Nationalism and Anti-Americanism

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Even the most radical libertarian, staunchly opposed to the state that terrorizes his own country and rains murder upon foreigners in his name, finds some discomfort in the rabid anti-Americanism that unfortunately plagues elements of the extreme left.

Now, let us be clear about this. Not just any leftist qualifies as anti-American. To hate the U.S. government’s rapacious foreign policy is not "anti-American." To condemn the acts of terror conducted by the government in the so-called "war on terror" is not "anti-American," either. There are, however, people on the left who are genuinely prone to this unfortunate disposition, and although they tend to portray themselves as antiwar, in their rare case, it is in fact their country that they despise.

The very few extremists who thought that the victims of 9/11 deserved what they got were voicing anti-Americanism. Ward Churchill stood as a paragon of this rare breed of malcontents when he compared the innocent businessmen who died in the World Trade Center to "little Eichmanns." Those who believe that every American is directly responsible for the real and perceived sins of his government, and for the ravishing of the earth at the maw of what they view as predatory global capitalism, are also usually anti-American.

Those who genuinely hate America, and all it stands for, good or bad, suffer a collectivist mentality of hatred for a country, its traditions and its people, that can be just as obnoxious and insidious as racism or any other such collectivism. As the conventional wisdom would have it, the rampant rightwing nationalism of today stands at the opposite end of the spectrum from anti-American zealotry. But this piece of conventional wisdom, like so many others, is just incorrect.

The fanatical nationalism that we see in America actually relies on all the same collectivist premises as anti-Americanism. According to both ideologies, America is some sort of collective entity, not a nation of individuals, and the qualities of the governing class must be attributed to the people at large. Both nationalist warmongers and anti-American agitators agree that the U.S. government exists as a symbol and representation of the people and economy of the country it dominates. National greatness, as the nationalists see it, is most clearly embodied in the U.S. Armed Forces and their imperial actions throughout the world. The anti-Americans agree with the nationalists that the essential character of America cannot be separated from the ruling regime’s foreign policy. They only disagree on whether it is good or bad.

One clear indication of the collectivist premise in American imperialist nationalism is how its subscribers tend to perceive antiwar Americans. To oppose war, or the military, or the president at a time of war is to "hate America." And to "support America" implies supporting its government’s wars. Only someone who perversely believes that the government is America could hold such an absurd view.

Once we realize that the pro-war nationalists have adopted the most disturbing and intellectually lazy viewpoint of the most vicious anti-Americans — that the government is "the people" — only then can we truly understand how abhorrent American militarist nationalism really is. Similarly, we can finally comprehend the general attitude that the pro-war nationalists have toward the world’s many peoples.

To detest the past regime of Saddam Hussein, for example, is a perfectly appropriate sentiment for any friend of liberty and humanity. But the pro-war nationalists take their hatred of that state to the irrational conclusion that they should resent the people there as well. The anti-Saddam attitude, during the run-up to the Iraq war, quickly became an anti-Iraqi attitude for all too many advocates of the war. It is this mentality that allows for tolerance of such atrocities as the bombing of civilians thousands of miles away.

Collectivist hatred of another people was not at all new with the Iraq war. Many Americans were anti-German during World War I and World War II, which probably helped allow the U.S. government to get away with its collaboration with the British government in its starvation blockade against German civilians in the first war and its terror bombing of more than a hundred cities and towns filled with innocents in the second. Anti-Japanese feelings clearly added fuel to the firebombing of dozens of cities in Japan in World War II, and anti-Vietnamese emotions allowed the government to slaughter hundreds of thousands in the Vietnam War.

But being anti-Iraqi, anti-German, anti-Japanese or anti-Vietnamese is no more logical and no less collectivist than being anti-American. To blame an entire foreign people, a race or a nationality, for the crimes of the government that rules them is just sloppy, anti-individualistic thinking, and, at worst, opens one up to defending mass murder.

For one of the best examples of this venomous spite and collectivist disregard for foreigners’ humanity, let us consider a few things Bill O’Reilly had to say about Iraqis a little more than a year ago:

“And I don’t have any respect by and large for the Iraqi people at all. I have no respect for them. I think that they’re a prehistoric group that is — yeah, there’s excuses. Sure, they’re terrorized, they’ve never known freedom, all of that. There’s excuses. I understand. But I don’t have to respect them because you know when you have Americans dying trying to you know institute some kind of democracy there, and 2 percent of the people appreciate it, you know, it’s time to — time to wise up. And this teaches us a big lesson, that we cannot intervene in the Muslim world ever again. What we can do is bomb the living daylights out of them, just like we did in the Balkans. Just as we did in the Balkans. Bomb the living daylights out of them. But no more ground troops, no more hearts and minds, ain’t going to work.”

Or, as O’Reilly put it on another occasion:

“Problems continue for the U.S. Military in Fallujah. Why doesn’t the U.S. Military just go ahead and level it?… [W]e know what the final solution should be.” (Emphasis added.)

This is the kind of collectivist mentality that typifies the belligerent nationalism currently plaguing America, and it is no less favorable toward America’s best values than the worst anti-Americanism of the left. In fact, this hawkish nationalism runs directly counter to the American traditions of peace and individualism, and is in this sense just as anti-American as Ward Churchill’s most hateful comments.

After all, what is the difference, in principle, between the collectivist hatred of Iraqis espoused by Bill O’Reilly and the collectivist hatred of Americans espoused by Ward Churchill? What is the distinction between believing that innocent Iraqis or Afghans are disposable, given the criminality of their rulers, and the terrorists’ belief that American innocents are fair game because of the criminality of theirs?

Indeed, Osama bin Laden said the innocent American victims of 9/11 deserved their fate because they paid taxes into the U.S. war machine and allowed it to commit atrocities in their name. And American hawks said that innocent Afghans deserved their fate because they failed to overthrow the Taliban.

There indeed is no principled difference between the nationalist views of America’s most belligerent hawks and the vitriolic hatred of the most spiteful anti-Americans. The only practical difference is that, of the two collectivist dispositions, the allegedly "pro-American" nationalism has much more political and cultural influence in our country, whereas the mindless anti-Americanism of the worst elements on the left has nearly no such influence at all, and is marginalized in the mass media and even in academia. So, for all intents and purposes, while warmongering nationalism and anti-Americanism are cut from the same cloth, the former is in the present much more a threat to America’s freedom and most wholesome traditions.

Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research analyst at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.

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