Why Is America My Business?

As you might have noted, I’m in London, UK, but I devote a good part of my blogging and tweeting activity to the US. Indeed, my blog stats show that I get most of my traffic from these two countries, split almost exactly evenly, with the remainder coming largely from Canada, Australia, Brazil, EU countries and India.

I’ve rarely been accused of being “anti-American” (it would be hard to make that stick), but understandably, I’ve been asked by Americans why I take such an interest in their country (or sometimes, simply told to to mind my own business).

There’s no quick, tweetable answer, so I decided to write this post.

Global View

One reason Americans even ask this question is that the American view of the world is a more insular one than the view from many other countries. Americans wonder why a Brit would be interested in their politics when they (understandably) have no interest in ours. I’m not only interested in America – my interests are global, in common with many people around the world today. I have a near-equal fascination with Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the world.

The Empire View


After the second world war, the US Empire became the biggest game in town here in Western Europe, as well as across much of the planet. Ironically, America, which had opposed European imperialism since its inception, took advantage of Europe’s weakness and “took over” some of the old European colonies, most notably those with known oil reserves. British policy in the Middle East became American policy in the Middle East. After 1990, the US became the only game in town. Anyone with an interest in global politics can’t fail but notice the American influence almost everywhere – and hence become increasingly interested in US politics. The US has military bases in over 150 countries (well over half of all world states) with more than 369,000 personnel. Again, this makes America pretty hard to ignore.

The British View


Both Britain and America made big strategic shifts after WW2. Britain, an imperial nation for centuries, was forced to give up the bulk of its Empire. At that point Britain was presented with two blocs it could ally itself with: the United States or (what was to become) the European Union – it chose to straddle both, a position it holds to this day. American troops arrived in Britain in 1942 and never left. US bases in Britain are considered sovereign US territory, and yet the British people were never consulted over this  loss of sovereignty. We have semi-jokingly been referred to as the 51st state, and there’s more than a hint of truth in that, as has been demonstrated during the “war on terror”. Quite simply, decisions made in Washington affect the British people – so it’s unsurprising that we take an interest in US politics.

The Tribal View

I’m not personally Anglo Saxon (I’m of Jewish descent) but as a British citizen I’m a member of the Anglo Saxon world – and the Anglo Saxons are among the world’s most successful tribes. They dominate the UK, the US, Canada, Australia  and New Zealand, as well as having a powerful voice in South Africa. There is undoubtedly an unspoken tribal fraternity among these countries, based on a 1,500-year common racial and cultural history, and therefore it’s not surprising that UK and Australian troops tend to be the first to join US wars and occupations, or that cultural attitudes across the Anglo Saxon world tend to closely mirror each other. And of course, we (almost) share a language.

The Personal View

I was born in the 60s, and so my upbringing was immersed in US culture. Britain today is a great producer of TV content, and to a lesser extent, film. While a good deal of our best TV and film still comes from the US, that was even more the case in the 70s. As I came of age and took an interest in politics, Reagan came to power, and my view of America became darker as US-sponsored terrorism trampled the globe. Still the fascination remained just as strong. In the late-80s, I visited the US for the first time, and have been back many times since – the US is a far more varied, intelligent and fascinating place than it tends to project internationally. I grew up in a US-centric world, and even as that visibly shifts, I’m still a child of the 60s.

The WTF View

Let’s try to say this nicely: America does a great line in morons. While we in Britain now have a government that’s at least as radically right-wing as the Thatcher one was, our conservative politicians are decidedly centrist compared to those in America. The US has been on an endless political trajectory to the right, with the result that (from a European perspective) Americans now have two political choices at election time: right of centre, or extreme right. The American political and media scene are so corrupted with corporate money that extremism is routinely presented as common sense. While we do have extremists in Europe, few of them find a place in mainstream parties, whereas the Republican Party has become a home of extremism. The European far-right often scores worryingly well in elections, gaining from 5% to 20% of national votes, but the American far-right is routinely elected to power. We don’t have local equivalents of George W Bush, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry or the Tea Party. Perhaps the most bizarre spectacle, looking in from Europe, is the moronic – not to say frightening – mass rejection of science, from evolution through stem-cell research to climate change. The downfall of former Empires – the Arabic and Ottoman ones, for example, began when religious orthodoxy was taken more seriously by leaders than scientific thought.

But…

200 years ago, America helped set the tone for freedom and democracy in the Western World. Let’s not pretend it led in every field – take slavery, just as one example – but the US founding fathers did represent some of the most progressive thinkers of the day. Whatever its problems, America’s delivered at least one great contribution to mankind: the first amendment to the constitution, protecting freedom of speech, religion and assembly. Since it’s so small and neat, here’s the full text:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

However moronic America’s leaders may get, that short piece of prose will prove a huge obstacle to the imposition of an American dictatorship or theocracy (though it won’t stop people from trying). For the first amendment alone, America deserves recognition for advancing the cause of freedom – even if some of its more recent contributions to that cause have been a little less helpful.

A Tale Of Two Terrorist Attacks

Moronic Response To 9/11

The First Attack

Like most people aged over 20 in the Western World, my memories of the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks are strong. It was obvious from the day of the attacks that America’s retaliation would be huge and violent; my memory of the carnage inflicted globally by the Reagan regime had taught me the lesson of what savagery a Republican government with an excuse for war could be capable of. As a user of Usenet (a collection of early global discussion groups pre-dating web forums or Twitter), I could take the US pulse and watch the rage grow. The near-unanimous response – at least, the one that was heard internationally – was a scream demanding revenge. Almost no American I encountered tried to understand bin Laden’s motivations, and none cared anyway. Those who wanted to understand were called “appeasers”. The Bush regime fed the climate of hate-filled ignorance by providing a moronic non-explanation that satisfied morons: “They hate our way of life.”

The American moron already knew everything he needed to know: America had been attacked; the attacker was a brown-skinned Muslim currently believed to be resident in a country of brown-skinned Muslims. Afghan? Saudi? What’s the difference? And who cares? Donald Rumsfeld provided the final required piece by claiming that Al Qaida had 100,000 followers around the world and constituted a declaration of war. Morons didn’t pause to consider that they hadn’t heard of Al Qaida prior to the attack. It didn’t dawn on them that Rumsfeld may have inflated the size of the “enemy” by well over a hundred-fold. They didn’t stop to question when the religious-conservative Pashtun Taliban was conflated with the dissident terrorist Saudi group Al Qaida. Never did they ask why thousands of US troops were already resident in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, or how Arabs might feel about that presence.

The online response was tragic but predictable. People wanted Afghanistan “bombed to a sheet of glass” (never minding that it already had been, by American and Soviet weaponry). Maps circulated showing “Lake Afghanistan” in place of the country. The rage allowed the attack on Afghanistan in 2001, and continued into 2003 to allow the attack on Iraq. It was still present in 2004 when Bush was re-elected. Only in 2005 did the American mainstream begin to question the slaughter being conducted in their name – or more accurately in the names of the almost 3,000 people who had died on September 11.

The Second Attack

I’d been on the huge anti-war demo in London in February 2003: the largest demonstration ever seen in the UK. I knew that the UK mood was angrily against the Iraq war, and was turning against Tony Blair, who had committed support to Bush without the backing of the British people. I also spent a few days in Barcelona in April 2003, during the initial Iraq invasion, and the Spanish anti-war mood was even more militant – there were several protests per day around the city, including, every evening, the Argentine-style beating of pots and pans to make noise that echoed across Barcelona. While over 60% of Brits opposed the Iraq War, in Spain opposition topped 90% (but José María Aznar, the Prime Minister, had also committed his support to Bush).

On March 11 2004, 10 bombs exploded on four trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and injuring almost 2,000. As with America’s attacks, the initial response was shock and outrage. But from there, the two cultures couldn’t have behaved more differently. In the following two days, an estimated 11.4m people (28% of Spain’s population) came out onto the streets to demonstrate not just against terrorism but against war as well. This was the striking contrast between the US attacks and the Spanish attacks: Americans shouted for vengeance, the Spanish called for peace.

The war party have smeared the Spanish people as cowards for voting Aznar out of office a few days after the Madrid bombings, but this doesn’t reflect reality. The Spanish people didn’t turn on Aznar immediately after the bombings, but after he was caught lying about the perpetrators; he had blamed the domestic terrorist group ETA, thinking that would aid his electoral chances, although he’d already been informed that the attacks had most likely been committed by Al Qaida.

As someone who has visited both Spain and the US many times, the difference in responses isn’t a surprise. The US is quite obviously an overall more frightened and more violent society than Spain. As to why the two cultures are so different? My guess is that Spain is more advanced in terms of its relationships with the rest of the world. The Spanish Empire had mostly died by 1900. The British Empire faded in the 1950s and 1960s. In 2001, the US Empire was at the height of its powers (though in 2011 it appears to be in the early stages of decline). Post-imperial societies seem to have stronger belief in fairness and the rule of law, while imperial societies clearly have much to gain by ignoring it. The US, perhaps, will go through a re-evaluation of its role in the world as it loses the impulse to control everything, everywhere. And if Spain and the UK are anything to go by, this will create a better America.