It seems to me that up until the 2nd World War America was still pretty much in a unique position. Surely the most truly cosmopolitan nation the world has ever known, it had opened it’s gates to the peoples of the world to come and make a new life. They came, of course, in their thousands, often escaping tyranny, repression, famine and poverty. And while history shows it wasn’t always easy and that the ‘American Dream’ was largely a fiction, most prospered to some degree and were proud to become Americans and enjoy the taste of freedom and democracy. There were dark moments of course – the treatment of the indigenous peoples, slavery and the long hard road for their descendants, but it was still only natural that as the 20th century progressed, America shone out like a beacon of freedom while around the world the clouds were gathering as more evil was preparing to unleash itself on the world.
I’ve often rather sadly thought that considering the rich mix of people and cultures and their geographic position on our planet, America should have truly become the good guys, the leading light in our world, the arbiters of problems. But somewhere in the middle of the last century it all seemed to go wrong and it’s hard to put your finger on just what was the cause. Maybe the invasion of Pearl Harbour was the trigger, the realisation that they could be reached and attacked. But more than that it seems to me that the irrational fear of communism was the true catalyst that sent the USA spiralling into the bully it has become in the world.
I’ve never really been sure what their fear was when it came to communism, but the end of the second world war saw them turn inwards and embrace that fear in a way that Western Europe, who had far more to worry about, never did, and it led to a long period of strange contradictions. On one hand they single-handedly fuelled the race to have more nuclear weapons than anyone else – and more than anyone needed – while at the same time living with an irrational fear of nuclear attack and building shelters that would never be used. They thoroughly overestimated the power of the old USSR yet administration after administration kept their nation at a fever pitch of unwarranted fear – much like we have seen since 2001.
But mainly, I suspect, this was the beginning of the true damage their politicians would inflict around the world – using their sheer muscle and power to meddle. To be frank, American foreign policy has always been a disaster. Mostly diplomacy at gunpoint and threat, too often justified as being for the benefit of their National Security. Yet the reality is that they have had little to fear. I believe that the majority of the worlds people outside of the USA tend to see the attack in 2001 as a retaliation of American foreign intervention and manipulation over the years. It never was an attack on their freedom or way of life but the pent-up frustrations of people who had been used, abused and repeatedly manipulated for too long. And like any bully, America responded with more of the same. Instead of grabbing the moment to reflect, to harness world opinion and support and to make a bold attempt to address the actual problems, the Bush administration went headlong into the same old tactics that had ultimately failed before and will, in the end, merely create a whole new generation of American hatred and distrust.
It is such a waste and such a tragedy that a country that could have offered so much to the world has instead inflicted so much torment and so much destruction.