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THE UNITED STATES: Its place in the world

A characteristic of American public life is the constant boasting about "this great country". In his new book Here. A Biography of the New American Continent, American writer Anthony DePalma criticizes what he calls the "pennywhistle patriotism" in the teaching of American history (cf. our international history book project). American democracy is viewed as exemplary, although the power of money in politics recalls the corrupt politics of 18th-century England. This implied belittling of other countries irritates them. It therefore comes as a shock to Americans when they discover how the world views them.

Americans have every right to be antagonized by the upcoming UN meeting in Durban, in which the US will be singled out as guilty of racism. There is definitely a scheme to embarrass the US as part of a campaign by black Americans to demand reparations for slavery. This is perfectly clear from some of their meetings. At the same time, I was misled when Democratic Congressman Thomas Lantos angrily denounced the Durban conference. It turned out that his anger was aroused by the fear that Israel would be denounced for its treatment of Palestinians. A Jew if Hungarian origin, he makes Israel one of his main concerns. His protest will simply strengthen the general impression that the Zionist lobby has too much power in the US and that it has a decisive influence on US Middle East policy.

The negative attitude of the Bush administration toward a variety of international policies has heightened international criticism of the US. This was documented in a New York Times poll which some Americans angrily and wrongly dismissed as a scheme to embarrass the Republican President. The only way to offset all this negative publicity is for the US to take a positive lead in world affairs and display a grasp of the reality of the international situation. In different degrees, both Roosevelts had it, as did Woodrow Wilson, the young Hoover, Harry Truman, and, believe it or not, Nixon. It should not be a party issue.

Ronald Hilton - 8/19/01