Why Do You Hate America?

Fareed Zakaria and Eric Alterman

Why Do You Hate America?

Fareed Zakaria and Eric Alterman

Why Do You Hate America?
New books dissected over email.
Aug. 13 1998 10:57 AM

Fareed Zakaria and Eric Alterman

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Dear Eric,

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Let me first make a general point and then get to the details. I think I've figured you out. You agree that Acheson was probably the best secretary of state of this century. Yet you speak of him in terms and tone more appropriate for a war-criminal. I think your problem is not with Acheson but with America. You are uncomfortable with America as a great power, with all its power, influence, and responsibilities. Because of this worldwide reach, you can plausibly associate America with all kinds of bad things that happen around the world. For example, in every message you have made the charge that because of American foreign policy, millions of Asians died. Eric, North Korea invaded South Korea. North Vietnam attacked the Saigon regime. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Millions died as a consequence of those decisions. Had the United States not helped South Korea--as you seem to wish--million of South Koreans would have died anyway, and millions more would have died via political torture and state-induced starvation. Are you seriously suggesting that the life of South Koreans would have been better if they had simply capitulated to the North's aggression?

The problem with Vietnam was that the United States could not fight the war to a Korea-style stalemate. Which is why the realists were right that for reasons of prudence, we should have disengaged once this became clear--in 1965. But we were fighting the bad guys. If anyone believed otherwise--as did 90% of the anti-war movement--Hanoi's brutalities after we left should have given pause. The boat people were not fleeing for their lives because of American foreign policy.

It seems that it is not enough that I point out that, compared with other great powers, America has used its influence to help create a stable, free and prosperous world. The last time a nation was so dominant was probably Britain in the late 19th century, and it colonized half the globe. It is not enough that I point out that, compared with other statesmen, Acheson wielded power with imagination, courage and restraint. You mentioned Churchill as a model statesman. Churchill's career is full of bold errors; errors that consigned not tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands to die (think of Gallipoli). Unlike the intellectual, the statesman's ideas are put to test. Kennan could simply forget that, for example, he had been against the formation of NATO. It had no effect on the world. Had Acheson indulged himself similarly, there would be no NATO.

You yearn for an America unsullied by the temptations and responsibilities of power. But we're in the arena whether we like it or not. America will shape the world and its every action will cause ripples and waves. The only consolation I can offer you, Eric, is that you will always have Sweden. (Well, for another fifteen years anyway, until that workers paradise implodes.)

Now, specifics: On point 1 we agree. On 2, fine, be churlish, but please note; Acheson resisted cries from more than half the political spectrum for an intervention in China. On 3, nobody died because Acheson was making up his mind; he was a private lawyer during the Vietnam War. On 5, see above. And I would only note that you would probably be horrified to discover what America would look like absent the Cold War. No strong federal government, states-right would persist, as would segregation, no inter-state highway system, less spending on education, etc. The activist federal government you like is as much a product of the Cold War as is the CIA.

Finally, on popular culture. My only observation here is that you have a decidedly fuddy-duddy, even reactionary view of American pop culture. Satchmo? Miles Davis?? Jazz??? Eric, what decade are you in? Pop culture for the last few decades has meant Donna Summer, Madonna, and Michael Jackson, not to mention Die Hard III and There's Something About Mary. If you're going to embrace pop culture, embrace the world we're in, not some Woody Allen fantasy. For my part, between Dumb and Dumber and napalm, it's a close call.

Fareed Zakaria, Slate's wine columnist, is also managing editor of Foreign Affairs and a contributing editor of Newsweek. Eric Alterman is a columnist for The Nation and the author of Who Speaks for America? This week they discuss Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the American World, by James Chace.