American Elephants

Apologizing for America. Again. by The Elephant's Child
April 23, 2009, 2:03 am
Filed under: Foreign Policy, Freedom, History, Pop Culture | Tags: , ,


It is not clear just what President Obama hopes to gain from his overseas efforts to apologize  for America’s supposed misdeeds in the recent and distant past.  Apology has been the centerpiece of his strategy.  Those of us who differ with Obama’s approach have a different set of assumptions and beliefs.  He has spent an amazing portion of his time speaking of the grievances of our allies and adversaries. He explains his approach in this way:

If we are practicing what we preach and if we occasionally confess to having strayed from our values and our ideals, that strengthens our hand; that allows us to speak with greater moral force and clarity around these issues.

Obama seems to believe that anti-Americanism arises entirely from the terrible actions of that cowboy George Bush, and if he just apologizes enough, everyone will like us.  Or at least think that he is an improvement over his predecessor. But Obama needs a better understanding of history.

Anti-Americanism has been around since the earliest days of our country.  Think of what a threat America has been to the countries of Europe. We founded this country in opposition to a continent of Kings and Princes.  We denied the divine right of Kings, and created a democratic republic.  No authority of Princes here.  Even at the time of the War of Independence, our soldiers volunteered, they were not conscripted; and when it was time for Spring planting, they might just pack up and go home to get the crops in.  They were fighting, in part, mercenaries conscripted by one Prince or another and sold to fight for the British.

Our Declaration of Independence was a direct threat to the rule of a nobility.  “All men are created equal” was a reproach to their established order.  Americans had nearly one hundred and fifty years of personal independence before their freedoms were challenged by their British rulers.  George Washington had a time teaching them to be soldiers and obey orders. They were ready to fight, but the obey part came harder. What if that idea of “equality” were to be transported to the old country. What mischief  would that cause.

And it did. The French, inspired by our Revolution, not only threw off their King, but they chopped off his head and those of another 20,000 Frenchmen as well.  Certainly that must have made the nobility of Europe sit up and take notice.

Bernard Bailyn describes in his splendid book The Peopling of British North America what we seldom recognize:

The westward transatlantic movement of people is one of the greatest events in recorded history.  It’s magnitudes and consequences are beyond measure.  From 1500 to the present, it has involved the displacement and resettlement of over fifty million people, and it has affected the foundation of American history and is basic, too, in ways we are only now beginning to understand, to the history of Europe, Africa, and even, to a lesser extent, of Asia.

We think proudly of our immigrants, our forbears.  But for Britain and Europe that was fifty million people rejecting the old country and all that it stood for.  Reproach.

What is it like for other countries when their country is inundated with American goods. Starbucks, McDonalds, Kentucky Fried, jeans and tee shirts.  And in the world capital of fine food, people line up at McDonalds.  Reproach.

What is it like for the citizens of Indonesia when an American battle group arrives with hospitals (plural) and a capability of not only flying rescue missions, but of producing vast quantities of fresh drinking water from sea water.  Competence beyond their reach.  They are grateful, of course, but it is still a reproach to them.

The Pakistani people are deeply proud of their nuclear weapon. It says that they are competent in a world that has so modernized that it has left them behind, out of history.  Someone, and I forget who, said that they couldn’t even make a bicycle chain.  It is not that they are envious or jealous, but that our freedom and independence and invention and competence are a reproach to them.  They focus on our mistakes and failures, for it lessens the reproach for their lack of freedom and invention and competence.  And when we make mistakes, we not only tell the whole world about it, we noisily turn around and try to fix it.  And worst of all, we are happier than they are, and we’re noisy about that too.

Slavery is our great sin. We fought a great war to end it, and we are still struggling to eliminate its traces.  The whole world knows of our guilt.  Yet South America imported nearly 12 slaves and the West Indies 10 slaves for every one slave that went to North America.  Slavery did not end in Brazil until 1888.  But we don’t spend any time reproaching Brazil, we just get on with criticizing— ourselves.

So the “apology tour” is essentially pointless.  It just makes us seem weak to bow down to petty tyrants and dictators, and to invite their insults. And appearing weak is dangerous.

After passively listening to a 50 minute diatribe against the United States by Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, Obama said “I’m grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old.”  Obama made much of an offer by Raul Castro to talk with the U.S. Government, but Fidel wrote today that Obama not only misunderstood Raul, but he was “conceited, superficial,” and that he had no right to dare suggest that Cuba make even small concessions.

Obama won a campaign with his personal charm and unusual history. Perhaps he believes that he can win over the world the same way.  Apologies don’t seem to be working so well.  So far he has come home empty-handed.

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