Monday, January 18, 2010

Images of US: Exceptionalism=fundamental negative attribution error

On 6 June [1982], I was given the opportunity of addressing the congregation of a conservative church on the subject of the European peace movement and our objectives. I was pleasantly surprised to see the minister and her husband, the pastor, wearing “Swords into Ploughshares” badges on their white robes.…I was constantly surprised to find peace the topic for discussion at church discussion evenings. The subject which most concerned these meetings was the way American arms policy causes deaths in the Third World every day, and is also one of the factors responsible for the catastrophes of famine and disease.
—Petra Kelly, Fighting for hope (p. 63)

Petra Kelly was a German Green. The image of the United States throughout the world is vastly different than our image of ourselves. Indeed, a chart:

#1 arms exporter, Most foreign bases ever, Largest military budget, Unilaterally invades

US self image
Aid to defend democracy, Protect and serve, Self protection, Sacrifices for others

World image of US

War profiteers, Global empire, Militaristic, Domineering

Some would call this the fundamental negative attribution error. That is, when we make mistakes they are all with honorable intentions and pure motives. Some would call this hypocrisy or a double standard or grossly patronizing. What is so dangerous is that we are failing as a nation to correct the facts that add up to the image of global hawk, planetary predator, militaristic corporate raptor.

How do we fix it?

• Close overseas bases. We have hundreds of military bases—probably slightly more than 1,000 of them—on the sovereign soil of other people’s lands.

• Stop exporting arms. We can earn income in other ways. We can earn loyalty with other methods. We will never be an honest broker of peace and a supplier of arms concomitantly.

• Transform the military from aggressive and offensive and violent to protective, de√ęscalatory and nonviolent.

• Never ever invade another country with violent forces.

Of course there are many other practices and principles that can help positively change the image of the US in the world, and many plans for doing that. I only offer the most basic, and most structural. Achieving these would dampen the damage worldwide and would lead to many other changes that would be just and sustainable.

Changing the image of a movement is hard work. Changing the image of a nation-state is even harder. But it is possible and desirable. The journey of 10,000 miles, says the Tao, begins with one step.

Kelly, Petra. 1984. Fighting for hope. Boston: South End Press.

1 comment:

Terri said...

At no point did this incongruity in the American image come home to me more clearly than when I watched the "shock and awe" campaign against the Iraqi people from the vantage point of The Netherlands. While in Amsterdam I was spit at, and I could do nothing but humbly acknowledge this gesture as an expression of pain. I couldn't try to explain my position or give support to their condemnation of my country, I could only stand there and bow slightly in recognition of their suffering.

Many fellow Americans traveling abroad took to wearing the Canadian maple leaf during that period. I seriously considered it after being berated by a German colleague as to why I didn't do more to stop the slaughter. Mostly I kept my American mouth shut, avoiding the glares I got when my nationality was unmasked by my accent.

I remember that at breakfast in the hotel I saw a grey-haired lady sporting a sweatshirt with a gawdy sequined American flag sparkling with arrogance for all to see. I'm sure even I glared at her.

Europeans I've met that have traversed our country often comment on how nice we really are. It's really hard to tell from the other side of the ocean, but it's true that most Americans are decent and kind. Just as the opening passage indicates, there's a desire in the American heart for peace and justice. It's up to the peace movement to build an image that speaks even to the congregants of the conservative church. We can't afford to alienate anyone. We have to make ourselves approachable so that we can share our knowledge. I don't know what that image is yet, but it's well worth pondering.

Thanks for posting : )