The View from Abroad
America as Others See it
Americans are brought up to believe that the United States is a shining city on a hill, a light to mankind, that the world envies us for our values and freedoms, and hates us because we have them. This is ground into us from birth. Those of us now long in the tooth remember the Fifties when Superman jumped out of a window while the announcer spoke of a strange visitor from another planet fighting for “truth, justice, and the American way,” then thought to be related.
As one who has traveled much and lived in several countries, I can tell you: It ain’t so. The world does not regard America with admiration.
Americans are now used to things that in any other country would be unthinkable: bulletproof backpacks for high-school students, police walking the halls, metal detectors, proposals to arm teachers, “active-shooter” drills. To the rest of the world (or to Americans who were in high school in the Sixties) this is insane.
But normal in the Indispensable Country.
The now-predictable annual harvest of 700 successful homicides in Chicago, the 300 in Baltimore, plus thousands of wounded, seem to outsiders like something out of Blade Runner. Much of the civilized world looks with wonder on an American overflowing with guns and using them on each other. Only in America. Interestingly the most heavily armed countries in the world, Israel and Switzerland, have virtually no gun crime.
This is the country Americans believe the world wants to imitate. No. From outside, it seems more a country in political and cultural freefall.
To everyone else, the militarism of the United States, its absurd military expenditures, its huge number of nuclear weapons, its desire to upgrade them, to develop small tactical nuclear weapons, its preparation for nuclear war with specialized flying bunkers–seems nutty. No other country does this. None wants to. In Mexico people roll their eyes. What the hell is wrong with the gringos?
““Affectionately known as the “doomsday plane,” the modified Boeing 747 is used to transport the Secretary of Defense and is born and bred for battle. It stands nearly six stories tall, is equipped with four colossal engines, and is capable of enduring the immediate aftermath of a nuclear detonation.” The language is that of a little boy of twelve watching Star Wars. It is the attitude of much of America.
Easily found online: the racial disaster in the US, the dozens of cities with domestic Sowetos in their hearts, the huge, hopeless, entirely black regions where whites dare not walk. In these, entirely black schools turn out millions of barely literates who for the remaining fifty years of their lives will be unemployable. This is all online with photos and statistics.
“Man, just out of jail, arrested in rape of woman, 78….” Another face of race in America. These stories, common as potatoes–a similar gentleman just threw a white child of five from three floors up–are suppressed to the extent possible by the American media, but often show up in British dailies. Such things almost never happened in Europe before the arrival of African and Muslim immigrants. The whole world can see.
Freedoms? More sophisticated readers abroad know of our intensifying censorship, the words that can get you fired, the controlled press, the surveillance. Americans know what you can’t say and who you can’t say it about. We know the police are militarized and out of control. We see the cell-cam videos of beatings. So does the world.
From abroad, America is a feral, amoral, remorseless empire, rotting from within, willing to do anything to maintain its dominance. From inside the U.S., it seems otherwise. Do you, an American reader, want to kill Afghans? Buy another trillion dollars of nuclear weapons? War with Iran? Russia? But Americans have no influence over what Washington does, and the world judges by what it sees.
While China is often politically reprehensible, its engineering is amazing. This, on the Hong Kong Macau sea bridge, is long at twenty minutes and a bit rayrah. It is representative of the huge scale and ambitiousness of Chinese infrastructure programs.