Anti-Americanism on the home front

Anti-Americanism – which, for the purposes of this article, will be defined as an automatic and prejudicial antipathy to America and American power – is spreading, as Drew Newman reports in this week’s Record. No longer is it confined to the usual places and actors: the angry Pathan mullahs of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier, for instance, or the radical European left. Increasingly, suspicion, fear and sometimes hatred of the United States can be found even in such nations as Britain and Canada. This is an international trend worth watching, but it belies the fact that anti-Americanism has been thriving on these shores for nearly four decades. In fact, American colleges and universities have been the incubators of a subtle but visceral form of prejudice against their own country, and Williams is no exception.

It’s a package of disdain wrapped in intellectual paper, of course – no student or professor here would be so unsophisticated as to burn a crude caricature of Uncle Sam in effigy. Instead, anti-American elements resort to the argument which has animated the Left since Vietnam: The U.S. is an imperialist, arrogant power, and when it exercises its might, it is to the detriment of the peoples of the world.

At best, this argument is unfair and one-sided; at worst, it’s pure sophistry. To make such an argument, one must ignore the great good that American power has produced in the 20th Century: the defeat and democratization of Germany and Japan, the victory over Soviet Communism, which was indeed an “evil empire,” the rebuilding of Western Europe through the Marshall Plan (the East, under the Soviet yoke at the time, was prevented from participating) and the preservation of South Korea’s independence. And what of more recent ventures, such as the expulsion of Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait, a well-intentioned but ill-starred attempt to feed hungry Somalis, the restoration of Haiti’s democratically-elected President, intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo to stop Serb-conducted slaughter and, most recently, the destruction of the Taliban, a savage and odious government if ever one existed?

To be sure, America and American power aren’t perfect – huge mistakes have been made in places like Nicaragua and Iran, for instance, and of course in Vietnam. But to me, even these admittedly awful errors seem to be insufficient grounds on which to justify the innate suspicion with which the Williams community looks upon the United States. In my experience – and I think most would agree that this isn’t merely anecdotal – denouncing George W. Bush as an oil-hungry monster comes quite easily, even naturally to most students. As Oren Cass ’05 pointed out in his piece in last week’s Record, one comment addressed to Scott Ritter, at his lecture on Jan. 15, compared the President to Adolf Hitler – and went unchallenged by Ritter, one of the foremost spokespersons for the anti-war movement.

Saddam Hussein, on the other hand, who actually is a Hitlerian monster (check out the report on Iraq at humanrightswatch.org if you don’t believe me), escapes with barely a verbal sling or arrow. Why is this? Doesn’t it seem odd that the largely white and affluent population of an American liberal arts college – among the people, after all, who benefit most from the enforcement of those liberal ideals that America is built upon – sees fit to lavish hatred on the power most responsible for their relatively pleasant existence? At best, it’s hypocrisy; at its worst, moral obtuseness.

Integral to this issue is the question of whom one is inclined to trust. This was perfectly illustrated for me outside of Chapin Hall during Scott Ritter’s visit. Having walked out of the packed, adoring crowd after the first questioner fatuously declared, “I assume everyone here has been to a protest,” I happened to talk to a security guard, waiting outside in the cold. He and I viewed the Iraq issue the same way: the prospect of a murderous tyrant gaining (further) access to weapons of mass destruction frightened us, and we trusted the President when he spoke of a “gathering danger.”

Inside, on the other hand, it was precisely the opposite: trust was placed in anyone before Bush – Blix and the U.N., Ritter, whomever. Above all, Bush’s motives were thought to be impure, while the U.N. – that darling organization of democrats, so liberty-loving as to place Libya in charge of its Human Rights Commission – sought peace, justice and the Ameri – er, the U.N. way.

Williams students ought to abandon this antipathy of American power and realize that, compared to the many alternatives out there, it’s the best thing going. After all, shouldn’t real liberals be in favor of the extension of human liberty everywhere in the world? It’s what FDR defined as an American war goal in WWII, and it’s what Bush defined as his National Security strategy – the creation of “a balance of power that favors human freedom.” Russia and China certainly wouldn’t support this goal, and the U.N. is half-composed of autocrats, anyway.

The E.U., for its part, seems perfectly content to play the game of appeasement indefinitely. The chief hope today for the oppressed peoples of the world, whether in Rangoon or Ramallah, Mosul or Mogadishu, comes from America. Only the United States has the capability – military, diplomatic and political – to remove the worst tyrants in the world, and, in conjunction with our friends, to build new and genuinely popular governments. To argue – in the face of the enormities committed each day by regimes in Iraq, Burma, North Korea and elsewhere – that such an intervention would make us immoral is the apotheosis of ethical absurdity.