Hyman Celebrates Hatred
In November of 2001, I was visiting a friend in England. After a day of sightseeing, I was walking from my hotel down to the street corner to call my then-girlfriend back in the States. I happened to end up falling into a conversation with a couple of women who were on their way out for the evening. After chatting a bit about the pleasures of tourism and the discomfort of high heels (theirs, not mine), they said, “We just want to tell you that we’re so sorry for what happened in America. We’re on your side.”
Tthis was a typical reaction most people in Europe, and around the world for that matter, had in the days, weeks, and months following the 9/11 attacks. Moments of silence were held around the world’s capitals. The French newspaper Le Monde said “We are all Americans now.” At Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s Guard played the "Star Spangled Banner. "
There were huge public displays of sympathy, including places where you might not expect it such as Tehran . . .
. . .and Palestine
What does this have to do with Mark Hyman? In a recent editorial titled “Hatred for America,” he quotes journalist Anne Applebaum’s recent column describing some Europeans as secretly pleased by the attacks because of their simmering contempt for what America has come to represent.
In fact, she doesn’t say what Hyman claims she does, that Europeans were pleased by the attacks. She says “some Britons” and “many Europeans.” That qualification becomes even more important when you understand that she is talking about politicians and journalists, not the people of Europe generally.
Citing newspaper articles and speeches by politicians that criticized America’s foreign policy goals as contributing to the attacks, Applebaum notes that there were some public voices who, even only days after 9/11, pointed out uncomfortable things about the U.S., and even showed some resentment that the U.S. acted as if terrorism had been invented on September 11, 2001, neglecting the fact that Europeans had lived with it for decades.
But Hyman takes this thesis (which, even in Applebaum’s more tentative wording, still overstates the case) and uses it to support the idea that Europeans in general hate America.
The idea of American exceptionalism is nothing new, but the deformed version of it that has emerged from the neo-con crowd in recent years *is*. Unlike any time in the past, foreign hatred of America is now lauded as some sort of sign of American strength and fortitude, to the point where folks like Hyman wildly exaggerate animosity felt towards the U.S. by claiming it’s always been at the levels we see today.
The reasoning behind this is easy enough to suss out. The growth of critical views of America coincides with the continuing militaristic foreign policy of the Bush administration and the disdain for our allies and the whole concept of an international community. By claiming we were always hated to the extent we are now, even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the neo-cons turn anti-Americanism into a sort of social pathology suffered by others for which we bear no responsibility.
More broadly, it supports the underlying philosophy that America’s status as the lone superpower gives it the right to do what it wants, when it wants—to shape the world to its will. If we’re already despised, what reason do we have to take anyone else’s opinions into consideration?
Once upon a time, American exceptionalism was based on the idea that America embodied freedom, democracy, and opportunity in a way no other nation on the globe did, that we served as an example that others wanted to emulate. We were the country that people around the world wanted to come to. While people risked their lives to leave their native countries, people were risking their lives to come to America.
Today, things have gotten so bad that we now have turned distrust and hostility toward us into proof of our rightness.
Hyman wants to let Bush off the hook for squandering the unique opportunity that existed after September 11 to unite the world in fighting terrorism, and to unite Americans in pushing for energy independence—something that would put an end to a foreign policy held hostage by a need for Mideast oil. But we shouldn’t. By cutting and running from the fight against al Qaeda and hijacking 9/11 to support an unrelated foreign policy goal in Iraq that had been lusted after by neo-cons long before that September morning, Bush not only squandered his presidency, but much more importantly, sacrificed a historic opportunity on the altar of arrogant self-assuredness.
If I could speak to those two women I talked to in Britain that night five years ago, I’d say, “I’m so sorry for what has happened in America in these last few years. I'm on your side.”
And that’s The Counterpoint.
Hyman Index: 3.47