Keep Your Hopes Up, Overseas Americans, Help Is Available!
"Hello, my name is Eric, and I'm an American."
"I used to be embarrassed to admit I carried a U.S. passport, and ashamed in turn to be embarrassed about that. These dark secrets led to feelings of guilt and to an evil circle from which I couldn 't escape. That's when I discovered AA (Americans Anonymous)?
"Thanks to this 12-step group, and to the fellowship of like-minded people, I have learned true humility. I have had to face up to the truth. The sad and uncomfortable truth. I now realize that as Americans, we cannot, and never will, measure up to Europeans (among others) in the areas of honesty, generosity, tolerance, solidarite (en francais dans le texte), clear-mindedness, humanitarianism, infinite wisdom, true democracy, world peace, and the love of one's fellow man.
"Yes, unfortunately, I must confess the truth, there's no use denying it: I'm an American. That means I am not intelligent enough to realize the gravest dangers threatening mankind today are Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and a rodent named Mickey. It means I am too simple-minded to realize that modern European society represents the pinnacle of brotherhood (or is on the path thereto). It means I am too myopic to realize that referring to regimes such as Saddam's or Kim Jong-Il's or Brezhnev's as 'evil' is hopelessly retrograde, not to mention preposterous. (And I hope that one day Iraqis, North Koreans, and citizens of former Warsaw Pact countries who think the same will be able to make a pilgrimage to Western Europe, where the powers that be will, in their infinite wisdom, sober them up by telling them to shut up and by otherwise correcting all such reactionary beliefs.)
"It means I am too stupid to see what is obvious to Europeans (and others): that the US of A is a 'false democracy' and that I and my fellow countrymen are incapable of seeing when we are being manipulated. It means I am too naive to see that respect and dialogue are necessary, nay vital, in international relations. And if the leaders we show this respect and tolerance to don't show the same respect and tolerance to their own citizens (because of, say, mass imprisonment, torture, rape, beheadings, and things of that order), I'm too stupid to understand that just a little more of European-type dialogue would convince said autocrats to see the light, do away with their uncouth ways, and install a democratic system in their lands (the fraternal European kind, bien sur, not the 'false' American kind)?
"Thank goodness there is a Higher Power to which to turn. And that is the vastly superior European system of brotherhood. These wise, visionary beings are here to set us straight. All we need do is turn our power over to them, and an era of world peace will ensue?"
AA: Aid and Assistance to Americans Abroad
Dear Guest to this website,
As the founder of Americans Anonymous ? an organization for expatriates who are ashamed to admit that they are U.S. citizens when in the company of a group of smug, self-righteous foreigners ? I would like to welcome you to an open meeting of the group, in which we discuss our basic principles. (Foreign sympathizers and Americans stateside are welcome at meetings in our sister organization, Am-Anon.)
The most common frequently-asked question newcomers ask is: How do I respond to a group of smug foreigners submitting me to a barrage of irony-laden questions, asinine comments, and demented accusations concerning my government, my country, and/or the type of society I live in? Our main precept is this: Do your homework (i.e., know your facts, this being something you obviously prepare beforehand), and? agree with them. Agree with them wholeheartedly!
After years of trying to deal with this problem, I now know it doesn't pay to argue or defend yourself. Certainly you should never lose your temper. It is useless to try to defend, say, the policies of Washington (or the benefits of capitalism, or the content of Hollywood films, or the character of the American people) with this type of foreigner because their true purpose is not to have a real debate, nor is it for you ? or they! ? to try to gain more understanding about a particular subject. The point is to prove ? as much to their interlocutors, American or other, as to themselves ? the "obvious" fact (in their point of view): that in the final analysis they are ever and always more superior and more advanced than those hopeless Yanks.
Insofar as this is true, AA's advice to Americans is: agree with them! Do not bother to argue. Do not waste your time. You simply admit "the truth" to everybody, fellow Americans and foreigners alike, pro-Washington and anti-Washington people alike. Here's how it goes:
The Forrest Gump Treatment
If a Euro-weenie asks, say, "Why did you Yanks choose war?", you agree with them wholeheartedly, and then you go a step further. Reply as follows: "It's because we are stupid, myopic, greedy, arrogant, treacherous, war-mongering, and wholeheartedly without a single ounce of love for our fellow man." Then go "above and beyond the call of duty": "?And if only we were as wise, as generous, as peace-loving, as respectful, as tolerant, as solidaires, as visionary, as clear-headed (lucides), as you (so obviously) are, then naturally, an era of encompassing and lasting peace would ensue on the entire planet. Why do you ask?"
Ideally, all this should be said entirely innocently, in a matter-of-fact manner, without the slightest hint of irony in the tone of voice or the facial expression. Somewhat like Tom Hanks in the movie Forrest Gump. Because when you speak in this manner, of course, all you are doing is ape the self-serving litany that most foreigners are parroting in the first place. They are not as knowledgeable of the issues as they like to believe, they are not as objective as they like to claim, and they certainly don't really have any way of knowing that their choice of action (or absence thereof) would really have offered a better alternative to the event(s) which took place (or of knowing, alternatively, that Uncle Sam invariably chooses the worst alternative). All they are doing is extolling their societies' (supposed) "fraternal" virtues while condemning the (supposed) sins of American society, policies, and/or values.
Americans of All Stripes, Unite!
Americans abroad have said they have felt compelled to defend George W Bush's policies, even if they don't agree with them (in fact, some are diametrically opposed to them and would never vote for him). Please trust me: all this doesn't matter. Well, it may matter to the American in question, obviously, but it doesn't matter to those who attack Uncle Sam. Again, their main purpose, consciously or not, is simply to make their own society look good and U.S. society look bad, and it doesn't matter who is president or what party is in power. (If ever there is any truth in the charge that Americans are simplistic, it is in the fact that they are too honest; they are so honest they take these remarks literally and at face value.)
Of course, you will hear some say "Clinton (or Carter), now there was a president we liked" or "Oh the Democrats, they are smart"; please don't believe in this (self-)deception ? an honest look (instead of a rosy one) back at the times will show that if they weren't tearing into Carter for being an imperialist, they were mocking him for being a simpleton (as well as a peanut farmer); if they weren't criticizing Clinton for being arrogant, they were either criticizing him for not standing up (enough) to the forces of reaction (the real enemy!), or criticizing the American public for not standing up (enough) for Clinton. (To put the alleged popularity of, and respect for, Democratic presidents into perspective ? as well as their alleged ability to work harmoniously with the rest of the world ? consider that when NATO representatives rose to toast Warren Christopher after Clinton's first secretary of state decided to leave the government in December 1996, the French foreign minister stood up and walked out while Chirac's ambassador to the organisation turned his back and kept talking to an aide.) And if they weren't attacking a particular president or his administration, they were lambasting another aspect of U.S. society. The point is for America to stand out as guilty of the worst crimes, and any type of proof will do, no matter how small, and that whether it involves a particular president or another part of Americana. (Then again, it is true that that simplistic message is the main point of many American citizens protesting within the United States.)
Of course, what some Europeans say are the same charges that some Americans bring against their own society, notably in the opposition. And that is fine. It is fine for there to be an oppisition in a country, in any country. Please note, however, that this does not mean the type of anti-American foreigner who make these comments are in any way your allies and friends. Why? Because they invariably use double standards. The people who are always concluding that American society is a criminally inept one rarely if ever apply the same standards ? and certainly not the same level of fury, the rantings and the ravings ? to China, to Iraq, to Zimbabwe, to Ethiopia, to Cuba, not to mention to their own societies. (Well, some do, sometimes, but never with the same energy, and you often feel they're doing so for either of two reasons; either so they can claim that they cannot be accused of being anti-American since this is allegedly proof that they also promote "humanistic" policies elsewhere ; or else they do so reluctantly, because you can almost hear them muttering, "Wouldn't those people (Russians in Chechnya, Chinese in Tibet, etc) know better than to act in such retrograde ways, when they ought to be clear-headed (as clear-headed as we are) and join forces against the real enemy ? the U.S. and American capitalism!")
So the point here is not (for Americans) to stop criticizing (or fighting to defeat) a given president, a given party, and/or a given policy. Not at all. By all means, keep it up. The point is to be aware that for many of the foreigners issuing what they claim to be "simply constructive criticism", the evidence shows that criticizing America is all they do, criticizing America is all they ever have done, and criticizing America is all they ever will do. In other words, when you hear someone say "Oh, it's your policies we are against", be wary before you say, "Oh, if I make an effort to get our (Washington) leadership to wake up and change its policies in a way they like, the atmosphere will improve", hesitate before you believe them, because they have never used this standard about any other country to the extent they do about the United States, if at all.
This is where it should be said: "Nous sommes tous americains".
Some Specific Examples
Answering anti-Americans in the way prescribed usually brings a hush (at least a temporary one) to their ranting monologs. Alas, the silence doesn't usually last long, as they strive to bring up "evidence" of their (self-serving) "opinions." (Notice that, for people who like nothing better than to excoriate Americans for speaking of good and evil in a simple-minded manner, this usually takes the form of black-and-white, such as "We are incredibly humanistic, while you are hopelessly clueless.") I hate to make this sound aggressive, but besides "Do not lose your temper" and "You must learn to read between the lines", AA's precept is: "Have no pity and make them wiggle."
Let's take some specific examples: "Did you support the intervention in Iraq?" or "What do you think about the death penalty?". These are not real questions of debate, rather the comments serve as camouflage for the real question: "Are you a simplistic war-monger/a retarded reactionary or do you belong in the same hallowed circle of humanistic, clear-minded, and visionary beings as myself?" In fact, more than a question, the point of the remark is obviously nothing more than to make this subtle point: "Either you agree with my wise view that this is/was wrong, even criminally wrong, or you are stupid, blinded, arrogant, etc, etc, etc?" (This from people who love nothing more than to claim that in America, there is one, and only one, opinion!)
If the debate carries you this far, you simply go along with them and, as before, take a step further. Note: You should not fail to do this as it invariably turns the tables on them (but it does require a basic knowledge of current events as well as history) [I will write why this is invariable in a coming article]. "Of course! Of course I am! I'm against all forms of war. That's why I condemn the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and/or the war involving half a dozen nations in the Congo." If they ask you what you think about the Iraq war, say, "yes, it's tragic that a couple of thousand people were killed, always is", then simply ask them why they have never demonstrated against any of the above conflicts, which have killed many more people (respectively 100,000 to 200,000 and 3 million, with the Congo accounting for a total of deaths similar to those of World War I). And, please: do so however you feel about Bush's policies in Iraq; because, remember, their "opinion", again, has little to do with a particular policy or person and everything to do, at its core, with self-serving self-satisfaction.
Or "Of course I'm against death being applied by people in power against defenceless citizens. That's why I condemn (always have) the death penalty in Saudi Arabia and Japan. Not to mention horrors like the mass murders in Nazi Germany, communist Russia, and Idi Amin's Uganda." Then ask them, innocently, why you've never heard them, or seen them, demonstrate against the blood-letting in Zimbabwe. Be sure to bring up the death penalty in China, which accounts for up to three times more deaths in a single year than those in the US over a quarter century.
Watching for the "Fool-Proof" Cards
Beware of their whipping out their "fool-proof" cards. You can just feel that the word has gone around on what to respond on certain matters because the remarks are invariably the same. These take the form of smug attitudes that are supposed to be the final word on a certain subject and, by a very strange coincidence, they somehow, just as invariably, end up painting Uncle Sam as being by far the worst villain in the matter, whatever it is.
Some common cards are those referring to the atomic bombs against Japan and the coup d'etat in Chile. If they say, "America forced everyone to observe a minute of silence for the victims of September 11, why don't we observe one for the victims of Hiroshima?", answer the truth: "Nobody prevents you or me or anybody else from paying our respects to the 80,000 victims of Hiroshima, and in fact the entire Japanese nation has been doing so methodically on a yearly basis for, oh, about the past 60 years; you were asked (not forced) to observe a minute of silence for the Manhattan and Pentagon victims only once ? exactly 24 hours later, at 8:48 a.m. in the morning of September 12, 2001 ? and you never have been (and never will be) asked to do so again." Then add, "While we're at it, shouldn't we observe a minute of silence for the victims of the rape of Nanjing?" Chances being pretty high that they don't know what you're talking about (their minds and lives are too busy making a list of all the "sins" with which to lambaste America and anyway, for some reason, Tokyo doesn't make as big a fuss about this as it does the atomic bombs), you add that you're speaking of the massacre of some 300,000 Chinese nationals ? men, women (some of them pregnant), and children ? which the Japanese imperial army embarked enthusiastically upon in late 1937.
If looking down their noses, they ask "Do you know what other event occurred on September 11?", answer "Yes, a terrible tragedy." Pause while they nod approvingly, then add "George Washington lost the battle of Brandywine" (in 1777) or even "Brian De Palma was born on that date" (so was Ferdinand Marcos, by the way), although I'm not sure to what extent that counts as a tragedy. If they object that they are referring to something more recent and more tragic than that, agree and say "you must be talking of Hitler ordering reinforcements to Romania" (1940) or "FDR ordering any Axis ships in U.S. waters shot on sight" (1941) or even "wasn't it the first TV broadcast of a Miss America beauty contest?" (1954).
If they mention Pinochet's coup d'etat and the 3,000 Chileans killed under his subsequent reign, agree that this was a tragedy (it certainly was) and ask them what they think of Castro and the 20,000 Cubans shot under el Comandante's reign. Oh, and by the way, why don't they get revolted about that? And why do so few of them march against el Jefe Maximo in Europe's streets? If they insist upon the Cuban revolution being necessary or about Fidel having good intentions, ask them how a Lopez family whose father was killed in Cuba is supposed to be better off than a Lopez family whose son was killed in Chile.
If they tick off the list of the dictators that America has supported since World War II, ask them why dictators Washington has opposed (such as Castro and Saddam) invariably brings condemnation from them against? Uncle Sam?! (Of course, when you're used to saying everything is America's fault, the answer will be easy.) Then ask them why they never rant and rave against the bloodiest regimes of the 20th century (the USSR and China), either at the time those regimes existed or in retrospect. (Oh, those leaders had good intentions. I see.) While you're at it, ask why, in listing the dictators the U.S. has supported, they invariably forgot to mention the bloodiest dictator ever supported by Washington in all history. A man who killed tens of millions of people in his country was supported by Uncle Sam in the early '40s. The bloke's name was Joseph Stalin, and he received a massive amount of cash and war materiel through 1945. If they say, "Well, that's something different, they shared a common enemy, one who was more bloody and more dangerous", answer that that may be the exact reason that, rightly or wrongly, Washington supported Batista and his ilk. But don't let up: ask them again why they never include Mao Zedong among the mass-killer dictators who brings up such an amount of anger in them.
Another rabbit they like pulling out is the "live in the present" precept: the past is something one shouldn't bring up. Funny thing, they always bring this out of the hat when referring to themselves (or the people(s) and societies with whom they, for whatever reason, feel close to). Where America is concerned, on the other hand, it's always fair game, strangely enough, to bring up events from September 11, 1973, and the Enola Gay to black slavery and the fate of the Indians.
If they insist, you should bring up your ace: the continent on which the U.S. enjoys relatively little presence. "Yes, it is such a pity that we (or our leaders) have not shown our (them) selves as generous as you so obviously are, but hopefully we can learn from your experience in Africa. What a shame it is that we are blinded to the happy and bountiful effects of your intrinsically wise, generous, fraternal, clear-minded, and forward-looking policies in such places as Congo, Uganda, Cote d'Ivoire, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Rwanda."