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July 7, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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America – A Little Perspective

Evil global corporations. Trashy tabloid magazines. The dreaded ‘McJob’. These are just some of the many responses I have heard lately to the question of the American signature on the modern world. And what do they all have in common? Well, unless you enjoy reading about the latest scandalous exploits of Lindsay Lohan and the Hilton gang, they all paint the United States in an unwaveringly negative light. This ‘negative light’ represents a very distinct trend in popular opinion these days – a trend that paints America as the evil big brother of the global community. What’s worse, this trend seems to have overwhelming purchase in the predominantly left-wing student body of this university. As our most renowned advertising slogan says, it makes you think – or if it doesn’t, it should. Where does this overwhelming tide of opinion against the United States, and the American way of life, come from? When did it become the ‘in-thing’ to hate the Yanks?

First off, it should be noted that this is not an entirely new phenomenon. America’s honeymoon of popularity started to wane during the 1960s, when the glamorous images of Hollywood were replaced with the more sobering scenes from Vietnam. Suddenly America, the global benefactor, promoter of capitalism and bane of totalitarianism, was touted as a materialistic and imperialist superpower by a generation of disenfranchised students and workers. Were they wrong? Of course not. Freedom of speech has the unavoidable side-effect of allowing the Vietnams and the Iraqs to slip into the cultural tributary right alongside the Friedans and the Luther Kings. But, then and now, those who stood in the vanguard of anti-Americanism had one major blindspot – they latched on to the bad and neglected the good. The very same consumerist lifestyle that they criticised for being materialistic had in fact provided the stage from which to protest, and the democratic notions they sought to challenge had allowed them the right to do so.

The first decade of the 21st century sees us faced with a number of parallels to the 1960s: an unpopular president and an equally unpopular war, a global economic downturn, and the rise of buzz phrases like ‘regime change’ and ‘weapons of mass destruction’. The main difference now is that America has inherited the title of sole world superpower. The haunting spectre of the Soviet Union is no longer available as a tool for ideological justification, and terrorism, such as it is, cannot come close to taking its place. The disheartened and the dismayed have nowhere left to aim their protests but to the only remaining world power, especially when said world power has had an economic and cultural influence on almost every country in the world. And, given the current events at our disposal for forming an opinion – the Iraq War, the looming oil crisis, and the human punch-line that is George W. Bush – it is easy to see how so many have decided upon the path of anti-Americanism. But, as with their counterparts in the 1960s, I suggest looking beyond the boundaries of the contemporary situation when evaluating the influence of the United States.

What about the post-World War security that American influence facilitated? Europe, the cradle of crisis and conflict since Roman times, is now more closely knit than the homemade scarf your Grandma gives you every Christmas. What about the economic benefits? Despite its shortcomings, capitalism has done more for raising living standards, increasing the average lifespan, decreasing the income gap between rich and poor, decreasing child mortality, and improving the quality of life than any other economic system in the history of civilisation. What about the umbrella of protection that American military might has bought us? The Cold War may have brought out the worst qualities of both sides of the Iron Curtain, but I am eternally grateful to live in a country that was nursed by American democracy rather than Soviet authoritarianism. Yes, America might not be perfect, but it is certainly not the root of all evil that it gets portrayed as. Those who choose to think otherwise would be prudent to remember that their very right to protest was bought with American values of freedom of speech, thought, and action. If you don’t believe me, talk to a citizen from East Berlin, or ask a veteran of the Hungary Uprising or the Prague Spring. The problem is, the multitude of positive benefits that American influence has wrought are so commonplace and subtle that they go unnoticed behind the screen of more damning historical events.

So why is America-bashing so popular? Perhaps it is merely a by-product of left wing intellectualism. One of the first things we get exposed to when we start to broaden our intellectual horizons is the sense that our world is not all that it is cracked up to be. This is easily mistaken by many as a light-bulb moment of truth – a step into the world of ‘us, the enlightened few’, a liberal cadre who ‘see the world and all its injustices for what they truly are’. This kind of liberal elitism is impractical and dangerous. It paints a biased picture of the world that is in gross need of a reality check.

It is all too easy to jump on the anti-American bandwagon in the belief that you have seen or understood something that nobody else has. But before you do, take a pragmatic step back from the situation. Think about all of the wonders of the modern world that we enjoy and all too often take for granted. Yes, America’s track record is far from perfect, but you don’t have to pledge allegiance to the flag to be bloody thankful that it is there.

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  1. Brunswick says:

    Is Vic’s student body still predominantly left-wing? I realise historically this has been the default setting, but I suspect that even if there are still more left-wing than right-wing students nowadays, the right-wingers are more active, dedicated and organised.

  2. Houston says:

    Totally agree. On one hand america is criticized for creating jerry springer et al and on the other hand for being too conservative and religious. Which is it. Because America is a big place it is only natural to find extremes. Furthermore, it is the american system itself that allows these opinions to be heard.

    The strength of the US allows NZ the luxury of only having to maintain a ‘peace-keeping’ military force. The existence of the US saves NZ billions of dollars in not having to provide a full strength military to defend against larger threats to our sovereignty. Foreign attack is clearly unlikely, but take the US out of the picture and NZ would nevertheless have to prepare for the possibility. Who would come to our aid? – Australia. Fat chance.

    And McDonalds? They sell hamburgers – big deal.

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