Saturday, 9 May 2009

American Hubris

In "Where Is America's Feel For Its Role in the World?" (IHB, 3/11/99, p.9) Richard Reeves articulates with great clarity the contradictions emerging from America's role as a HyperPower: "'What do you think of the idea of our Peace Corps?' President John Kennedy once asked Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India? A good plan, Mr. Nehru answered--young Americans can learn a lot from Indian villagers."

Kennedy thought Nehru's answer arrogant. Reeves counters that Kennedy was really the arrogant one because "the major impact of sending tens of thousands of Americans abroad over the past 35 years has been to create an alumni corps that actually has a feel for the world and America's role in far-off places." Reeves adds that there are fewer now and not enough of "Americans capable or interested in seeing the world as others see it, or seeing themselves as other see them", including not
only PC volunteers but those who are being replaced by locals abroad by government, business and news organizations.

"America," Reeves contends, "is on a roll. America is losing it." This is not a paradox, he claims. "The more power--military and financial--that we Americans accumulate, the less judicious or careful we seem to be in using it." He cites the acquittal of Marine aviator flying too low over an Italian ski resort, import duties on Scottish cashmere in the Banana War that Chiquita started, the bombing of Iraqi radar sites because the U.S. wants to topple Sadam Hussein, and the Serbs when we and our NATO allies move in to guarantee peace in the Balkans as instances where American hubris will end up tragically insensitive to the rest of the globalizing world.

"I am not saying," he concludes,"that we are wrong in all or any of these situations. But we are throwing our weight around these days because we have the power, and the ignorance, to do so. We should not kid our sanctimonious selves, however, that our illusions make what we do right or sensible. Basically, we are demanding that the world do it our way--or else. If that is what being the 'world's only superpower' is going to mean, perhaps we should learn a touch more about the lives of Indian villages and European factory workers and Italian skiers before we send out commands that it is their duty to remake themselves in our image."

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