We are not who we say we are. To insist we are is to say that the rest of the world doesn't count, that the opinions of our friends don't matter, that their honest attempts at objectivity are not really important to us.
We are not who we think we are, or claim to be. We are what others say we are, which is why in courts and schools and businesses, we don't accept what people claim about themselves; we ask witnesses, teachers and references. We are who others say we are.
If we continue to say that our opinion of ourselves is all that matters and everything that others say is mere envy, we are practicing a demented, paranoid self-centeredness, and will never be good neighbors to anyone, nor legitimate citizens of the world. This behavior is justifiably ostracized and ridiculed - and often treated medically - in most polite society.
Yet this is the course America is on, ignoring all the criticism from people who have proven they're our friends, and following our own selfish hearts without ever admitting that because of our behavior, the world is bleeding.
Recently, the august and enigmatic nation of France has tried to show us the error of our ways, and to show our gratitude we responded with ethnic slurs and insults. The French have probably been our most consistent allies over time; they even helped us fight the British on occasion. They are our friends. But now, in our self-assured, insular and arrogant ignorance, we castigate them for advocating the elementary rules of civil civilization.
Germany, Russia, Turkey, Chile and even Cameroon have out-achieved the United States in the category of basic humanity and civilized behavior in recent weeks, but Americans only scoff at their unsophisticated naivetť. How could they dare preach peace when America has its heart set on war, no matter how unjust or predatory? Who do they think they are, Americans demand to know, when the United States has already decided what is best for the entire world?
Then, consider China's recent assessment of the United States, as
furnished in a report from the Xinhua News Agency.
Now you can say China is our adversary, and that everything the Chinese say about us is mere propaganda. Or, you can try to be honest, and accept their observations as the semi-objective facts they are. You tell me - and yourself - as to whether this report has the ring of truth.
The U.S. always issues reports about the state of democracy around the world but never reports objectively about itself. True or false?
The six-part Xinhua article challenges the myth of "American Democracy," citing such human rights violations in the U. S. as widespread violence, suspicious judicial decisions, a widening gap between rich and the poor, systemic gender and racial discrimination, and pervasive interference and exploitation in the affairs of other nations. Are these assessments untrue?
"Under the pretext of safeguarding this kind of democracy," the report states, "the United States continues to make rash criticisms of other countries and interferes in their internal affairs. "Nevertheless," the article noted, "well-informed people know that the so-called democracy has been nothing more than a fairy tale since the United States was founded more than 200 years ago."
Consider the facts this Chinese article uses to critique American
society. And ask yourself - without making any defensive judgments about the motives of China to obscure the credibility of what is being said - if these assertions are not true. Then ask yourself why these questions are not being asked by the very people who should be asking them - namely ourselves.
The 2000 election debacle further exposed the glaring flaws of the
so-called democratic election system in the United States. Fifty million voters cast ballots, less than one-fourth of the 205 million eligible voters in the nation, a record low in U.S. election history. Is democracy only a fairy tale? Xinhua asked. True or false?
The reports quotes Larry Makinson, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that studies money and campaigns.
"The depressing thing about American democracy is I can check the
fund-raising balances at the Federal Election Commission and tell you what the election results will be before the election."
The article also says the judicial system in the U.S. is extremely
unfair: 90 percent of the persons on Death Row have been victims of sexual abuse and assaults. Most who were sentenced to death were too poor to hire their own attorneys. And it quoted a Columbia University study insisting that in 68 percent of death penalty cases in the U.S., the sentence did not fit the crime. Sound familiar?
The Xinhua report also notes that spending for prisons far exceeds the budget for education.
And that the gap between the rich and poor in the United States has
widened at the same pace as overall economic growth.
"Statistics show that the richest that account for one percent of the U.S. citizens are in possession of 40 percent of the total property of the country, while over 32 million citizens, or 12.7 percent of the total population of the country, live under the poverty line," Xinhua asserted.
Do we dare ask ourselves if this a real picture of democratic America? Or is China just waxing propagandistic?
Is China correct when it insists that America "stop arrogantly ordering other countries around on the pretext of human rights" that the U.S. itself doesn't really practice? Or are we just going to insist, along with our very religious president, that China merely envies our freedom?
And what do we make of it when someone who is our erstwhile enemy speaks to us more honestly than our own government? What kind of condition are we in when that happens?
When we encounter opinions about ourselves that may not coincide with our own observations, we rightly must ask who is correct: them or us?
But we must be objective, or else the question is useless. So we turn to other sources for verification and decision, and in this case, one more favorable to our own need for self-respect, namely that quintessential American newspaper, The New York Times.
The recent report by Roger Morris on how Saddam Hussein first came to power in Iraq is especially enlightening.
He writes: "Forty years ago, the Central Intelligence Agency, under
President John F. Kennedy, conducted its own regime change in Baghdad, carried out in collaboration with Saddam Hussein."
In 1963, the tyrant of the day who was seen as a threat to the West was Abdel Karim Kassem, a general who five years earlier had deposed yet another Western-installed monarchy, Morris reports.
The Eisenhower administration's tolerance of Kassem as a counter to
Washington's Arab nemesis of the era, Nasser of Egypt, was much like Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush behaved toward Saddam in the 1980's against the common foe of Iran. By 1961, the Kassem regime began threatening and talked openly of challenging the dominance of America in the Middle East - all steps Saddam was to repeat in some form. Kassem's days, like Saddam's are now, became numbered.
In 1963, Kassem was overthrown and executed. The U.S.-installed
successor was the anti-Communist Baath Party, and a key U.S. liaison in the Conspiracy was Saddam, then a 25-year-old who figured prominently in the bloodbath that followed. In 1968, in another coup assisted by the U.S., Saddam came to power, by then, a good friend of the CIA.
To knowledgeable people in the Middle East and Europe, this history is well-known. Most Americans have no clue about it. So when America preaches about the nobility of its motives today in Iraq, much of the rest of the world knows what vicious horsepoop it is.
George W. Bush is simply repeating a cynical pattern that the U.S. has followed in Iraq and other Arab countries for decades on end, but most Americans remain, in their trivia-dominated self-centeredness, clueless.
And this is where we are today, as a nation. Will we listen to what the people of the world are telling us about ourselves, or continue to act out our own self-deluded fantasies of messianic and racist superiority?
For God's sake, the key to integrity is admitting our faults, confessing our sins. Everybody in the whole world realizes this. Yet America admits no faults, and by this megalomaniacal act, reveals to the world it has no integrity, and is not to be trusted by its neighbors, nor by the people of the world.
Will we risk the future of all life on this planet for the schemes of a few powerful men who are trying to steal money they don't really need from all of the rest of us who genuinely do?
These are men who don't listen to anybody and truly fit the description of both schoolyard bullies and paranoid delusionals. One day, they'll really get what's coming to them. We can't let them force us to share the same fate that awaits them, and if we'd read a little history and listened to the opinions of our friends, we surely wouldn't.
John Kaminski is a writer who lives on the coast of Florida and
occasionally has doubts about his own thoughts, but in such cases
usually relies on the opinions of his friends to determine if he's right or wrong.