The Reality of the Two Americas

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: George W. Bush, United States Of America Views: 8108

Two radically different Americas were on display this week. Both are real, and both must be recognized a real to understand my country.

On the one hand, there was the appearance of Alberto Gonzales, President Bush's nominee for Attorney General, before the US Senate Judiciary Committee, answering questions about his role in the sordid chain of events that led to the horrors of Guantanamo and the torture at Abu Ghraib.

At the same time, there was, across America, an outpouring of extraordinary generosity, raising hundreds of millions of dollars for the victims of the tsunami that devastated South Asia.

Generosity of spirit, empathetic to the extreme: that's who we are. Arrogant in the use of power, insensitive to the plight of our victims-that, too often, is also how we operate.

First, Gonzales. In an especially powerful opinion piece published this week, a Washington Post writer asked the Senate to recall, before they vote to confirm Gonzales, the revulsion they felt when they first saw the obscene photographs of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. And in an equally compelling New York Times articles, a writer warned that if knowing what we now know, Gonzales is confirmed as Attorney General, not only will justice have been aborted, but America itself will be compromised. "Torture," he wrote, "will belong to us all."

As we have learned from documents that have been released in the past year (despite some still being withheld by the White House), the torture wasn't accidental, nor can it be dismissed as rogue behavior. The use of torture was more widespread and involved a wide range of despicable and outlawed practices. And its use was known at the highest levels of the Administration.

What is, therefore, so disturbing in all of this, is that despite the horror experienced by Americans when they first learned of the torture at Abu Ghraib, despite the enormous damage this entire affair has done to the international image of America, and despite pledges that those responsible would be brought to justice, the individual responsible for the official White House memorandum that, in effect, absolved the US military from adhering to international conventions prohibiting torture, is now on the way to becoming the nation's top law enforcement official.

Why this arrogance and lack of accountability? Because, tragically, that is, sometimes the way we operate. 

While this sordid tale unfolds in Washington, millions of Americans, gripped by tragedy in South Asia have mobilized a largely spontaneous national effort to provide assistance to those in need.

The world knows of President Bush's commitment of $350 million in relief aid, with more, if needed. They've seen scenes of a veritable US armada of military aircraft and personnel assigned to deliver this aid and provide critical logistical assistance to other nations' efforts. And they've heard Bush's wise decision to bring two former Presidents to help in mobilizing the private sector in response to this humanitarian crisis.

The President was right when he said, "We're showing the compassion of our nation in the swift response. But the greatest source of America's generosity is not our government. It's the good heart of the American people."

It's this last point that most of the world may not know about. Scanning press reports from across the country reveals a startling outpouring of giving-what one report called "a tidal wave of generosity." 

At one end, there were million dollar checks given by some Hollywood celebrities and tens of millions donated by a number of major US corporations, and the millions being raised each day over the internet from small donors nationwide.

More telling, however, was the mobilization of fundraising by institutions large and small. Catholic Relief Services, one of the US's major charities, noted that while they usually raise $40,000 a month through their website, now they are raising $100,000 per hour. Churches and mosques report major efforts and even individual grade schools have been moved to respond. One grade school class donated their lunch money to relief efforts; another held a car wash. Overall, it has been estimated that by the week's end, private American donations will exceed one-half billion dollars.

People have been riveted by the continuing television coverage of the tragedy, a recent survey showed that almost one-half of American households had made a contribution to tsunami relief, and across the nation, Americans were flying their flags, spontaneously, at half-mast in collective mourning.

Why this empathy and generosity? Because that's who we are.

Of course, in all of this, we are not unique. Most nations manifest similar bi-polar behavior. We are no different. 

There is a lesson here that must be noted. These two sides of our national character must be recognized and never forgotten-they have always been with us.

From the beginning, our great and inspiring democracy was born in sin with slavery and the ethnic cleansing of indigenous persons. We have as one of our national symbols the welcoming Statue of Liberty, and we also have, as part of our history, the "Palmer raids" and the Japanese internment during World War II. And we are the nation that gave birth to both "Bull" Conner and the Ku Klux Klan, to Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Because both Americas are always with us, we must acknowledge this and deal with them. If we pretend, for even a moment, that only the "bright" side is who we really are, the other America is given free reign. But if, as some critics are prone to do, we only focus on the intolerant or arrogant side of America, we do a great injustice to the goodness of millions of Americans and to their power to assert themselves and make change.

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute and can be reached at [email protected]

  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: George W. Bush, United States Of America
Views: 8108

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Older Comments:
Trying to reason with uneducated, overweight and war mongering Americans is like trying to drink water from a mirage.
Dont waste your time folks, let them go down with their fuhrer, and the world will be better place without this hyper-terrorist state.
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What the author hasn't been able to piece together, is that the two America's, as he puts it, are comprised of a majority of like minded individuals.

The majority of dollars provided to charities in the United States, comes from a certain region. A region referred to as the "bible belt." It's so referred this way is because it's obviously put's more weight in religion. It's also, referred to as more conservative.

The tie in to Mr. Gonzalez, a Mexican immigrant, who worked from the ground up, graduated from Rice and Harvard, with little help from others, and then decided to serve his country. He is in the precarious decision of drawing a line between interogation and torture. Torture, is when a hand is cut off, a bullet to the head, rape, acid dropped on eyes...this is torture. The aba garabe mess, embarrasing as it was, well...go ask the people who were in there. You can...because, they're all alive. That's the difference.

Mr. Gonzalez interest lies in protecting Americans..not insurgents who wish to challenge the liberties of his citizens.

The tie in?? The people who give money to Tsunami victims, turn around and support a certain level of interrogation...because we recognize freedom isn't free.

I hope one day the muslim world understands this...

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Oh, so that's OK then... if the US occasionally donates $350M for disaster relief, we can excuse the occasional spending of $200Bn to invade, kill and subjugate an entire population?

No, this is too easy a get-out. Carl Jung noted 50 years ago that there are two sides to every nation's character - we are all capable of helping our fellow man in time of need (and all countries have contributed to the tsunami disaster) and we are all capable of evil, but only a few western democratic nations have practiced invasion, torture and genocide. Jung noted that the US, far from being less susceptible to this than European nations (like Germany), is actually inherently more so, because of its very high opinion of itself as the beacon of freedom and light in the world, and its unreadiness to acknowledge itself as a potential source of evil.

Dr. Zogby continues this tradition by touting the good heart of the American people; in fact the US per capita contribution to 3rd country aid is about the lowest of the industrialised nations. And as Americans celebrate Martin Luther King Day today and "Freedom as America's Gift to the World", most of them will be blissfully unaware that slavery was abolished first in the UK, and that the UK anti-slavery movement was a subsequent inspiration to anti-slavery activists in the US.

Dr. Zogby is right to highlight the two sides of his nation's character, but he makes the same mistake that good Germans once did; he rationalises it in away that salves his conscience and allows it to continue. NOTHING excuses it, and certainly not a once off, $1 per head charitable contribution to a very public cause.
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5% uses 50 % of worlds resources.
Now we need someone to tell us we have 2 Americas.
Lovely , lovely indeed.

We dont need to look far to see 2 Americas.
We just need to look its neighbours living conditions.

White, Protestant, English -to the Northern border.

Non-White, Non-Protestant, Non English -to its southern border.

With stronger Euro$ we will soon see a JUST America too.

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My country has violated International Law, our own Constitution and the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) in just about every way I can think of, and yet little is being done to remedy the situation. As an American (part native), it literally makes me sick.

While hundreds of thousands of Americans spend every second of their spare time fighting the Bush administration in every way we know, short of violence, some, even quitting their jobs to devote all of their time to the effrort, we have been spectaculalry unsuccessful in defeating Bush at the polls (if the election results can be believed), and at having anyone, except the lowest level people in the military, prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But that does not mean that we are giving up. We cannot. Too much is at stake, for us and for the rest of the world.

Bush, etal, are about the worst thing to happen to this planet since Adolph Hitler and Joe Stalin. But the people who back them are unbelievably wealthy coroporate types and the religoiously insane, neither of which can be reasoned with. Fascism always arises out of failed Democracies, and, I am afraid, it has come to America.

I, for one, am refusing to pay for the Iraq war or for the Bush government, and have sent my tax dollars to support those who have been hurt by the war and the Tsunami. If anyone has any better ideas, please let me know.
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Your two Americas are not much more than two different styles of feeling superior to the rest of the world. The problem is old and systemic (there is nothing special about the actual government) -- you call it "the American Dream", "the American Way of Life", "The City on the Hill". The rest of the world calls it killing and looting or "forcing foreign markets to open to empty consumerism". Not seeing that is systemic too - even the best and most critical US-Americans seem to be "looking forward" -- to elect another government which will continue the same atrocities, in one of two styles (which seems important to you but is totally irrelevant to the rest of the world -- the only practical difference I can see is about the distribution of the loot, important to you of course).

Sorry, I'm sure you are the good-will-kind of person but can you understand that this "inner emmigration" doesn't help anybody. Sure you don't say "I didn't know", but you insist that you're the "good America", not really to blame, "that's just how we are".

Couldn't any of you good Americans start to do something "systemic"?

Sorry for being so impolite. But we won't meet again. I just read news about Falludja. Where are the officers having the couurage to say no and act upon it? Sissies! Bullies! Look at the IDF!

Christof Wolters
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I started noticing there are two Americas five years ago. First the America that drops bombs from air planes. Second the America that helps other people.To the second America, we thank you.
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