Crossing Borders

World Cup of American Antipathy

July 10, 2006

It was almost a relief to watch Italy play France in the World Cup final. The Americans were bounced out early and frankly I never was pulling for our guys. It's not because I hate America. It would have been quite an upset for the 1930 semi-finalist United States to beat a favorite like Brazil or Germany. I just wanted to protect the soft underbelly that is anti-Americanism. The World Cup championship is the most watched international sporting event in the world, far surpassing the Olympics and Super Bowl with a global viewing audience of over 1 billion, one-sixth of the world's population. As much as my heart would have liked the USA to reach the final, my head told me it wasn't worth the possible opportunity for the legions of anti-American trendsetters to make their sentiments known. I've no doubt that team USA would have been a favorite to cheer against. We just aren't popular these days. What if one of our American guys head-butted an opposing player as French player Zinédine Zidane did to an Italian player in the waning minutes of the game? I'd hate to think about the global reaction to such an aggressive and bullying move like that. But that's what the world has come to expect of American now. If a Frenchman does it, it's just out of character from the grace and charm we expect from that nation. If an American were to do it, it would be on par with our current global indictments.

I've tried over the last several weeks to write a bit from my heart about what is happening to America's image. I'm writing this as I reflect upon the military service of my father, Victor Snow, who died just last year. He was part of the Greatest Generation and a child of the Depression who grew up in rural Alabama. Dad's naval training included a Mediterranean diplomatic mission aboard the USS Missouri in 1946 to return the body of the Turkish Ambassador to the United States. Dad told me that the Americans were cheered by the Turks and then later by the Greeks. Thousands came out to greet the WWII victors. Everyone was thumbs up about the Yanks then, well, except for the Soviets and Chinese. But the masses across the planet seemed to link America with what was possible to achieve and the goodwill was widespread. Those weren't completely the glory days with nuclear bombs and burned out cities, but the American reputation was without par and our soldiers were seen as heroes and protectors.

Today I read about another American soldier, Steven Green, recently dismissed with an honorable discharge from service in Iraq for a personality disorder. He's just been charged, along with four other soldiers, with killing three members of an Iraqi family and raping and killing their fourteen-year-old Iraqi daughter. The incident was supposed to have occurred in March 2006 and the only reason we're hearing about it now is that Green's army buddies who protected him then revealed it during some counseling sessions they received in June. My brother recently expressed frustration with American media coverage of these and other alleged U.S. military atrocities. He said it all leads to our soldiers coming under more fire for the abuse of others. It's true that the American soldiers serving in Iraq will likely pay for this and other incidents, but if the United States doesn't show that it can operate in an open environment with a free press, then it is not as good a country as it professes to be. It's not as if the Iraqis don't know about this incident. It's front-page news there. Just pretending stateside that bad things don't happen during war won't make our lives any easier.

I have no answer for what will happen to the image of America in the years to come. My hope is that the American people will make it a civic duty to build understanding between the U.S. and other countries. We used to call the second mandate of the U.S. Information Agency — mutual understanding — and we utilized international exchanges, cultural events, author readings and artists abroad to carry a message of peace and prosperity with a heavy coating of individual expression. This was an official form of public diplomacy but I don't think the government should lead our efforts now. I'm still a believer in the power of one person to make a difference and anyone can take the lead there. We can't let the Steven Greens of the world represent all the oxygen in any room.

This will be my last entry for POV's Borders | American ID. Thanks for reading.

Nancy Snow's fourth book is The Arrogance of American Power: What U.S. Leaders Are Doing Wrong and Why It's Our Duty to Dissent. It will be published in September by Rowman & Littlefield.

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