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Perceptions of Americans in the WorldTim King Salem-News.com
Life is an entirely different thing for those who leave the confines of the U.S.
(SALEM, Ore.) - The perception of Americans in different nations around the world has the contrast of day and night. Economic, geopolitical and military factors largely determine why people feel they way they do about the U.S.
We convince ourselves of many things and justifications abound, but the truth is that the more we kill, the more we sanction, and the more we side with nations like Israel, the more our place in the international community sinks.
This is a serious subject, and our alliances and mistakes shouldn't be taken lightly. The more we are respected and admired in the world, the more our level of national security rises. Making sure people have food is far more important than plotting wars.
Knowing history doesn't hurt either. An understanding of cultural values can be gained in a library or on the Internet with ease. There are few excuses for people to not respect places they visit. A little research before you depart can go a long way in simplifying and enjoying your journey, be it one of peace or war.
If we can take the "kill them with kindness" approach in our daily interpersonal relations, then why can't we do the same as a country?
Maybe it is because of good old American ego, but any group that sees itself as superior to others is bound to fail.
It is true that there are plenty of pre-conceived notions about Americans, especially in Paris, but I have been treated perfectly in this city. Is it the approach? That seems like an easy answer that explains how and why people are received the way they are.
Here's the background: when World War One was in full swing in 1917 and millions were dying in Europe, the French appeal for U.S. aid was finally met. What the Americans asked for as a condition of support, erodes faith in the U.S.A. to this very day in France. Our government insisted that France implement policies of racism toward black soldiers.
The French were shocked and appalled, yet they were on the verge of losing the war to Germany, so they acquiesced and allowed the official discrimination of blacks in the ranks of the military for the first time.
After the war was over, Paris was overrun by American tourists, the majority of which sported some degree of racism. This grated at the French throughout the 1920's and into the 1930's.
Today many people in Paris don't know exactly where this animosity toward Americans developed, but I believe from experience that they generally save the poor treatment for loud, obnoxious American tourists, rather than world travelers with a sense of world understanding.
One country that has plenty of people who like the United States and want to live in the United States, is Mexico.
My first thought on Mexico is based upon my relations with Mexican politicians, police and soldiers while covering stories in Mexico for KYMA (NBC) in Yuma, Arizona between 1995 and 1997.
That is that racism is alive and well in Mexico just as it is in other places. There are many types of people in Mexico, but the only people I saw holding office were light skinned men with obviously Spanish blood. It is sad how problems with racial prejudice are so ever-present in the world.
Anyone who ever lived in a Mexican border town knows the idea of halting illegal immigration in its entirety is a stretch, at best. The number of people that pass over the border every day and night is staggering.
The people of Mexico vary in their assessment of American citizens. I think they are some of the kindest and most honest people on the planet, and I am personally glad that I was able to spend so much time there during those two years.
I saw tears of appreciation flow during a ceremony where an American fire engine was donated to a Mexican fire department, and I have seen the desperation in people who are so poor and miserable that it is no wonder they want to move one country north.
One police/military exercise I covered in Mexico was titled "Disasters Know No Borders" and that name always stayed with me. I think we are so hung up on national borders that we forget what this life is supposed to be about in the first place.
I think it is safe to say that most Americans are liked in Mexico and vice versa. There are dangers but those are in every country. Once again, having an understanding of how and why things are the way they are, is very helpful.
The problem I found when I visited this place during the summer of 2008, was that only the people on the U.S. payroll would say that the U.S. occupation was a good thing for Iraq.
So many of us could see at the beginning of this conflict that instability was the one sure thing the fighting and killing would accomplish, and it has certainly come to pass.
But even those Iraqi interpreters who are making money from the war effort, in my opinion, are running on borrowed time. The people we refer to as insurgents and terrorists aren't missing a trick.
When the U.S. pulls out for good, these people will be left to the dogs; a lot of good we will have done them.
Old problems between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims have been reignited by the U.S. conflict and I was told by more than one Iraqi that there will be a deadly civil war after our forces leave. In the meanwhile the killing continues to take place.
These problems were under control before we invaded. The country was very western in many ways, and people lived in relative peace as long as they didn't cause problems for the government.
Now Baghdad is divided into "Red" and "Green" zones and people continue to die in the streets from roadside bombs in this historic place, and in firefights with Coalition soldiers.
So many who fight our forces used to be on our team; it is such a shame that our war in their country has turned them against us, but is it honestly a surprise?
One thing on the lips of conscious, thoughtful Americans in Iraq is, "Did you create a terrorist today?" and if that doesn't make the average American think, then nothing ever will.
It upsets my stomach to think of what a waste it will all end up being. Thousands of Americans and upwards of a million Iraqi people according to some estimates, have paid the ultimate price for our former President's delusions of weapons of mass destruction.
Then there are the casualties from the other Coalition countries.
Iraq is the big loser. The Americans disrupted life in this place and we will leave them again. How can anyone trust us? We did this after the first Gulf War and Kurds were slaughtered for listening to us and working with us.
Iraqi people are nice, they are frequently kind to strangers, even of an occupational government, and they are scared to death of what the future holds.
American people in the war theaters often have good intentions. Many deployed soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have made large, positive differences in the lives of people here, but they have mostly done it on their time and on their dime. While their individual and sometimes random acts of kindness toward the Iraqi people are well-received, there is not enough of this, and yet there is too much of that.
The South Vietnamese learned all about it in 1975. It is as if we are developing a pattern of electing national leaders who don't have any idea how to select, fight or win a war. As a rule, it certainly doesn't make the people of the world fond of us.
I guess this brings us to the war in our "allied" nation, Afghanistan.
The Soviets trashed the place so badly during their ten-year invasion from 1979 to 1989, that certain aspects of the culture and environment will never recover, at least in our lifetimes.
The Communists poisoned water systems, systematically killed over a million and a half Afghans, and they rampantly raped the modest women and girls of this country. The evidence is everywhere in the faces of the younger people; Slavic features are unmistakable.
The Russians learned the same lessons as the British in the 1800's. In spite of how poor they are, or mistreated or subjugated, the Afghan people are fiercely independent and they are willing to die for their cause.
In the end the answers are probably rooted in the fact that these people are all very different, and never intended to be grouped into a single country with a single flag. The Hazaras are nothing like the Pashtuns. Tajiks and Uzbeks are more similar, but they are all distinctly different. The country even has two languages; Dari and Pashtun.
Whether or not the Coalition can "win" in Afghanistan is a question of growing importance. The western world apparently thinks the Afghan government is competent and yet this country and Saudi Arabia are among the worst in the world when it comes to the treatment of women.
We're not talking about the Taliban. The Afghan government has taken some positive steps, but they are baby steps and that must end. I personally saw a major accomplishment for women in the Afghan National Army; I saw them go to the firing range and fire the AK-47 for the first time in history. I even met and interviewed an ANA female general.
But the conservative, religious people of Afghanistan are not behind these accomplishments for women. They don't like the more laid back and western styles present on the campus at Kabul University either. They don't like the American influence.
Nope, those liberal pro-woman progressive political positions assumed at university and in the Afghan military are certainly not going to fly very far in this place unless some big changes take place.
In order to continue to receive funding and aid, they will appease and show the Americans the good side of things, but in order to bring this country into the 21st Century, it needs a governmental renovation from top to bottom.
Yet they are our allies?
Intermittently in the gunsights of both the U.S. and Israel over contrived charges of nuclear weapon development, Iran is a country where, like Iraq, a more sensible and logical interpretation of Islam had been taken.
While they are seen, Iran is not a land of burqas like Afghanistan, where the slang western reference "T&A" with regard to women, means in this case "toes and ankles" because that's as much of the average Afghan woman that you are going to see. Some more conservative Iraqi women wear the black burqa but not all, and in both Iraq and Iran colorful dress can be part of the Hijab; which means "head cover and modest dress for women" in the Muslim world.
Decisions of the U.S. government over the past eight years will haunt this nation for a long time to come. How much we can really help a place like Afghanistan, is yet to be seen.
In spite of popular myths, the U.S. government does very little to help rebuild the previously devastated infrastructure of this country. I spent eight weeks trying to access any one of "the schools" that conservative radio talk show hosts continually reference when speaking about things the "liberal media" ignores.
It's pretty hard to ignore what isn't there though.
That isn't to say that there aren't schools being built, there are and that is a fact, but I don't think there are nearly as many as there are touted. There is no connection between the military's desire to put that in front of TV cameras with the rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Riley.
The truth is that the U.S., Canadians, the Brits and the Taliban have all built schools. It doesn't end up in a rosy setting however; the Taliban doesn't allow girls to attend school... and neither do most other schools in Afghanistan.
When it comes to the "good" things our military has accomplished in this ancient land, some roads and sewers have been built and medical missions for civilians are held by the military.
But these "MEDCAP" missions are funded by donations, they are often international, and the U.S. government doesn't make any much-needed medical attention available for Afghan people on any kind of a regular basis.
The largest contributions from Americans for the people here happen in the spare time of our military forces, and they often funded through projects in churches and other community organizations in the U.S. The same is true in Iraq.
The war in Afghanistan was all but forgotten when I was there in 2006 and 2007. Today it is receiving attention but not nearly enough. The country in many ways, is little better off than before we arrived.
Our list of Americans killed and disabled in the current wars is growing, and the rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among returning combat veterans in the U.S. is severely problematic and out of control. Staying the course in Afghanistan should only take place with a clear and concise plan and adequate provisions for the people there.
What do the Afghans think of us? More than the people of Iraq, that much is for sure. The ground we gained by defeating the Taliban in some areas early on is still appreciated. I'll never forget one 12-year old Afghan boy named Fadid who said, via about the Americans, "They're shooting the Taliban, so they came here and are patrolling the areas to bring prosperity, social justice and unity here in our country,"
Anyone who met this boy would also have read in his words that helping these people was the right thing to do. Still, it had to be done right or it won't work. Afghanistan's terrain is hostile, cold and full of landmines. The notion of winning must be clear and well-defined.
In Summarizing the question of what people think about Americans today, a dismal picture appears to be at hand. The world certainly thought far more of us during the Clinton years and you can take that to the bank; it is a fact.
Some will say that all the wars and the fighting on other shores was because of what happened on September 11th, 2001, but I counter with, What the heck did happen on September 11th?
Like it or not and to Hell be damned, the official story from the U.S. government about what happened that day is so full of holes it makes swiss cheese appear smooth.
There were no Air Force jets in the area when there normally would always be, experts say there is no physical possibility that all three New York buildings weren't rigged with explosives and imploded.
And yet the U.S. government spent more money investigating Bill Clinton's sex exploits than they on the most devastating attack on the United States in history? Personally, I don't know how to live with that.
My point is not to implicate the U.S. government, that is not the point. If terrorists attacked us that day, then they are the ones who planted the explosives, right? With millions around the world watching documentaries like "Loose Change" that uses hard and proven facts to point out shocking flaws and impossibilities with the official story, it would make sense to reopen the almost laughable investigation and learn what there is to learn.
One visitor wrote this comment about a prior Salem-News report on 9/11, "And figure out why that skank Ann Coulter was so intent on discrediting the widows of the 9/11 firefighter's widows while you're at it. If there is a conspiracy, then the only person we can be reasonably sure is part of it, is that un-American evil spawn Coulter woman."
We are so brutal toward our enemies, and in the case of Coulter toward other Americans, yet we don't seek out answers to questions about something as large as the 2001 attacks. People in other countries know all about the 9/11 controversy and that shapes their opinions of us. Yet we aren't supposed to touch it with a ten-foot pole as journalists in the U.S., or we are somehow dishonorable and obscene.
As far as the rest of the world, I guess the British think we're OK as well as the Canadians, though they without a doubt breathed a sigh of relief when Obama took office.
I've not spent a lot of time in Asia, but I think large numbers of people on that continent have a fairly decent opinion of us, probably because we haven't pointed our guns in their direction lately. Peace brings big paybacks and has led to few tensions in Asia during recent years.
That is unless you're talking about Kyrgyzstan, an Asian country that had allowed our military planes to operate out of an air base there since the invasion of Afghanistan, until recently that is. (see: Kyrgyzstan's Revenge - Justin Raimondo Special to Salem-News.com)
Kyrgyzstan recently announced that it was unilaterally canceling the contract granting U.S. access to the Ganci air base at Bishkek's Manas airport.
I'm not sure how our military is going to get people in and out of Afghanistan now; Kuwait is extremely busy and crowded and off the beaten path for Afghanistan. This has been a key link in the increasingly fragile supply lines that service U.S. troops in the Afghan War Theater.
I must admit I liked the people of Kyrgyzstan and it was amazing to see women dressed beautifully, wearing makeup, and presenting themselves as they chose.
A mural on the wall of a Kyrg cafe that I frequented had beautiful rolling hills, lakes, trees, and MiG jet fighters flying through the sky. I thought Kyrgyzstan looked like it was right out of a Grimm's Fairy Tale story, though the military jets told another story.
Militaristic thinking and behaviors may be necessary, but wars should only be fought as a last resort. The United States forgot that rule under the last President and a hefty price has been paid by all. People think less of us than they used to, but maybe that will change. I hope so.
Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 in Afghanistan with Oregon troops. Tim recently returned from Iraq where he covered the war there while embedded with an Oregon Guard aviation unit. Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators.
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