Home > Ahead: Six Decades Of Humiliation
Ahead: Six Decades Of Humiliation
June 29, 2005
NEW YORK-The world hates us more than ever, according to a new Pew Research poll of 16,000 citizens in 15 countries. Most Canadians think Americans are exceptionally rude. The Chinese say we’re violent and greedy. Nearly half of Turks—up from 32 percent a year ago—say they dislike Americans as individuals and America as a nation, according to the survey. Muslims have a "quite negative hostility toward America," says Pew president Andrew Kohut. Even among our traditional allies, he says, the United States "remains broadly disliked."
The reason for our declining popularity is no mystery: Bush’s unjustified, illegal war against Iraq. But Iraq, Bush’s doctrine of preemptive warfare and instances of prisoners being tortured and even murdered aren’t completely unprecedented. Cheney’s neoconservatives are merely the latest executors of an aggressive foreign policy that has long prompted fear, hatred and resentment among the leaders and citizens of other nations. Beginning with Theodore Roosevelt’s brutal suppression of Filipino insurgents at the dawn of the 20th century, continuing with the holocaust of two million Vietnamese civilians under LBJ and Nixon’s carpet bombs and recently exemplified by a series of bullying adventures against such defenseless nations as Grenada, Panama and Afghanistan, the U.S. has become, perhaps to its surprise, the biggest danger to peace and stability on the planet.
Many Americans, still taking pride in the memorable image of "Gift of USA" flag logos on bags of grain being tossed to starving Africans, find it difficult to accept the role of international pariah. But the truth is that many people are as scared of us as they were of Germany and Japan in 1939.
Ah, irony. Our rep has gone down the toilet with the Koran, but things are looking up for the Axis powers we defeated in World War II.
Germany, nearly recovered from the economic shock of reunification and a lead partner in the European Community, is lobbying for a permanent seat on the United Nations security council. "Because of [Germany’s role in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans]," Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told Bush at the White House on June 28, "we have earned certain rights." Bush, seeking payback for Schroeder’s lack of support for the Iraq war, is said to be cool to the German bid. Nevertheless, bringing up the question demonstrates Germany’s newfound self-confidence. As the German weekly Der Spiegel commented: "Normally it is only superpowers who express themselves—and their rights—so aggressively."
Twenty countries, including India, Japan and Brazil, want to join the prestigious security council. Controversy continues to dog Japan’s efforts to be recognized as a major military as well as economic power, mainly due to its refusal to come to terms with its part in World War II. Japanese textbooks gloss over atrocities in China, and the government has never issued a formal apology. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi continues to pay honors at a shrine to Japan’s war dead, including known war criminals. But Bush supports just one addition to the Big Five: Japan.
Germany and Japan’s remarkable comeback since 1945 holds an instructive lesson for the United States today. During the last six decades both countries recovered from total defeat, massive loss of life and infrastructure and the humiliation of occupation by concentrating first on economic revival, then building a political society designed to cause as little offense as possible to the international community and finally, since the end of the Cold War, asserting themselves militarily but only in peace-keeping missions which even their former enemies couldn’t openly oppose. Now both are poised to resume the roles they played before they launched their empire-building military campaigns, no longer as expansionist aggressors but as powerful nations worthy of trust and respect.
Particularly in Germany, every postwar generation was taught about the evils of militarism and the horrors their parents and grandparents had carried out in the name of God and country. Pacifism is the norm; Nazism is reviled. Even in Japan, where official signs of contrition haven’t been forthcoming, only a few nostalgic nutcases yearn for the glorious days of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. No one’s afraid of the Axis anymore.
Now the US is the sole, charter member of its own Axis of Evil: invading and threatening invasions, breaking arms treaties willy-nilly, kidnapping and murdering foreign citizens without cause, refusing to abide by the Geneva conventions. But that will change someday—whether we’re forced to change, as were Germany and Japan, or whether we choose a different path on our own. What’s daunting is how much time—and humility—it will take for the rest of the world to trust us as much as they trust Germany and Italy.