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Just about everyone I know is ambivalent about the USA

17 Jun

It was certainly the position of the World War II generation of my parents, and that was often based on memories of that war, both on the front line and on the home front. This is not the same as anti-Americanism. Many people I know who have lived in the USA, including some Aussies who still do, regard the place as, to quote one, having the best of what the world might offer and also some of the worst, but very little in between. Make of that what you will. Australians do tend to head “gladly home” at some point.

Contrary to the impression you may sometimes get, the Americans are nonetheless very often robustly self-critical. There is another example of a healthy American “anti-Americanism” in the latest New Yorker, a journal where one may often find such self-criticism: Return to Paradise: The enduring relevance of John Milton by Jonathan Rosen. It is primarily, however, a reflection on the great 17th century poet — whose work was out of fashion at Sydney U in the mid 1960s.

…This year is the four-hundredth anniversary of Milton’s birth, and there are a host of Milton books to mark the occasion: the Modern Library has brought out “The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose,” edited by William Kerrigan, John Rumrich, and Stephen M. Fallon, and not long ago Oxford University Press published an edition of “Paradise Lost” introduced by Philip Pullman, whose young-adult trilogy “His Dark Materials” draws its title and much of its mythic energy from “Paradise Lost.” (Titles involving sight and blindness often come from Milton: “Look Homeward, Angel,” “Eyeless in Gaza,” “Darkness at Noon,” “Darkness Visible.”) There is a new edition of “Paradise Lost” edited by the scholar Barbara Lewalski, whose monumental biography of the poet came out a few years ago, and Oxford is launching an eleven-volume series of all Milton’s works, edited by Thomas Corns and Gordon Campbell. Corns and Campbell are also jointly publishing a biography of Milton in time for the birthday, later this year, and Corns is editing “The Milton Encyclopedia,” for Yale University Press. A new critical study by the Princeton scholar Nigel Smith bears the provocative title “Is Milton Better Than Shakespeare?,” and there has been a recent spate of books with titles like “Why Milton Matters” and “Milton in Popular Culture,” pointing out Milton’s influence on everyone from Malcolm X, who read “Paradise Lost” in prison and identified with Satan, to Helen Keller, who created the John Milton Society for the Blind. “Milton in Popular Culture” reminds the reader that in the movie “Animal House,” Donald Sutherland’s Professor Jennings gives a lecture on “Paradise Lost,” taking a bite of an apple as he suggests that the Devil has more fun, before confessing to his unresponsive students that even “Mrs. Milton found Milton boring,” and so does he…

In America, where God and the Devil live alongside Western rationalism, Milton seems right at home. After the attacks of September 11th, it was possible to find Milton invoked to remind us of the nature of absolute evil—his Satan really is a model terrorist, who, having abandoned hope of a happy home, devotes his energy to destroying the lives of others—and at the same time quoted to uphold the rights of individuals whose distasteful views might be curtailed during a time of war. Milton’s spirit, mingling prophetic zealotry with a sort of pragmatic humanism, is thoroughly woven into the fabric of American life. Like other disappointed Puritans, Milton might easily have sailed for the literal New World, but he instead settled for an imaginary one that was to exert a strong influence on America’s Founding Fathers. (In Thomas Jefferson’s literary commonplace book, Milton appears more than any other poet.) He shares traits both with the first theocratic European settlers and with the Enlightenment figures of a century later, combining an urge for Biblical fulfillment with an urge for radical new beginnings…



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16 responses to “Just about everyone I know is ambivalent about the USA

  1. Renegade Eye

    June 18, 2008 at 8:38 am

    That is an accurate description of the US. Even secularism is in line with rationalism, seperation of church and state. That is different than eliminating the causes of religion, as Marx mentioned.

    This blog belonging to a friend of mine, I’m sure you’ll enjoy. Visit it and tell him I recommended you to.

     
  2. ninglun

    June 18, 2008 at 10:35 am

    Thanks for the link; I will add that to my blog roll.

     
  3. Kevin

    June 19, 2008 at 11:13 am

    “Make of that what you will. Australians do tend to head “gladly home” at some point.”

    Doesn’t everyone from everyone feel this way about their home country? As enjoyable as it is to vacation in another nation, there’s a very warm feeling at the end when the US customs agent says ‘Welcome home’. I imagine it is the same for Aussies.

    But I think you are mistaken when you say Americans are ‘very often robustly self-critical.” More than likely, we are critical of the half of Americans that we don’t agree with. That’s not quite the same thing as ‘self-critical’ :).

    Now where is that thread where you said POW’s should be granted the same rights as citizens of America? I had a few more things I wanted to grumble about.

     
  4. ninglun

    June 19, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    Now where is that thread where you said POW’s should be granted the same rights as citizens of America? I had a few more things I wanted to grumble about.

    I wouldn’t waste too much of your time on that, Kevin… Aside from which, didn’t they define the people in Gitmo as not prisoners of war so they could get around the Geneva Convention? The courts took on the US Administration and the Pentagon over that one in 2006 and won.

     
  5. Kevin

    June 19, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    “…didn’t they define the people in Gitmo as not prisoners of war…”

    Yeah, they probably did. It’s so silly to have to classify scumbags as this or that to get around bad laws.
    Still, I’m hopeful that we can yet again re-classify the jihadis residing at GiTMO to avoid setting them free to kill more innocent people. We ARE America, after all. Never give up, never surrender… Except when Democrats are in charge, of course.

    Remember the good old days in WWII when Aussies, Brits and Americans just shot prisoners? No, you probably don’t, but trust me, it was the norm. Especially snipers, which are akin to the modern day jihadist. Sadly, it was the right thing to do.

    FWIW, Milton Freeman was a genius. Sadly, you’ve chosen another Milton to idolize :(.

     
  6. ninglun

    June 19, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    Remember the good old days in WWII when Aussies, Brits and Americans just shot prisoners? No, you probably don’t, but trust me, it was the norm. Especially snipers, which are akin to the modern day jihadist. Sadly, it was the right thing to do.

    Depending on practical circumstance, this was true, but otherwise POWs on our side in WWII were treated rather better than they were by the Japanese especially, or by the Germans.

    Snipers as jihadists? The US Army doesn’t have any snipers? Bad analogy.

    Bad laws? Thank God daily that the US still does have separation of powers and a rule of law. That is what you are holding up to the world as an example, and what you are meant to be defending.

     
  7. AV

    June 19, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    But I think you are mistaken when you say Americans are ‘very often robustly self-critical.” More than likely, we are critical of the half of Americans that we don’t agree with. That’s not quite the same thing as ’self-critical’ :).

    I believe that’s the most insightful, intelligent (and, dare I say it, self-critical) thing I’ve ever seen you blog, Kevin.

    Remember the good old days in WWII when Aussies, Brits and Americans just shot prisoners? No, you probably don’t, but trust me, it was the norm.

    And that’s Kevin back to normal again. Trust me, Kevin: if shooting POWs was “the norm” among Australian soldiers in WWII, I wouldn’t be here. My grandfather was an Italian soldier captured by the Aussies. He spoke very highly of his treatment at the hands of his captors.

    Many Italian and Japanese POWs were brought to Australia. But a little bit of trivia one doesn’t hear often on Anzac Day is the fact that Australia also interned German Jews.

     
  8. ninglun

    June 19, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    Reminds me of my old neighbour in Wollongong, Willy, who was in the Wehrmacht on the Russian front during WWII — he and my father (Royal Australian Air Force in the same war) got on rather well and often exchanged reminiscences. Thirty years after the event of course. I found it quite fascinating.

    Willy used to say that after he got back from Russia (9 of the 1000 in his immediate group got back) he was sent to the Italian front: “And then I was captured by the Americans, and that was the best thing!” In fact they saved his life by giving him an appendix operation…

    On the other hand, one of my uncles vividly remembers from the Pacific War, where he was right in the way of danger being always in the first landing craft on all those beaches, being in signals, such things as the Americans accidentally running down and killing Australian soldiers right in front of him. There were lots of stories I heard as a kid, less than ten years after war’s end, about American inefficiency and carelessness, and excess. Of course the fact is we needed the Yanks at the time, as PM Curtin recognised.

    I am named after that uncle, by the way, being born close to his birthday when he was in Papua and the islands.

    Yes, I have heard too about the German Jews; unfortunately the “German” part predominated at the time I think, and the “Jew” part not really understood. You can read about the best-known examples: the Dunera boys.

    The HMT Dunera was a transport ship that brought 1,997 Jewish men (refugees from Germany and Austria, aged 16 to 60) and 440 non-Jewish prisoners of war (240 Germans and 200 Italians) from England in September 1940. A year after the start of the war, fearing a Nazi invasion and considering the Jewish refugees possible German spies, the British government had 75,000 Jews arrested as “enemy aliens. The nearly 2,000 were shipped to Australia, part of the Commonwealth, where they spent a year and a half in two isolated internment camps. Thousands more were sent to internment camps in Canada.

    England, finally admitting its “deplorable mistake,” ordered the internees’ release in early 1942.

    Those in Australia scattered around the globe, with many serving in the British and Australian armies, and about half the group staying in Sydney. They’re known collectively as the Dunera Boys — “almost legendary, of course,” according to a recent article in The Australian Financial Review — and are pointed to as a model of immigrant success, having produced notable politicians and artists and businessmen and a Nobel Prize winner, all of them proud Aussies….

     
  9. Kevin

    June 20, 2008 at 12:13 am

    Apologies. I was too flippant and explained myself poorly. I was referring to the idea professed by an English General who said it was fine if a German wanted to surrender, but if he sniped at us until we got close and then surrendered, he should be summarily shot. And guess what? That’s exactly what our troops did! Because he wasn’t really repentant. He just wanted to not die.

    And that’s what I’m saying about the jihadis at GiTMO. They still want to blow innocent people up, they just didn’t want to die at the time. I truly doubt that they can be redeemed, including the one we just sent back to you Aussies 5 or 6 months ago. I suspect he has attempted to kill before, and he will attempt to kill again. Setting any of them free before they are in a coffin is a big mistake in my mind. Innocent people are already dead because we set some free. I’m quite comfortable with locking up jihadis that we find on the field of battle forever without a trial. I don’t believe anyone who says they went to Afghanistan to learn about their religion. I’d believe it if they said that while in Saudia Arabia, but Afghanistan has nothing to do with islam. They just better hope I don’t end up on the jury.

    I had no idea that you were Italian. I love your food! Things were different with Italians, because almost none of them were truly into fighting the allies, and didn’t deserve to die like jihadists do. See, jihadists truly believe they are doing good by killing innocent people and the not so innocent people that they disagree with. Statistically, only about 0.5% of them can be reformed, if we trust historical data. And I do. I continue to believe that it is better that our troops arrange a meeting with Allah for them. Before they have offspring, if possible.

    Lastly, the Geneva convention was the biggest mistake we ever signed. NO ONE THAT WE FIGHT IS A CO-SIGNER! We play by rules that our enemies do not. They torture and behead our troops, but we can’t even make their troops uncomfortable without some UN group crying that it makes their wussies hurt (with a capital P). That is an insane way to fight a war. If you want a war to end fast, be horribly brutal. If you want a war to drag on until the end of time and increase the possibility of losing it, follow the Geneva conventions.

    Ok, I’m done ranting. Thank you for giving me the space to do so.

     
  10. ninglun

    June 20, 2008 at 12:23 am

    Afghanistan has nothing to do with islam

    Say what?? — istan means what?

     
  11. Kevin

    June 20, 2008 at 3:28 am

    *sigh* Afghanistan has no more to do with islam than Canada has to do with Christianity. Sure they are mostly muslim in Afghanistan like they are mostly Christian in Canada, but you don’t go to EITHER place to study the religion.

    Must we do this, Neil? You know exactly what I meant (unless you are an idiot, which I believe you are not), and everyone who might read my comment would realize what I was saying… that yes, Afghanistan is not THE or A center of the ‘religion’ of islam.

    Did you like how I put ‘religion’ in quotes? That was a slap in the face to the cult of islam :). As you know, I’m willing to go to war with that cult over their total disregard for women’s rights, combined with their disdain for non-believers. That is unacceptable in today’s world.

     
  12. ninglun

    June 20, 2008 at 8:55 am

    Did you like how I put ‘religion’ in quotes? That was a slap in the face to the cult of islam 🙂 It is also likely to be read as a slap in the face by all followers of the religion, including the majority and moderate Muslims. That I think is very irresponsible of you. In the past hour I have had readers from Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates, for example, and have had from other Muslim countries including Iran. We should always keep that in mind; we are not just talking to ourselves here, or exchanging emails.

    I’m willing to go to war with that cult over their total disregard for women’s rights, combined with their disdain for non-believers. Also unnecessarily provocative because you are so imprecise in defining who is or isn’t a cultist, not to mention that the most successful “war” in the long run will not be military. It is a war of ideas in the end, including a war on the idea of violence as a way of solving problems, or serving religion.

    The precise boundaries between Afghanistan, Iran on one side, and Pakistan on the other are matters of past colonial histories, not of facts on the ground. Hence many of the difficulties we are now having. Much the same applies to Iran and Iraq. From Iraq right through all those other countries to Pakistan are centres of Islamic learning that have been in existence for centuries.

    Reread this post.

     
  13. Kevin

    June 20, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    Yes, I was slapping ALL followers of islam in the face with that comment. It was intentional. “Moderate muslim’ is the same as saying ‘not a muslim’. Believe me, I’m ok with that, but it’s high time that moderate muslims either find a new religion to believe in, or embrace atheism. Post haste. They are doing the world no good whatsoever by standing by idly while jihadis blow stuff up, blow people up, and blow themselves up. They are, in fact, unintentionally supporting those murderous acts.

    I didn’t mean to be ‘unnecessarily provocative’ as you say, but I continue to be willing to support America blasting them to hell unremorsefully until they agree to treat women as human beings. I’d pummel Somalia, Indonesia, Southern Thailand and Malaysia first, but I'[ll leave it to the better informed to make those choices. Again, I don’t really like women any more than you do (but for different reasons), but it is NOT OK to treat them as less than men as islam does. I’m ok with bombing the crap out of any country who does this. Here’s an unnecessarily provocative list!

    Saudi Arabia
    Jordan
    Egypt
    Somalia
    Algeria
    Sudan
    Maylay
    Indonesia
    Iran (well, this one’s for different reasons)
    Syria
    Yemen

    I guess I am provocative! Regardless, I find this line humorous – “Iran on one side, and Pakistan on the other are matters of past colonial histories, not of facts on the ground.”

    Yes, THAT’S why we are having difficulties, Nin. Because those lines were poorly drawn :). THAT’S what caused all of those dead Americans on 9/11. Stupid poorly drawn lines.

    Do you think before you type? In fairness, I should admit that I don’t, often to my chagrin. I think you don’t either :).

     
  14. ninglun

    June 20, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Yes, THAT’S why we are having difficulties, Nin. Because those lines were poorly drawn 🙂 . THAT’S what caused all of those dead Americans on 9/11. Stupid poorly drawn lines.

    No, I was merely saying that the boundaries of Afghanistan and Pakistan, or of Iran and Iraq, are totally arbitrary and porous, which leads to the problems being encountered with dealing with Al Qaeda or the Taliban in the first instance, and the Shi’ite connections in the latter instance.

    I totally and absolutely and unreservedly reject the insane idea that we are virtually at war with the 1.2 billion men, women and children who are the culturally highly varied members of the Muslim world. This is merely a mirror image of the view that emanates from political extremists in the Muslim world of some kind of latter day crusade against Islam, but just as distorted and distorting and just as crazy.

    I suggest you keep your prescriptions for bombing our neighbours and others further afield, whether those bombed may have anything to do with terrorism or not, for your own blog, and the gratuitous insults of people or groups most of whom again have nothing to do with terrorism. What you write on your own space is your business; what you write here inevitably becomes mine, and I am obliged to make clear how totally I disagree with what you propose.

    Thank God neither candidate for the US presidency echoes your views, nor in my own country did John Howard (who explicitly rejected the idea of a war against Islam) and neither does Kevin Rudd.

    Mr Rudd and President Susilo Yudhoyono met inside Indonesia’s presidential palace for about an hour…

    Mr Rudd also announced a broadening of an interfaith dialogue and said he and President Yudhoyono were united in their belief that the world was not headed for a clash of civilisations. — 13 February 2008

    That is the way to go.

    ** Reread this post.

    End of this discussion because it is pointless to continue it. Feel free to contribute on other issues where what you say may be more worth considering. A plus though: you inspired a post on Ninglun’s Specials.

    I have moderated this comment a little since first writing it about ten hours ago. I commend: Islamic clerics converged on the Indian capital for the Anti-Terrorism and Global Peace Conference (15 June 2008); Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism. The general overview on Wikipedia is also worth looking at. Otherwise, see the post ** above.

     
  15. ninglun

    June 28, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    While reviewing old posts (September 2005) I came again upon Tell Me a Secret, a blog by Khalid Jarrar, location: Baghdad, Iraq. His biographical note is “I am pro God, I am pro life, I am pro humanity, I am pro truth, and when the American government chooses to be against all that then damn it: i AM anti American-government.” This post “I am Very Very Happy” [2 May 2008] is relevant to some of the discussion above; it’s about “Sami Alhaj, the reporter of Aljazeera who have been in Guantanamo for six years without being charged of anything and was tortured often.”

     
 
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