In the late Fifties, an uncharacteristically honest
political novel hit the best-seller lists. Later made into a Hollywood film
starring Marlon Brando, "The Ugly American" chronicled the
self-defeating obtuseness of American conduct in a thinly fictionalized
Southeast Asian country called Sarkhan, just before Indochina flared into what
we would come to know, and deeply lament, as the Vietnam War.
What was being so counter-productively done there by
presumptuous, insensitive U.S. agents and functionaries was also being done
worldwide. "The Ugly American" answered, decades before 9/11, why our
country is hated all across the planet.
Our insufferable arrogance and foreign policy excesses are
garnering us record levels of international opprobrium.
We're not a true friend or benefactor to humanity. We take
much more than we give. We force far more egregiously than we gently persuade,
in military, economic, cultural, and ideological terms. Global multitudes have
We should nose out of other people's business, engaging them
instead only on a completely fair, equitable, and wholly non-supremacist basis.
But Washington incessantly intervenes to facilitate Wall
Street profiteering wherever others simply want to be left alone.
We'll drive expensive SUVs to our own societal funeral
because we've kept the rest of humanity so impoverished that when poor children
perish from malnutrition in distant hopelessness, their parents can't afford
even a donkey cart to take their bodies to the graveyard.
Think of past empires, predicated on profound injustice,
which wound up in history's dustbin. Think about a country whose industrial
base has been outsourced abroad, and whose best known, remaining products are
the F-16s, Apache helicopter gunships, and terrible bombs that murder civilian
noncombatants as Washington tries to thrust its wayward will on understandably
We Americans have a grandiosely deluded perception of our
own place in human affairs. For even the best aspects about our history and
ourselves, there are at least as compelling, negative features that are seldom
Take our "noble" Founding Fathers, for instance.
Can't it accurately be said that they were also elitist white men who tolerated
slavery, killed Indians, adhered to chauvinistic views, and didn't want to pay
taxes? Those traits have caused widespread suffering over time. Even the
shiniest coin has its less attractive, reverse side.
Furthermore, it isn't our best features that drive America's
current policy, in places like Iraq. It's self-serving avarice assuming a
plainly neocolonial/imperialist form.
And who are we to blame others for terrorism? Talk about a
kettle calling the pot black!
Wasn't it terrorism when Native American women and children
in a cul-de-sac gully, running and screaming in abject fear, were attacked by
Cavalry troopers who savagely cut them down with slashing sabers and repeating
From Wounded Knee to My Lai and Haditha, with mass-murdering
stops such as the Philippine Insurrection and Hiroshima in between, honesty
calls for shamefully admitting that we're the leading killer of innocents on
We see ourselves in righteous myth, but to the rest of the
world -- the Third World in particular -- we're their harrowing picture of
Death from starvation and disease that could be conquered
but aren't because proper development is thwarted by inequitable, exploitative,
Death by shrapnel and fire when the U.S. strikes back
against rebels, always demonized as terrorists, who necessarily fight to end
It's not that we haven't done good or can't do so again.
We once fought fascism, humanity's worst scourge, and
pledged at Yalta and Potsdam to never allow anything so awful to ever surface
again. But we did. And the reborn evil emerged within our own borders, nurtured
by ultraconservative extremism.
We have it within our populist power to show the world a
picture of America others can not only stand to look at, but actually be
During this holiday season devoted to peace, let's not just
redouble our efforts to quickly, fully end George W. Bush's catastrophic Iraq
war, but thwart an even worse conflagration with Iran.
Let's also pledge to hereafter present a different face to
Dennis Rahkonen of Superior, Wisconsin, has been writing
for various progressive outlets since the �60s. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.