15 August 2006
What The Youth of The World Thinks Of America
For non-Americans, thinking about America is like thinking about the weather. It's there, it's a fact of daily life, there's nothing you can do but accept it. So... what I've been wondering, is how the way young people feel about America has changed in recent years.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, around the turn of the Milennium, I went through that stage of life common to many young people: virulent anti-Americanism. Though I should just add, it meant something different then. First of all, we didn't hate Americans, or want to hurt them. Nonetheless, we hated what America stood for - the global bullying, the rampant cultural take-over, and all the other things that saw hundreds of thousands of people participate in anti-globalisation protests of the era. We didn't know exactly what we could do about it, but we didn't like America one little bit.
Then September 11 happened, and everything changed.
There was a global outporing of sympathy for America, everywhere - okay, citizens of other countries may have resented having McDonalds all over the land, but we respected freedom too. People were dead. This was more important. People all over the world wanted to do whatever they could to help. It was a stunning, unprecedented opportunity for America and humanity to re-establish itself.
What was the American government's response? Well, first: "Go shopping." The main value of the culture that had been attacked was apparently...consumerism, so that's what needed to be defended first. As far as taking the chance went, it wasn't looking good.
But it got much worse, of course. I need hardly repeat the sorry story of the last sorry few years...the Coalition of The Willing, pre-emptive aggression, "You're either with us or against us"...notwithstanding that maybe nations wanted to make up their own minds, that they thought that although "our way of life" does need to be defended, America was going about it in entirely the wrong way. Moreover, anyone who didn't agree hates freedom, is sympathetic to al-Qaeda...the usual tired lines.
Few people seemed able or willing to examine the deeper reasons why America was attacked. Or to remember that, whilst the French were so denigrated for opposing the Iraq invasion, after September 11, the American embassy in Paris was innundated with floral tributes, people lighting candles, messages of sympathy. I wonder how many of the thousands of people who queued for hours to sign the condolence books at the US Consulate in Sydney turned up just over a year later to participate in the anti-war demonstrations?
Anyway, how do young people, those who came of age after September 11, view America now? I really can't say; I'm on the other side of the idealogical youth divide now. Are they overwhelmed by the agression, heavy-handedness, mindless consumerism - more so than anything that took place before? Or like so much of the apathy in all Western society, do they not much care? Is it, in the end, all too hard?
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