convenience launched by those who would prefer foreigners applauding American policies on all issues. This is a "clouding-the-issues" kind of a term. A similar strategy is used widely by Israelis who will accuse people of anti-Semitism if they criticise Israeli policies and methods.

The term anti-Americanism lacks the historical backbone of pogroms, ghettos and the holocaust, but does borrow some of the effect, that of implying that a negative stance on specific issues are purely emotional, murky and based on wide-ranging prejudice. Like: "How can we argue rationally with these Europeans, they are all anti-American".

But a person who rejects the notion of wars of aggression, cultural imperialism, neo-capitalism, unilateralism etc. etc. will reject these principles and methods no matter what country they evolve in or emanate from - even his own. The European left is far more likely to take issue with American policies than the business oriented European right.

Having been born in extra-parliamentary opposition, the left learned early on the art of street demonstrations in order to make their thinking known to the general population. They let their demands be known on vital social and labour issues as well as in matters concerning human rights. This is still an important tool of the political left, though other issues with no obvious parliamentary champion are also expressed in this manner, for instance women's rights, environmental issues and EU membership. These issues do not follow traditional right-to-left politics.

I have seen demonstrations against the imprisonment of Falungong members, against the expropriation of Sami grazing rights for building hydro-electric power, against the expulsion of Afghan asylum seekers, against Margaret Thatcher on general principle, against joining the EU. None of these were directed at the United States. Others were: When the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations reached their peak here, they also peaked in the United States. Often political activists will see and interpret things that others are not aware of, and call our attention to them. Were these Vietnam demonstrations anti-American? Few would say so today, and no one should be saying that the American demonstrators were anti-American, you have to be a foreigner to attain this label.

It is true that demonstrations by far left elements are more likely to be called on issues that touch on American actions. This is some kind of back-handed compliment. The demonstrators rightly believe that their actions are more likely to resonate in the American halls of power than demonstrations directed at monolithic states like the former Soviet Union, today's Russia or China. Information from the US is more readily available and the social bonds between Europeans and Americans are strong. It is also true that American press will be much more likely to register opinions on USA related subjects. What we think about other subjects and how we treat them hardly matters to Americans.

On the world stage my country has few political instruments for making our thinking known. One such instrument is the Alfred Nobel Prize for Peace. It is by its nature a provocative prize. Fortunately the mandate of the Nobel Prize Committee has now been expanded beyond that which was specified by Alfred Nobel, making it less blunt and one-dimensional. At the time of giving the prize to Martin Luther King, Jr. the committee went out on a limb. Rev. King had not "reduced standing armies" in the world. At the time, most Americans did not appreciate the Norwegian gesture. So, was this also an expression of anti-Americanism? To some it may have looked that way. Dalai Lama is also a Nobel laureate, a fact not much appreciated by the Chinese communist government.

Condoleezza Rice recently cited the thronging of foreigners to American universities as proof of the great, but hidden, admiration the world has for the United States. President George W. Bush said that the US has an economy the whole world envies. Both are "no cigar" statements. The overwhelming majority of students stay at home in their own countries to study and are perfectly content to do so. In Europe its usually free. Students go to Singapore, Australia, the US or move within the European Union. What a person does to further his studies and career does not make him or her "pro" anything. It is also true that countries are not striving to copy American capitalism, some because they can't, others because they won't. At the moment the only country likely to achieve some resemblance to the US raw capitalism is China, though they haven't copied your debt.

The French and Germans expressed their negative stance on the unprovoked attack on Iraq. So did many other European countries. Still, governments do what they do, often irrespective of public opinion. A million marchers in London did not sway prime minister Tony Blair. The Spanish changed official opinion in mid-air. There are two layers of European attitudes to US actions, an official one and a grass roots movement. Some times these coincide. In the US, it's the same. As it turned out, the French and German governments were "right", so was the Pope and so were the minority of Americans who opposed the attack in 2003 Giving an ally good advice is not being anti-American.

Your administration, your press and the public at large would have been well advised to listen. In stead some pretty horrendous verbal attacks were launched, clouding the issue. Now does that mean Americans are infused with anti-Europeanism? No, but I do detect a lack of knowledge and respect. Friends should treat each other as equals, it is no good always wanting to be top-of-the-heap - just laying down rules for others to follow. We understand, and so should you, that American strategies are shaped to suit American interests. They may come dressed up as universal truths. You need to listen to other voices, addressing other concerns, to know the real effect of American policies abroad.

Other Essays by Erik Koht

Ye twenty-seventh letter of ye alphabet
Taxes: The Tool
How to speak Norwegian? Nobody really knows
They said it couldn't be done: Making a profit while caring for human rights
A Soldier Died Today
Propaganda and Censorship: My Head Belongs to Daddy...
Freedom: a Resource, a Condition, a State of Mind, a Slogan, a Dream
How to Keep Your Honour:
Try Killing Your Daughter and Stealing without Getting Caught

Multilateral Treaties and the Bully State

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