Wheeland: Being an American

Dec 102002
Authors: Ashley Wheeland

Jimmy Carter, one of the United States’ former presidents, and a strong proponent of human rights and peace, received the Nobel Prize yesterday. Yesterday was also International Human Rights Day, and protestors around the country sat in front of military recruiting offices and other spots around the United States to show their disapproval with the Bush Administration’s push for war with Iraq.

After reading about these two events I felt pride for my country. I felt like an American. This is something in my identity that I have felt conflict over for some time. With my traveling and my discussions with people abroad, I have to admit that being American is a disadvantage abroad. Many times I have been confronted on my politics and my country’s politics. And my response has always been that I am an individual, and my country does not represent what I believe. But I am American, and as much as I attempt to disentangle this identifier, it is a piece of my identity.

I am not sure if we Americans realize what we have done to help peace. We have helped to end two of the worst world wars in the world. We have helped countries in finding cures for diseases and in creating new social structures. We have helped negotiate treaties between conflicting nations and helped in the crumbling of walls that had blocked off half of the world.

On the other hand, most of us don’t really know what the United States has done to cause conflict and hate around the world. In Latin America for example, there have been many coups in which the United States government has been associated. In many incidences, the United States has taken land and resources (river land and oil) from our neighbor to the South. The United States has also played a role in the continuing war between Israelis and Palestinians. The United States has also broken numerous treaties and agreements with nations and international organizations, with the claim that it was in its own best interest.

The ethnocentrism and hegemonic attitude of the United States for the past 50 years has facilitated an antagonistic relationship, in which much of the rest of the world views our country as their “Other.” By this I mean the United States has come to define what countries around the world do not want to be.

With all of us coming from immigrants, we have become the ultimate hypocrites by disassociating our understandings of right and wrong with the rest of the world. For example, polls in the United States show the population favors going to war with Iraq. Polls around the world and their view of the United States have declined. The answers that Americans are using to solve international problems are not the same as people around the world, and in the end these answers are pushing the international community away.

However, the United States is not a static permanence. With the changes in our country in elections and public attitude, we as Americans know the United States is much more complex than many around the world view us. We have many identifiers of what each of our identities is made up of. Some of us see our families; others see our jobs as the important identifiers of our identity. But we all have many things that are important to us that connect all of our beliefs and morals.

With this idea that as individuals we are complex, so in turn our country is complex, I pose this question to you as students. (It has been the students, the people who are learning, discussing and thinking that have facilitated change in history). Do you want the United States to be the “Other” in international politics, or do you want the world to see the United States as part of the community? Be critical, look at your own morals and views, and do not let the media and the national politics of the time tell you what to think. You are the voice, as a complex individual, and one identifier of a complex society. Americans have a right to be proud, but they also have a right to define their own identity.

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