The American Special Way
By Peter Esser
[This article originally published in: E + Z - Entwicklung und Zussamenarbeit, March 2002 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.dse.de/zeitschr/ez302-4.htm.]
44 years ago, the novel `The Ugly American' by Lederer and Burdick appeared in the US which soon was a best seller. This novel tried to explain to Americans why they are regarded so negatively in Asia. They spread the American way of life and American economic dominance and refused to see that Asia's peoples preferred other values and a different way of living. In the last presidential election campaign in the fall of 2000, one of the candidates recalled this novel. He declared: "If we don't want to be viewed any more as `ugly Americans', we must stop saying to the whole world: we do this and you should also do this.'" It seemed this man understood something. His name was George W. Bush.
In the meantime, he is president and everything is forgotten. All other peoples should not only follow the American model but also have the same enemy. Whoever doesn't stand on the side of the US in the struggle against terrorism is seen as an enemy. In the first weeks after September 11, it seemed the government of the US understood that impoverishment and humiliation of three-quarters of humanity are breeding grounds for terrorism and that combating poverty and misery is the way to remove these grounds. Today the American Secretary of Commerce Paul O'Neill strictly refuses to increase American foreign aid (the lowest of all industrial states) or even consider other financial sources while the American military budget has increased in double-digits. What is the origin of the absurd belief of Americans that the problem of terrorism can be solved with weapons?
Walter R. Mead, leading collaborator of the Council on Foreign Relations, recently pointed out that America has a different relation to war than Europe. The Europeans feared the spirals of violence. The Americans learned that war can bring solutions. Who could have defeated Hitler-Germany if not the US? This experience goes far back. The Americans owe the possession of their land to the armed struggle against the Indians (that would be called genocide today). Every American still has the right to a weapon and the majority believe their personal security depends on this right. The monopoly of force regarded as the basis of a civilized society in Europe has never been accepted in the US. America as a nation has passed through a different socialization than Europe.
For this reason, the alliance forged with great effort by Secretary of State Powell is beginning to disintegrate. The French foreign minister Vedrine regards the American concept for combating terrorism as `simplistic'. Germany fortunately has a chancellor who declared this country will not agree to adventures. Even Tony Blair is reconsidering. If the US attacks Iraq, it will lose in one day the whole Islamic world and the majority of developing countries.
Still distancing oneself from American power politics is not enough. The struggle against poverty and misery in the Third World must be waged and financed. Budget officials must abandon their church tower perspective. The industrial states of the North (even if the US refuses) must forge an alliance against poverty with the countries of the South as equal partners. Such an alliance with the inclusion of the US doesn't seem possible in the foreseeable future as its retreat from more and more international agreements makes clear. Assistant Defense secretary Wolfowitz declared years ago that the US doesn't want to be the partner of equals. America must "discourage all attempts of other advanced industrial states to challenge our leadership or even play a greater regional or global role.". If this is true, the initiatives must occur without the US. What the world needs is an alliance for civilization, not a pact for military intervention.