Let's give the Ugly American a badly needed makeover
By Dennis Rahkonen
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Dec 20, 2007, 00:16

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 become outraged.

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 resistant humankind.

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 considered.

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 rifles?

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 Earth.

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.

Death from starvation and disease that could be conquered but aren't because proper development is thwarted by inequitable, exploitative, corporate-enriching relations.

Death by shrapnel and fire when the U.S. strikes back against rebels, always demonized as terrorists, who necessarily fight to end intolerable injustice.

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 inspired by.

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 long-repulsed humanity.

Dennis Rahkonen of Superior, Wisconsin, has been writing for various progressive outlets since the �60s. He can be reached at

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