Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Revisiting Anti-Americanism

Tibor R. Machan

From the time I was a kid and read a lot of American fiction in Hungarian translations, I had a great fondness for what I took to be the American spirit of individualism and love for life. Zane Grey was my favorite, but I was also very fond of Erle Stanley Gardner’s numerous Perry Mason novels. Then there was Mark Twain, Max Brand, and a host of others, although I was also an avid reader of the German tax evader, Karl May, who wrote numerous novels about the American West as well as the Arab world.

When in time I finally reached these shores, I had no illusions that American was just what these fictitious works depicted. But inspired by the fictional renditions I certainly started out with a favorable attitude toward this country. Not that I was unaware of problems, including some very dark patches of history. But all in all, compared to the places I was familiar with, such as communist Hungary, Nazi Germany, the Soviet bloc in general, what America had to offer both actually and in its promise--by means of the crux of its political and legal systems--certainly very much appealed to me.

I came here when Ike, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was president and followed his 1956 contest with Adlai Stevenson and while my sophistication left much to be desired, I liked Ike more than his rival, mainly because even then I noticed that those supporting Stevenson had a good deal of underlying hostility toward what I took to be central to America, namely its essential individualism and largely free socio-economic system. Compared to other places with which I was familiar America seemed to me to be quite a humane, just, and free society.

Ever since then I had my eyes and ears on those Americans who seemed to me to dislike the country precisely for the reasons I saw so much promise in it. When I entered college and, later, the world of university education, I noticed to my dismay that a great many educators were rather avidly opposed to the country that I found so basically sound, though by no means perfect. Over the years that I have mingled with the higher education crowd I found more and more evidence of a steady hostility among people teaching college and university students, doing research in the humanities, and in the social sciences. To them one could add many journalists and entertainers, I began to realize, and I have dedicated part of my life to studying whether they had a case against America that I was missing and to refuting their allegations which I saw to be essentially groundless.

Just the other day I was perusing the Sunday, April 27, 2008, New York Times and ran across a very typical example of the attitude that I have found so distressing. In an essay titled “The Short End of the Longer Life,” penned by one Kevin Sack in the Week in Review section, reporting on various life expectancy and longevity statistics, I ran across the following opening sentence: “Throughout the 20th century, it was an American birthright that each generations would live longer than the last.” This very same point was then used as a blurb later in the piece, indicating that not only the writer but the editor found the idea valid. But is it?

Are Americans really thinking of a growing life expectancy as a birthright? Do they believe that just because they are born, they have a right to expect to live long? The piece gave no evidence of this at all. The numbers had nothing to do with such a finding. No, this was merely a snide little put down of Americans, contending that they are stupid enough to have come to see a statistical trend as a natural necessity, even a right! If that were true, it would, in fact, indicate that Americans are silly. But nothing in the piece serves to demonstrate it and the only explanation I can think of is that both writer and editor simply wanted to demean Americans.

Why? Why is there this need by so many elite organizations, individuals, institutions to put down a country that is not only comparatively the best for its citizenry but is in fact best for the very people making such snide unfounded observations? Go figure!

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