|Illustration by Reg Lynch|
America-bashing is a global sport but, from Vidal to Chomsky to Moore, no one does it better than Americans themselves, writes Chris Middendorp.
"I am willing to love all mankind, except an American." - Samuel Johnson
In his irreverent book about US government, Parliament of Whores , the humorist P. J. O'Rourke, with characteristic disrespect, describes the American political system as being like fast food: "Mushy, insipid, made out of disgusting parts of things, and everybody wants some." The American political system has many people salivating - only now they're in for the kill. The Bush Administration's enthusiasm for military engagement in Iraq has galvanised past critics, created new ones and has pretty much made America the world's obsession. The critics have descended like a biblical plague of locusts. God only knows what will be left over when they've finished eating.
Books assailing America and berating Bush are fast becoming a publishing cliche. We've reached a point where detraction of the US has infiltrated our cultural dreamlife to such an extent that we don't even need to read the books to know the main arguments:
- Bush is an idiot.
- The Iraq war was about snatching oil.
- The Bush Administration is funnelling wealth to its friends in business.
- Corporate America owns the politicians and the media.
- Dissent is futile.
Dissent is futile? Dissent is a primary industry in America. Americans have ceaselessly produced books, movies and TV shows that proudly depict their country in the worst possible light. No one has had more fun America-bashing than Americans.
From the capitalism-run-riot allegories of The Godfather, Scarface and Three Kings to the conspiratorial machinations of All The President's Men and JFK, from the dippy paranoia of The X-Files and Alias to the dystopian soap opera of The Sopranos , from the desperate poor and the debased rich of Raymond Chandler to the cesspit faux-histories of James Ellroy, the world has been reared on an American pop-culture that glamorises her own moral failure. Even Bruce Springsteen's megahit anthem Born in the USA was intended as a biting indictment of the system. But you have to wonder: is dissing the system a substitute for actually doing something about it?
The intellectual father of self-detraction American style is Noam Chomsky, who famously said: "I have often thought that if a rational fascist dictatorship were to exist, then it would choose the American system." Chomsky is a renowned linguistics professor, political activist, libertarian socialist and the author of numerous best-selling books about America's evil ways. His followers - yes, there's a quasi-religious tone to his oeuvre - view the 74-year-old academic as an infallible commentator and supreme moral prophet. The Guardian newspaper recently reported that Chomsky, along with Shakespeare, Marx and the Bible, is one of the 10 most quoted sources in the humanities.
In interview, Chomsky's beliefs are compellingly articulated. His articles are succinct and readable. His books, however, are monstrously dull, fact-filled volumes with stern titles such as Deterring Democracy. His most approachable new tome is Power and Terror , a series of post-September 11 interviews. This is Chomsky on American history: "I'm sitting here because some religious fundamentalist fanatics from England came over here and started exterminating the local population, then lots of others followed them and they exterminated the rest of the population."
Chomsky's America isn't the home of the brave, it's the home of the depraved. All his works propound the same uncomplicated theses. America is an empire. Empire's violate human rights to stay in power. American capitalism is the world's great evil. Chomsky: "The War on Terror is pure hypocrisy, virtually without exception." The terrorists hate America, he says, because America herself commits terrorism - propping up dictators such as Saddam and then getting rid of them when they are no longer useful to US interests.
Chomsky's aim is to bring the horrible facts to the public in the hope that it will inspire grass-roots action. Unfortunately, he describes America in such frightening terms that you're more likely to be inspired to go hide in a log cabin somewhere in the mountains.
America's antagonists become more exuberantly confident with each day, like newcomer Julian Ninio, who credits Noam Chomksy as the inspiration behind his book The Empire of Ignorance, Hypocrisy and Obedience. Chomsky is Old Testament prophet to Ninio's brash young messiah. Ninio wants to save America's soul. But Ninio isn't so much a thinker as he is a summariser of the central issues that pre-occupy Chomsky and the other critics. There's nothing new here. Ninio, a Harvard MBA (what else?), describes America as a country in desperate need of a cure. Life is getting harder everywhere (terrorism, environmental destruction, economic woe) and, "because today America has such economic, military and cultural influence, no one can seriously contemplate changing the world without changing America".
A daunting 13-page list of "America's ills all in one place" floats like a pool of black in the middle of the book. The reader is invited to plunge into a series of lugubrious statements such as: "When 500,000 deaths reinforce our power, politicians say `the price was worth it'." "Government agencies silence critics thanks to rights that interfere with our right of free speech." "Our corporations pressure foreign countries to let our corporations kill their citizens and destroy their nature." "We use terrorism, we attack countries, we carry out war crimes." And so on.
There's scant evidence presented to substantiate these putative crimes, but Ninio knows his market. You'll probably buy this book if you have already decided that America is a brute. Ninio recommends the writing of polite letters to Americans you've never met (you get their addresses from the internet white pages) to beseech them with sentences like, "I have nothing against American people like you. But I disapprove of what your government does outside America." A letter which would end up in the trash faster than a department-store catalogue.
Michael Moore rivals Chomsky in prominence, but unlike the good professor, Moore's books are readably accessible. Moore is vicious, he's funny, his timing is impeccable. He's also self-important and shrill. And while he likes to play "ordinary Joe", his discontent earns him a fortune. He reaches millions in every possible medium - books, films, TV, his own website, www.michaelmoore.com.
He's in danger of becoming a demagogue.
Moore's latest volume Dude, Where's My Country? is a typical example of his art. Osama bin Laden is "a rich ---- who kills people". Americans are "all hepped up on Prozac and cable television so that we always believe what our leaders tell us". On America's support of suspect regimes like the Saudis: "We've picked more losers than a television executive."
Just how did Australia become part of the coalition of the willing? Because "Bush dangled the prospect of a free-trade agreement in front of Australian Prime Minister John Howard". We were bribed. So where's the proof, Mike? Is it not possible that Howard believes in what he is doing - even if he's wrong? There's no room for true believers in Mike's cosmos: everyone lies.
Moore also makes entirely justifiable criticisms of his homeland. America would benefit from measures to protect the environment; introducing public healthcare would improve the quality of millions of lives; their taxation system should be fairer. These are social overhauls that would enhance many other countries too.
With characteristic hyperbole, Moore maintains that President Bush is a "ne-er-do-well rich boy", a symbol of everything wrong with America. He highlights Bush and his family's previous business ties with the Bin Laden family. "What's this all about, Mr Bush? We have a right to know." Moore's president is a pseudo-leader who got to power without the popular vote - remember that voting debacle in Florida?
Moore's new documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, is the cinematic companion to Dude and re-works its themes. His stated aim is to make Bush so unpopular he'll be voted out at the next election. But in Moore's corrupt America, the evil capitalists are so entrenched that removing an "ignorant" puppet like Bush would make bugger-all difference.
Moore's criticisms are hardly original; they're an expanded version of novelist and essayist Gore Vidal's. In Dreaming War , a compilation of vitriolic essays, Vidal expounds identical material. Bush was "not legally elected" but put in charge by the Supreme Court "in the interests of the oil and gas and defence industries". Vidal also points to Bush's business dealings with the bin Ladens. The conquest of Afghanistan has "nothing to do with Osama". He was a "pretext" to replace the Taliban with a friendly government that would allow an oil pipeline to access the rich Caspian Sea reserves.
Fund healthcare. Improve education. Cut military funding. Abolish the war on drugs. Vidal has been clamouring about these issues since Moore was in nappies. Incidentally, Vidal should thank George W. Bush - the president's controversial adventures have given him new relevance and a fresh audience.
Vidal has been a trenchant critic of every presidential administration since Franklin Roosevelt. His America is a "permanent war machine" incapable of good, a rapacious empire since World War II. If Vidal's vitriol is more enjoyable than Moore's it's because his prose style is so polished, urbane and witty. You're so intoxicated by the words, you forget he's a polemicist.
Where are America's defenders in all this? It's ironic that a British journalist, William Shawcross, seems to have produced the most well-argued work of pro-Americana. In Allies , Shawcross produces an elegant defence of regime change in Iraq and of America's superpower status. He describes anti-Americanism as the new rock'n'roll.
Reviewing history, Shawcross seeks to remind us that "Europe depended on the US for its security for 60 years". Twice during the last century Europe may not have survived totalitarianism. Without the US, it "might either still be collaborating with Nazism or be under control of the Soviet Union".
After World War II, America sponsored and led the world's reconstruction. "All Europeans have America to thank for the success of the Marshall Plan and all subsequent US assistance." Superpowers have their uses.
For Shawcross, removing Saddam was morally correct and should have been done years ago.
And if mistakes were made in exaggerating the possibility of Saddam having weapons of mass destruction, this was only because the hideous knowledge of Saddam's atrocities were sadly not enough to provoke the world into removing him.
The so-called Coalition of the Willing, Shawcross reminds us, includes 30 countries, not just the US and Britain. Removing Saddam had its fans. He quotes East Timor's Nobel prize-winning activist Jose Ramos-Horta as being appalled by the peace marchers. "If the anti-war movement dissuades the US and its allies from going to war with Iraq, it will have contributed to the peace of the dead."
Although regime change was righteous, we're now in a critical period, Shawcross explains. The rebuilding and healing of Iraq will take years. The US must stay on. And, yes, mistakes were made. America underestimated the difficulty of the task. It should have better informed the Iraqi people of its intentions. It should have closed Iraqi borders to stop the flood of Islamic terrorists. "But for all its faults, American commitment and American sacrifice are essential to the world."
Here's the problem. Commentators seek to give us the facts, but facts can be manipulated. Mustering data to substantiate your argument isn't the same thing as offering proof.
Take the American intervention in Kosovo in 1999 as an example.
You'll recall that this was ostensibly to prevent Milosovic's Serbian goons from killing and torturing Albanian Muslims. William Shawcross writes that "200,000 people died in the Balkans on Europe's watch. It was America that put a stop to it". Chomsky describes the same intervention as being neither humanitarian nor justified. After the American bombing of Kosovo, "the atrocities picked up enormously". The Balkan bloodshed and the refugee tragedy was brought about by US intervention, Chomsky alleges. Does the general reader have the resources to interview witnesses or plough through the State Department documentation?
Avoiding polemical style and offering an entirely different angle on empire is Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack. Washington Post journalist Woodward seeks here to tell the inside story behind the American invasion of Iraq. Woodward's best sources are his interviews with key Bush administration heavies, including Donald Rumsfeld and the President himself.
We learn that Bush studies "body language, the eyes, the demeanour" to gauge the truth when listening to an adviser. He's more canny than we suspected. George Tenent (the former CIA director) is "high strung, an extremely talented briefer, the son of Greek immigrants". Donald Rumsfeld (Secretary of Defence) remains an enigma to the people because he is so silent. Says Bush: "He should go out and do more interviews."
Plan of Attack is interesting in what it doesn't reveal. There is no conspiracy to grab oil. No sinister cabal. Instead, we find an administration grappling with world events and aware of its enormous responsibility. Bush is strong-minded: Saddam Hussein should be removed in the name of decency. He even thinks regime change may facilitate peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Bush has opinions of his own?
That would be news to Mike Moore, who would probably call Woodward's book a crock. We're so used to Bush being described as puppet ignoramus, it comes as a shock to have him depicted so fully in control.
A simple-minded anti-Americanism is growing steadily within the republic, threatening to cripple it with self-hatred. Equally crippling, however, is the obvious spinning of facts and factoids by the American Government and its supporters. We are bombarded from both sides not with information, but with rhetoric. We have no real choice but to pick from the side that fuels our own preconceived bias.
There is a yawning chasm between America's avowed intentions - its dream image of itself, fashioned by constitution and centuries of bombast - and its actual deeds. America's ideals may be too big to live up to. This is America's real crisis. If the "Leaders of the Free World" ever find the courage to acknowledge the imperfections, the mistakes and the expedient about-faces, then America may just begin to become the country it so desperately wants to be.
Source: The Age
Topics: George W. Bush, Noam Chomsky, United States Of America
I guess they were baiting me this whole time pretending to be someone named Triathlon or other people that I have argued with.
I want to apologize to everyone who has suffered their presence, as you can imagine, being Muslim in the US isn't easy. These two like to try and bait me at work all the time and now they've come here for their jollies at my expense.
All I ask is that you please know I really am a Muslim, that I really do come here for honest and open dialogue about issues, that Idris Suleyman is a real person. Again, I am sorry for the ridiculousness of William and Sean and whoever they have pretended to be.
Nice try Sean and William, but honestly that is kinda been done already...but yeah umm ha ha ha laugh it up cuz it's just too funny..? Honestly guys please keep coming back to Islamicity, because the more you come here, the more American anti-war activists will come here and then you'll end up with an online American civil war!....actually I wouldn't mind seeing some fourth of July fireworks in february.
P.S. - Just for information, since you believe in American world domination, you're entitled to that, but I thought I'd let you know that you just allowed Iran to gain a giant foothold into Iraq under the religious leadership of an Ayatollah, nameley Ali Sistani. Just in case you don't know what i'm talking about I'll refresh your memory - The US government in 1979 was so worried about the power of Ayatollah Khomenei at the time that they bought then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussain and used him to fight with Iran, in which more than 1 million people died in battle amongst both sides. Just remember, the very thing that your government officials tried so hard to stop from gaining power, has just been handed 48 percent of Iraq's Parliament. Please take some time to lament over this issue.
I know my P.S. is long but I just thought I'd remind you that you got Kim Jong Il Afro telling you his nukes are ready, and Syria and Iran have just joined at the hip so to speak...and China and India are industrializing 100 times faster than you can imagine.Good luck, Sweet dreams!
My last emails weren't posted; hmmm now why could that be?
The bottom line is boys, that you it is you who are looking for fights, its easy to revel in your childish jingosim as you attack unarmed and weak nations. I wonder why North Korea makes you wet your red, white and blue diapers.
You have issues with American policy? Well, that's fine. I can understand if it offends your view of the way things should be. But you have to understand, we don't really care what you think or want. We only care about what we think and what we want.
What we want isn't that complicated: we just want to have basic human necessities (food, clothing, shelter, good company) but we want to enjoy them in a safe world.
What we think also isn't that complicated: we think that you and your kind threaten that security. Your statements and those of like mind indicate it, your actions confirm it. I am generalizing on purpose; you (plural) generalize when it suits you, why shouldn't I? I'm not running for political office and don't care about stepping on the politically correct pundit's toes.
You think the war in Iraq is wrong? Tough. As far as we're concerned, we've taken the war from New York to you. That's right. And for every building of ours that you demolish we'll take out cities, countries. You want brinkmanship, we'll give it to you in spades. Don't believe me? Iraq and Afghanistan have fallen, Palestine is going to play our game. We're in Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen. Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, Tunesia, Algeria and Morocco are our allies, Central Asia is lining up, Libya is coming around (not democracies? Hmm. I thought you said democracy wasn't Islamic). They'll do what they're told, if they don't, we'll find someone else to do the job. Iran and Syria are next. Believe it.
We will drag you and your kind kicking and screaming into democratic open market societies with humanist values. Just like we did with Europe, just like we did with Asia. Yes, we are going to Ataturk you. And the best part about it is
Its not "america bashing," its called COMMON SENSE.
Whether people like it or not, America is full of people who are victims to political formula's that are designed to maintain a level of disintegration within ethnic communities.
La haoula wala Qouata Ila Billah al3alee al3atheem...Have we already forgotten the 100,000+ deaths that the Iraqis had to pay for Bush's War for Democracy? Yes, America's basis means no harm, but when over half the country gives the go-ahead to someone like Bush to do what he wants, something's wrong. Sure the Florida miscount couldve affected it somewhat, but how much does it affect it really? Lets say 5%. What about the other 46 or 47%? Why does this much of the country love a tyrant and a hypocrite so much? I'd like an answer.
Those Americans who bashed America didn't bash it for what it stood for. I beleive they bashed it for what it was currently doing. They saw Bush for what he really was. I beleive they were disgusted at the way that THEIR own country was now being run. By hypocrites and a Class Based System. So one hates all the Americans...Only those that voted Bush.
It's my opinion that you're description of American politics to be a half truth. The article goes into great depth of what Americas most privilaged are doing while completey ignoring the poverty and class bigotry. 6% of Americans control 100% of the county. There's a lot of Good in America and the childish act of constantly bashing the 94% of Americans who're victoms of the wealthy is not only rediculas but childish. In sha Allah, America some day will belong to the people but untill then you're bashing if only hurting the real victoms, Americas poor!
WHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD COULD YOU HAVE A SITUATION WHERE AMERICAN MASJIDS DISTRIBUTE ANTI-AMERICAN LITERATURE AND YET NOT ONE MASJID IS CLOSED DOWN? IS THIS A COUNTRY OR WHAT? GO TO ANY MAJOR AIRPORT IN AMERICA AND YOU WILL SEE ILLITERATE MUSLIMS STREAMING INTO THE COUNTRY
FROM EVERY CORNER OF THE GLOBE, MANY NOT EVEN ABLE TO SPEAK ENGLISH? IS THIS A COUNTRY OR WHAT?
GO TO THE MEXICAN-AMERICAN BORDER IN ARIZONA AND TEXAS AND YOU WILL SEE THOUSANDS OF ILLEGAL MEXICAN IMMIGRANTS STREAMING INTO THE COUNTRY WITH NO FEAR OF BEING SHOT OR SENT BACK. IS THIS A COUNTRY OR WHAT? THIS IS THE GOODNESS OF AMERICA AND ITS DECENCY AND VALUE FOR HUMAN LIFE.
MAY BE NOAM CHOMSKY SHOULD BE SENT TO THE ARIZONA-MEXICO BORDER AND SEE HOW KIND THIS COUNTRY IS.
MAY BE NOAK CHOMSKY AND MICHAEL MOORE SHOULD STEP INTO A MAINLINE PROTESTANT CHURCH AND HEAR THE LOVE AND KINDNESS THAT IS PREACHED DURING SUNDAY SERMONS AND MAYBE THEN THEY WILL GET AN IDEA WHY THE COUNTRY IS SUFFUSED WITH GOODNESS AND DECENCY.
THEN LET NOAM CHOMSKY AND MICHAEL MOORE TRAVEL TO SAUDI ARABIA OR PAKISTAN OR SYRIA OR INDONESIA AND THEY WILL REALIZE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AMERICA AND THESE OTHER COUNTRIES. YES AMERICA IS GREAT NOT BECAUSE IT HAS 12 AIRCRAFT CARRIER BATTLEGROUPS BUT BECAUSE IT IS GOOD, DECENT, KIND, HUMANE AND CHRISTIAN. BUT DON'T COUNT ON THE ILLITERATE MASSES IN THE THIRD WORLD TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THIS SIMPLE FACT. GOD BLESS AMERICA
WHICH DESPITE THE BLIND HATRED OF MUSLIM COUNTRIES STILL ALLOWS BILLIONS OF DOLLARS EACH YEAR IN REMITTANCES TO BE SENT TO THESE SAME MUSLIM COUNTRIES. IS THIS A COUNTRY OR WHAT?