Pictures on the news of American flags being burned seem to appear more often than they used to. Perhaps my generation just isn't used to having our nation criticized to the extent that it has been since our response to September 11; we all know there have been anti-American protests in the past, that flags have been burned and protests against certain American military endeavors waged. Anti-Americanism has many definitions and encompasses many things, but "new" is not an applicable descriptor. Sentiments deriding American values, attitudes, and actions have existed since the establishment of the colonies, expressed in a variety of formats and with various causes. What has changed is not the existence of anti-Americanism, but what it means for the nation in international relations today.
This essay will examine anti-Americanism: first, its history and various forms throughout the world; at the same time, the causes of anti-American sentiment will be examined, both historically and currently, as the causes have changed during the different periods of international relations. After this explanation of the history and sources of anti-Americanism, we will briefly examine how this affects the United States and its foreign policy in our current international climate, and whether the current situation regarding international opinion of the U.S. needs to be alleviated at least partially, and if so, how.
"Anti-Americanism" has more definitions than are possible to list; it means something different to many individuals, but is perhaps best understood using Paul Hollander's far-reaching definition: "a predisposition to hostility toward the United States and American society, a relentless critical impulse toward American social, economic, and political institutions, traditions, and values; it entails an aversion to American culture in particular and its influence abroad, often also contempt for the American national character (or what is presumed to be such a character), and dislike of American people, manners, behavior, dress, and so on; rejection of American foreign policy and a firm belief in the malignity of American influence and presence anywhere in the world" (Hollander 1992, p. 339). This general definition does not attempt to limit the scope of anti-Americanism by characterizing it as action only, instead including "aversion" and "dislike" as facets of the phenomenon; nor does it over-reach the ways of interpreting anti-Americanism, as some authors do by including any overt criticism of United States culture or policy as "anti-American" when in fact, some critical analyses are just that -- critiques.
The very nature of anti-Americanism as an ideology "provides an all-encompassing explanation for global events and can easily accommodate contradictions and even absurdities," according to one scholar (Christie 2002). Some scholars argue that it is "not a comprehensive or coherent belief system or ideology, but rather a series of criticisms and prejudices regarding America that have haphazardly been labeled anti-Americanism" (O'Connor 2004, p. 77). The broadness of the definition -- not just actions, but attitudes and biases -- can enable blame to be placed on "America" for a host of bad events, regardless of whether the United States directly participated in the events; a cause can always be traced back several steps to America. For example, an internal conflict in a developing country might be blamed on America because the U.S. does not provide better financial or humanitarian aid in order to ease such civil strife. In this manner of blame-placing, any event, anywhere in the world, may be attributed to the actions of the United States.
Hollander's explanation, while not the final definition of anti-Americanism, is an excellent starting point for an examination of the topic. The phenomenon began as what Hollander refers to as "aversion" or "dislike," in the form of European cynicism about the "New World" way of thinking, governing, and interacting, and progressed through the 20th century into a critique on what has been perceived as imperialism in the foreign policy of the United States. Before diving into the history of anti-Americanism, a working definition of this imperialism is necessary: Michael Ignatieff, in his analyses of assertions (or accusations) of an American empire, defined one as follows:
... more than being the most powerful nation or just the most hated one. It means enforcing such order as there is in the world and doing so in the American interest. It means laying down the rules America wants (on everything from markets to weapons of mass destruction) while exempting itself from other rules (the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and the International Criminal Court) that go against its interest (Ignatieff 2003, p. 23).
With the idea in mind that much of the anti-American criticism comes from individuals and groups who see an American empire being built, we must consider that such an empire already exists, shaped by the foreign policy of leaders as well as international obligations to which the United States has made itself a party, such as controlling nuclear proliferation or promoting democracy in the Middle East. The days of isolationism are long gone, and with this involvement in the international realm comes responsibility, accusations of having too much power, empire-building, and finally, anti-American sentiment.
With this basic understanding of anti-Americanism and the assertions and realities of a significant American presence in the world -- empire or not -- we turn our attention to the history of anti-American thought, in order to better understand the present state of this phenomenon. O'Connor delineates four separate phases of anti-American thought, and these form a simple outline from which to begin a historical examination of this trend. O'Connor's phases are: pre-WWII, the Cold War (1945-1989), post-Cold War (1989-2001), and post-September 11 (O'Connor 2004, p. 78). In examining each of these phases, a better understanding of the evolution of anti-American sentiment may be gained.
First, the initial reluctance of the Europeans to accept America as an equal, or at least as an independent culture and society was the original inspiration behind anti-American thought. Americans -- and the United States -- were seen as "uncultured," "backward," and "chauvinistic" about their nation (O'Connor 2004, p. 79). Europeans who visited the New World felt they were miles away in terms of all things cultural; Rudyard Kipling noted that this insufficiency resulted in "relentless [self] assurances that Americans seemed to require about their country's incomparable virtue," despite the fact that slavery, long condemned in Europe, proliferated in the New World (Schama 2003). "Europeans identified appetite and impatience as the cardinal American sins," these traits being in marked contrast to the restraint, politeness, and cultivation of quality that personified Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries (ibid.).
These ideas of American vulgarity and brashness carried into the U.S.'s rise as a significant military power; even as America pitched in to swing World War I to the European powers and solidly supported the Allied effort in World War II, the nation was still seen as youthfully uncultured and lacking the centuries-old tradition and manners of Old Europe. European anti-Americanism began "well before America had any power, and [even] well before it was an independent country" (Markovits 2005). As early as 1901, published use of the term "anti-American" evidenced itself in Atlantic Monthly, where one writer noted that Europe's envy of America's success created a sense of "impotence...[where] cultured Europeans...hate the American form of swagger" (quoted in Markovits 2005, fn 9).
America's participation in the world wars did little to quell this notion of cultural and societal competition among Europeans; however, the Cold War, which began soon after the conclusion of WWII, would alter the perceptions of the United States worldwide. The criticisms of America from other realms of the globe became centered more on political criticism; America's stature as a superpower had been cemented with the Allied win in WWII and the events immediately following (the Nuremburg trials, the Marshall Plan, etc.). However, another superpower -- the Soviet Union -- was also rising from Eastern Europe with an economic and political system antithetical to the American way of free markets and individual liberties. Communism posed a direct, military threat to American way of life, and vice-versa; America's threat toward Communism inspired significant amounts of anti-American rhetoric and action on the part of the Soviet Union and its allies.
Throughout the Cold War, which persisted from the end of WWII until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, America's international actions were roundly criticized as imperial (the Vietnam War, or involvement in supporting anti-Communist rebels in Latin America, for example). O'Connor notes that the American sentiment of being "with us or against us" is not only a modern one, but was highly utilized during the Cold War -- a prime example being the demonization of Cuba when that nation accepted support from the Soviet Union (O'Connor 2004).
These years saw the cementing of an American identity which had been favored pre-WWII and then fought for during the world wars; the ideal of democratic government, individual liberties, and the free market became irrevocably identified with the United States by both Americans and other world citizens. The struggle during the Cold War was a polemic battle…
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