This month marked the three-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death. In ranking modern-day villains, bin Laden usually ranks just behind Adolf Hitler and just above Saddam Hussein. These, of course, are rankings to which only the Western world adheres. People with a different point of view might put any of the above-mentioned men as the world’s greatest hero. This is seemingly unheard of from our Western perspective. These are mass-murdering psychopaths who killed countless innocents for an extreme cause; anyone who thinks otherwise is sipping the Kool-Aid. After all, we are from the best country in the world. We are the greatest nation in the world. We have been since we destroyed the Nazis and proved our might conquering the Russians and executing the world’s worst terrorist.
I spend 90 percent of my time writing about this country. And since my children are grown up and have their own families, I have traveled less over the years. I admittedly do not have a wide sense of perspective on how the rest of the world views us. My son, in the process of getting his master’s degree in history, did some consultant work in the Mideast and Asia. He worked with high school-aged kids from more than 30 different countries from around the world, and he asked them questions about what they liked about history and who some of their heroes were.
One of the more popular topics was World War II. Like Americans, the rest of the world knows this to be the most popular war, filled with a vast array of characters that George R.R. Martin couldn’t even create. The most popular name that kept coming up was that No. 1 villain, Hitler. Surprisingly, instead of analyzing his evils and wrongdoings, the students praised his forward thinking and business savvy. My son was stunned. He spoke to the head teacher about how this could be taught in the school, and he wanted to be informed why the school would practice such a thing. The head of history explained that it wasn’t the school; it was the culture. This wasn’t the Western world. The praise bestowed upon Hitler came from generations of teachings from families.
The conversation shifted to another villain in modern history, bin Laden. While many students knew him to be an evil man who killed innocent people and was an embarrassment to the Muslim way of life, it was hardly unanimous. My son was reminded of some of the good things bin Laden had done, namely war against the United States. Bin Laden’s death was viewed as a sneak attack against a crusader, someone who stood for justice. Official Islamic organizations will have you believe that bin Laden’s death was justice. However, the reaction of these young people from all over the world will determine bin Laden’s martyr status in future generations.
I was stunned and angry. How could this happen around the world? These are the wrongdoers. They killed innocent people for their own sadistic causes, and history hasn’t taught these people anything. Then I thought on it, more and more. As time passed, I began to seriously worry about the United States’ reputation around the world. I realized that my viewpoint and yours are not only different from one another but different from the rest of the world as well.
This attitude toward Americans does not transfer over to American business in the Mideast. Imports are the name of the game, and American products are everywhere to be found. People buy the best and the biggest American cars and boats while boasting about having the best. America as a brand is rock-solid. Americans are lost in this shuffle because of a government philosophy to control the world that started with dropping the bomb and intensified during the Cold War.
It isn’t just in the Mideast where this is felt. I recently visited the Philippines, where I was graciously received by the locals and enjoyed the beautiful countryside. Of course, I soon realized that I was one of the only white people to visit the town that year and everyone called me “Joe.” I might as well have strutted around town dressed as Uncle Sam. Thankfully, the American brand is much stronger in the Pacific islands. I wonder how many Asians can recall the details behind Harry Truman’s unnecessarily dropping the bomb or American colonization and abuses in the Philippines or massacres such as My Lai.
The reputation that America has throughout the world holds massive ramifications for future generations. As the world gets progressively “smaller” with the increase in technology, Americans are in danger of being sheltered and closed off from the rest of the world. How well received are Americans going to be in Russia or Ukraine? With constant instability in the Mideast, when will Bin Laden be revered throughout the world for exposing the United States for what we really are: wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing?
I love the United States. If I didn’t, I would not have worked so hard to become an American citizen. But people who say, “My country, right or wrong,” will find that inevitably their country/empire is on the wrong side of history. Romans were convinced of their inalienable right to be right. So were the Spaniards, Dutch, British, Nazis and Soviets. They all ended up in history’s dustbin. America, through its hubris, is doing the same thing.
The son I write of is the eldest and our only Canadian-born child. Having spent the first 18 years of life growing up in Spokane, Wash., he feels a deep connection to both his Canadian birthright and his American heritage. While traveling last month, he recognized some fellow Canadian travelers by the flags printed on their backpacks. In true Canadian form he went and introduced himself and asked where they were from, only to hear back “Houston, Texas.” My son was somewhat perplexed, so the travelers explained that it is much easier, even safer, to travel as Canadians. And they told him they have since recommended it to all of their friends and enjoy peace of mind hiding their true nationality. Maybe the United States should put this out as a travel advisory.
Yours in good times and bad,