catapult magazine

catapult magazine


America the good


Apr 05 2003
10:15 am

I have some questions for people who’ve grown up in America (I’m American but have spent most of my life outside the country). I’m going go against my instincts and will assume that the current adminstration has been taking ‘the right’ approach in foreign policy during the last year. Along with that goes the assumption that the values of the United States are superior to the values of France, Germany, Russia, Arabs, etc — the prime purpose of current policy seems to be the export of values. So here are my questions:

What are these values that are supposedly being exported?
Even if the current American regime has the best interests of Americans (and the world?) in mind, how can we be sure that future administrations will? As it turns out, past administrations have had less than admirable motives, so why do we have faith that our country is right, when much of the world doubts this (mrsanniep, if you honestly think that American hegemony is welcomed around the world, we can make that a separate thread)?
Shouldn’t American power have checks and balances in the world as it has always had in the past? If they could have forseen it, wouldn’t the founding fathers have worried about the dangers of unchecked American power?
Finally, the crux of the matter: Are American values more good than bad? Seems to me like a mixed bag. And I’m not talking about a comparison to the values of Hussein’s Iraq. But what about the values of Brazil, South Africa, Japan, and Germany? I know there are great things about American values, but what makes American values so great overall that we’re excited to export them?


Apr 12 2003
07:09 pm

I know it’s been done before in practice, but is Bush administration the first to articulate a doctrine of exporting values by force?


Apr 13 2003
08:08 pm

Great question. I’ve been thinking about this alot too, especially as those images of “liberation” were flashed all over U.S. television most of that day—images that affirm American values and resonate with its mythology. Thomas Friedman was on NBC that afternoon, obviously in good spirits, explaining how these images would look to other nations in the mid-East, especially if the Iraqis do get “truly free” elections and the U.S. vision comes true for Iraq. Friedman suggested it would put the U.S. on high moral ground.

The U.S. sees itself operating according to its own core MORAL values which it believes many nations in Europe have long since given up (the *cino discussion of why Christianity seems to be fading in Europe is a case in point; but it’s not just Christianity that’s becoming extinct, it’s the very American optimism that all human beings desire “freedom” which the U.S. thinks Europe has lost). The U.S. still sees itself as the liberator of the Jews in World War II, no thanks to Europe who let Hitler get too powerful—in the interest of avoiding conflict—until it became too late.

What I believe is happening now, though, is that the Bush administration has come to grips with the fact that many people hate America and some are willing to fly planes into our buildings to destroy America. Many in America believe such hatred toward the U.S. is a misunderstanding. The Bush administration hopes to show the Iraqi people, and the world, that its values are still relevant (not necessarily that its values are better than those of other nations) and that those who think the Iraqi people cannot achieve a free government for themselves are pessimists.

I think we see indications of this ideal American vision in images of U.S. soldiers shaking hands with wary, surprised, and relieved Iraqi children who have been told that the U.S. army is only out to take their oil and kill their friends and neighbors. Many Americans hope to combat the negative view against the U.S. by proving that military action can be used for the good of a nation (this is consistent with America’s stance on guns as well: i.e. “If guns helped us attain our freedom in the Revolutionary War, then bearing arms ought to be a right of every citizen so that a government does not ever have too much power over its citizenry”)

ah, now we’ve only scratched the surface…


Apr 14 2003
08:43 pm

“The Bush administration hopes to show the Iraqi people, and the world, that its values are still relevant (not necessarily that its values are better than those of other nations) and that those who think the Iraqi people cannot achieve a free government for themselves are pessimists. ”

I guess I could be considered a semantic bully for this, but does the Bush administration hope to show that the Iraqi people can achieve a free government for themselves by achieving it for them? Or am I misunderstanding what you are saying.


Apr 29 2003
11:54 am

from The Onion :)

Tortured Ugandan Political Prisoner
Wishes Uganda Had Oil
KAMPALA, UGANDA?A day after having his hands amputated by soldiers backing President Yoweri Museveni’s brutal regime, Ugandan political prisoner Otobo Ankole expressed regret Monday over Uganda’s lack of oil reserves. “I dream of the U.S. one day fighting for the liberation of the oppressed Ugandan people,” said Ankole as he nursed his bloody stumps. “But, alas, our number-one natural resource is sugar cane.” Ankole, whose wife, parents, and five children were among the 4,000 slaughtered in Uganda’s ethnic killings of 2002, then bowed his head and said a prayer for petroleum.


Apr 29 2003
04:22 pm

Is there truth in the Onion article? I suppose. It’s a twisted truth, though. It’s indirectly blaming the U.S. for oppression in Uganda. I don’t think it’s fair to blame everything bad in the world on the U.S. or its foreign policy.

Likewise, the U.S. can’t fix the whole world by itself.
Laryn, I think it’s cynical to think of the U.S. manipulating the Iraqi government. Is the U.S. influential in shaping the future of Iraq? Yes. And why shouldn’t it be? Germany and Japan turned out pretty well. The whole world will be watching, so there’s your checks and balances.

This thread is entitled America the good. America isn’t perfect, but people need to believe in something. Something higher than themselves. George Bush presents a vision of doing what’s right, standing up for freedom and standing against terrorism and evil.

In a world void of values, America, I’m proud to say, is currently being governed by values. Our export is hope and freedom. We will take over some land in Iraq: enough to bury the bodies that won its freedom.


Apr 29 2003
07:29 pm

The problem is that the world has been doing more than watching. The world, for the most part, has vocalized their disapproval of the war and their disdain for the U.S.
The more I think about this concept of American nationalism vs. American imperialism (and I realize that this is not the best way to describe it), the more I’m reminded of religious connections. Somebody, maybe it was even me, mentioned in a previous thread a possible similarity between the U.S. and increasing scrutiny by the world to 16th century Catholicism.
I understand that slapping a metaphor on a situation of this magnitude may be a very clunky, but does anybody sense any similarities in popular attitudes or power struggles by either side?
And if so, should that put a new spin on our perceptions of the situation.


Apr 29 2003
07:44 pm

I generally avoid topics like this (political topics where everyone purports his/her own opinion) because I don’t find them particularly useful. That being said, I found that leaving the US for a period of time and coming back gave me new perspective on America, the good.

What I found out was that there are things I love about the US. I did find America, the good. Granted, it was definitely not US foreign policy, but I came to appreciate things like social security systems, and police protection, and the possibilities to protest and complain and all of that. Anyway, I just wanted to contribute this b/c I think when we’re talking about America, the good, talk inevitably seems to turn to foreign policy, which is only a part of a whole.


Apr 30 2003
09:46 am

Jason, I also don’t think it’s helpful to speak about America as the home of morality and values in a world consisting of the absence of values. Let’s talk about different values, not void vs. saturation. Europeans and Muslim Arabs have just as many values as Americans do—they’re just different values. And I’d like to withhold judgement about Iraqi freedom until they achieve it—currently they are occupied by the United States. And occupation is not generally something I associate with freedom.


Apr 30 2003
03:55 pm

I agree that everyone has values. The problem is, how do we decide which ones are good and which ones are bad?

We can say
1) It’s all relative. We just need to respect everybody’s values as the same worth as ours.
2) Ours are the best. People should be like us. (the obvious problem is figuring out what are our values)
3) Everyone’s bad. Nobody can tell anybody else anything b/c everyone’s bad.
4) Public consensus. Whatever the majority agrees on.

What’s the standard? On what basis can we object to Sudan being on the Human Rights committee? Can we object?


Apr 30 2003
06:57 pm

It depends who is deciding what is good and bad. For instance, even though all Christians do not share the same political viewpoints the Bible clearly lays out a way of determining what is good and what is bad. Yes, I will admit that there are some gray areas where discretion comes into play but a strong Christian worldview should be able to discern what is right and wrong.

Personally, I am both for and against “the war” or for that fact any so called “peace keeping” operations that the US participates in.

I see much wrong with the US and western culture. We are consumerist hypocritical gluttons who are taking over the world by westernizing and therefore homogenizing the diverse beauty of God’s creation. We use and abuse human and natural resources to keep the stock market, a false indicator of true progress and economic health, constantly on the rise. We are not filling the world and subduing it, we are choking the world and killing it.

But at the same time I see a whole lot of good in the US. The US is a country that will not sit by and watch as others suffer under corrupt governments. Well, I guess that?s not always true. We have freedom, though over-emphasized and somewhat over-rated. We have like Bridget said “things like social security systems, and police protection, and the possibilities to protest and complain.” We have Christian schools where people like me can be given an excellent education from a Christian perspective.

We are not perfect but we are not America the good nor are we America the evil. We are the United States of America, a country with strengths and problems like any other country. It just so happens that we are a world power, the world power, and to not use that strength to help out in the world would be bad stewardship. We cannot sit idly by while people like Saddam Hussein try to avoid UN inspectors. In the Gulf War, he invaded Kuwait, a country that used to be part of Iraq, just as Hitler marshaled weapons in a demilitarized zone and then invaded Poland, some of which used to belong to Germany. It was the European nation?s hesitation to act that gave Hitler the foothold he needed. In the gulf war we acted and crisis was prevented. Again we have acted and deposed the government that couldn?t take a hint. Don’t get me wrong. I know that this comparison is not necessarily the greatest one. I also know that anti-war activists also see much of Nazi Germany in the US right now but that makes my point all the more stronger.

As Grant said, “?the Bush administration has come to grips with the fact that many people hate America and some are willing to fly planes into our buildings to destroy America. Many in America believe such hatred toward the U.S. is a misunderstanding.” I also have come to grips with that fact. I do not only desire that America simply changes the image it projects but I also hope we see past the violence and sin in these acts of ?terrorist criticism? and use their views and criticism to re-evaluate our values and motives. It seems to me that while what terrorists do is wrong, to them terrorism is the only way to get across their messages, to shout a message in our closed ears.

So in answer to your questions Jason, I think that it is none of the options you gave. I think that our values and their values are the best and we can take a stand on what is right and what is wrong but we must also realize that we too are sinful and corrupt and don’t have it all right either. We must not only change the world, but ourselves as well.