The bilingual weblog that dares to go
beyond "ideas" and "opinions"
to see what lies hidden underneath

Contact the Webmaster

"Oh, but it's only America's policies we are against!"

Since the publication of two excellent books that deconstruct French anti-Americanism — Jean-François Revel's L'Obsession antiaméricaine and Philippe Roger's L'Ennemi américain — there have been reactions in the French media protesting that the French (and the Europeans and, indeed, the entire world) are not anti-American at all, not generally, at least, they are simply opposed to Washington's "policies". Oh, we are great friends of the American people, some go as far as to say, there is much we admire in their country, but it is their leaders we disapprove of, understand.

The seemingly innocuous phrase of "only being against their policies" is actually a smokescreen that hides self-serving anti-American propaganda (for want of a better word). Certainly it is a smokescreen for the speakers as well — because they truly believe what they say and they truly think they have the best interests of mankind at heart — but it is nonetheless a smokescreen that hides prejudice and a disdainful imperiousness of the oldest kind known to the world.

Think about it. What is the exact message in the sentence "we don't agree with Washington's policies," whether its spoken by Europeans, Arabs, or leftists in general, American or otherwise? It sounds innocent and bland, but for people who like to carp about American arrogance, it goes to show that what one accuses others off is often what one hides in oneself. The message is that Americans have no love of their fellow human beings and that they are oafish, childish, hypocritical, warlike, racist, greedy, hungry for power, incapable of thinking rationally, and responsible for the majority of the world's tragedies in the past 50 years. In other words, Americans are everything but human (in the positive sense of the word, that is).

In this respect, the Sylvester Stallone character on the French TV show Les Guignols is a textbook example, for he is the only puppet on the Canal + comedy production to represent not a VIP but an entire people. And as such, he (or the American people) always comes up short and proves inferior to the others. In many ways he resembles the Jewish caricatures of the 19th century, and the image provides the TV viewer, be he a Frenchman, a European, or a generally leftist activist, with an air of snug superiority. Check out the editorial cartoons in Le Monde: evil, sneering, threatening, dollar- and oil-loving warmongers represent America in issue after issue.

Europeans, on the other hand, goes the message, are wise, supportive (solidaires), and generous to a fault. If only those virtuous people "with more experience and understanding" were in power, or if only the Americans listened to their infinite wisdom, if only the Yanks jettisoned the "logic of war" and policies not involved with violence, the entire world would be able to come together and live forever in an era of extended peace.

Forgive me for being somewhat cynical, but is this message a bit self-serving, or what?

Some claim that it is not the American people but their leaders who are immoral, greedy, with no human compassion, and hungry for dollars and power. This doesn't make sense. If such monsters (the word is hardly an exaggerration as one will realize if one reads Le Monde or watches Canal +) are in power, it can only mean that the American people themselves are, for the most part, stupid, immoral, greedy, with no human compassion, or at the very least (criminally?) oblivious of the obvious.

To those who respond that precisely, they are merely stating an obvious truth, I will point out that they rarely make the case, and certainly never as vehemently, against China's saber-rattling vis-à-vis Taiwan or in the China Sea, against the Zimbabwe régime's machine-gunning of the tribes protesting the rule of President Robert Mugabe, or against Saddam Hussein's torture and murder of his political prisoners. Probably all these are supposed to be examples of issues that would solve themselves with just a tad more negotiations with the rulers in question that the Europeans are such experts at.

In fact, once the U.S. led NATO forces into the skies of Yugoslavia, the carping immediately rose concerning American imperialism. Apparently, to send bombers over Serbia is proof of an "ultraviolent policy", but to "merely" have ones troops massacre tens of thousands of prisoners (Saddam Hussein) or tens of thousands of Bosnians (Slobodan Milosevic) or tens of millions of ones own people (Mao Zedong) is in no way so. Or, if (reluctantly) admitted to be the case, an iota more of understanding for the rulers should be able to solve the problem.

At least, neither of those leaders was involved in the "logic of war"! What a relief! They were not involved in warfare with a foreign state and were only murdering their people without making much use of their respective countries' "industrial-military complex". Let me add that in the Yugoslavia case, the protests against American intervention were coupled with calls for taking Washington or NATO to court for war crimes, whenever a bomb happened to kill four or five innocent people and their puppydog. I'm sorry, but when there are such obvious double standards, I cannot share some people's righteous indignation over Washington's qualms about signing the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court.

And while leftists the world over marched in the streets for a single Black Panther sitting on Philadelphia's Death Row, they never raised a finger for the half million Tutsis hacked to death by Rwanda's Hutus. No leftist "militants", no French intellectuals, no European politicians in the streets. Obviously, the Rwanda genocide had nothing to do with a culture of violence or the spirit of vengeance.

The past decades is filled with such examples of double standards where people voice voluble protests against America's "policies" while ignoring, or minimizing, the same type of events elsewhere, events which in general prove to be far more horrible and more threatening to the peace of the world. Of course, many Europeans will say "Oh, but we are against other types of injustice too; in fact, we are against all types of injustice." Only they never seem to do much about it, do they. In fact, they often seem reluctant when they have to protest about events in Belgrade, Baghdad, and Beijing, because that takes the heat off the real enemy: capitalist America.

The Europeans make a big deal of being more refined and less simplistic than U.S. citizens and not sharing their childish belief in good and evil. When you think about it, though, you come to realize it that they do have a simplistic vision that incorporates the leitmotivs of good and evil, although they hide it under more respectable vocabulary. The good are the forward-looking Europeans, in addition to all the other peoples of the world (however poorly, and murderously, they may be treating their citizens and neighbors), while the bad are the obtuse Americans, to be opposed every step of the way. What other message does one get from a French politician who smugly declares "We and the Americans, we do not share the same values"? He may be more subtle than the Americans' straightforward manner, but fundamentally, he is saying that the French are "good." And hasn't he discovered the true enemies of humanity: neither Mao's red guards nor Milosevic or Saddam's minions (God forbid) but those terrible dangers represented by Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Hollywood, GM foods, and a mouse by the name of Mickey. One may wonder if some Europeans' version of the "axis of evil" isn't America, the capitalist world, and anything deemed reactionary in general.

I don't believe in caricatural racists and bigots. Most people will readily admit that their own culture have problems of their own making while the people (race, whatever) they look down upon enjoys positive aspects. Only, the second part of a "but" sentence undoes the first part, and what matters in the final cut is the last part of the message. The basic message of Europeans is: oh sure, America has many positive aspects, but in this day and age it is fundamentally on the wrong track. Europe, on the other hand, has at lot of faults — it has much to learn from America, for instance, they hasten to add — but basically it is on the road towards a bright future. Towards peace and equality throughout the continent and, eventually (if the Yanks can be made to understand this), the world. This is nothing more than prejudice hidden under the veneer of respectability, good manners, and a conscientious choice of constructive-sounding words.

© Erik Svane