March 04, 2003

Blimey, They Have No Table

Blimey, They Have No Table Manners!

Provocative read courtesy of Simon Schama writing in the New Yorker on Euro perceptions of the U.S.:

During the Jacksonian period:

"The hallmark of Jacksonian America seemed to be a beastly indifference to manners, the symptom of a society where considerateness to others was a poor second to the immediate satisfaction of personal wants. The conduct of Americans at dinner said it all. They wolfed down their food, cramming corn bread into their sloppy maws during meals that were devoured in silence, punctuated only by slurps, grunts, scraping knives, and hacking coughs. (All those cigars.) At the Plate House, in the business district of New York, the naval captain and travel writer Basil Hall was astonished by the speed at which the corned beef arrived and then by the even greater speed at which it was demolished: “We were not in the house above twenty minutes, but we sat out two sets of company at least.” Only the boy waiters yelling orders at the kitchen broke the quiet. The lack of polite conversation suggested the melancholy and dispiriting monotony of American life, on which almost all the early reporters commented. Tocqueville explained the apparent paradox of anxiety amid prosperity as the result of the relentless obligation to be forever Up and Doing."

And post-WWII, contra the conventional wisdom that all Europeans were besides themselves with gratitude when the U.S. help reconstruct the Continent with the Marshall Plan:

"The charge that the United States was imposing its cultural habits on the prostrate body of war-torn Europe returned with even more force after 1945. Americans thought of the Marshall Plan (together with the forgiveness of French debts) as an exercise in wise altruism; European leaders like de Gaulle bristled with suspicion at the patronizing weight of the program. Complaints against Coca-Colonization, the mantra of the anti-globalizers, were already in full cry in the nineteen-fifties. But as Arthur Koestler, who bowed to no one in his loathing of “cellophane-wrapped bread, processed towns of cement and glass . . . the Organization Man and the Readers’ Digest,” put it in 1951, “Who coerced us into buying all this? The United States do not rule Europe as the British ruled India; they waged no Opium War to force their revolting ‘Coke’ down our throats. Europe bought the whole package because Europe wanted it.”

And, getting to issues rising to the fore today with Iraq the catalyst:

"Yet somehow, in the present crisis, American democracy has let itself be represented as American despotism. Some in the European antiwar movement see the whole bundle of American values—consumer capitalism, a free market for information, an open electoral system—as having been imposed rather than chosen."

In other words, anti-americanism today is based on sentiments well beyond an argument about whether inspectors should have a couple more months in the spring season to ferret about various nooks and crannies for WMD stockpiles. Which gets to the Krauthammer point that the French, it appears, are beginning to oppose the U.S., not any more on the merits of the Iraq issue, but rather with the hope of representing another major force in world politics that defines itself by its opposition to the American hegemon.

I wager that, despite all the hurdles coalescing recently (the Turkish vote against U.S. troops, the evasive "Middle Six" at the UNSC, massive popular opposition in certain countries to the war, Franco-Russian threats of veto brandishing, a cornered Saddam feigning "cooperation" regarding the al-Samouds, and so on--the U.S. stance will be vindicated.

Not because of some divine, innate correctness in the U.S. stance. But because of all the arguments you have heard, seemingly ad infinitum already. Because Saddam is loathed by his populace, has proven himself a criminal leader by his use of terrifying chemical weapons against his own civilians, has started two wars against his neighbors, has avaricious appetites to acquire more WMD, and cannot effectively be contained because of his easy resort to evasion mastered over a decade plus. Further, and perhaps most important, there is the post-9/11 notion of preemption, if not prevention (important doctrinal nuances that need to be further fleshed out by the current Administration), which people like Tony Blair, Jose Aznar and Dubya get. In the interest of the security of millions of civilians worldwide (particularly those located in massive metropolises), rulers who have proven their barbarism in the past, and refuse to give up their WMD, shall be forcibly disarmed. We simply can't afford to wait around for another nasty surprise that dwarfs 9/11. Pacifism in the face of such threats becomes its own fanaticism (a noxious masochistic variant).

As Dubya is increasingly indicating, Saddam's time has come. He has met a U.S. President who will no longer flinch. Let's instead start focusing on minimizing casualties on all sides during the impending conflict. And then on ensuring a viable, post-conflict Iraq that is federated but retains its territorial integrity. And the best means to ensure mitigation of revanchist killings and other assorted score-settling in the chaotic aftermath of the war.

Posted by Gregory at March 4, 2003 01:39 PM
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