Anti-Americanism, often anti-American sentiment, is opposition or hostility to the people, culture or policies of the United States. In practice, a broad range of attitudes and actions critical of or opposed to the United States have been labeled anti-Americanism. Thus, the applicability of the term is often disputed. Contemporary examples typically focus on opposition to United States policy, though historically the term has been applied to a variety of concepts.
Interpretations of anti-Americanism have often been polarized. Anti-Americanism has been described as a belief that configures the United States and the American way of life as threatening at their core—what Paul Hollander has called "a relentless critical impulse toward American social, economic, and political institutions, traditions, and values." However, it has also been suggested that Anti-Americanism cannot be isolated as a consistent phenomenon and that the term merely signifies a rough composite of stereotypes, prejudices and criticisms towards Americans or the United States.
Whether sentiment hostile to the United States reflects reasoned evaluation of specific policies and administrations, or merely a prejudiced belief system, is a further complication. Globally, increases in perceived anti-American attitudes appear to correlate with particular policies or actions, such as the Vietnam and Iraq wars. For this reason, critics sometimes argue the label is a propaganda term that is used to dismiss any censure of the United States as irrational.
Discussions on anti-Americanism have in most cases lacked a precise definition of what the sentiment entails, which has led to the term being used broadly and in an impressionistic manner, resulting in an incoherent nature in the many expressions described as anti-American.
Its status as an "-ism" is a greatly contended aspect, however, and it is often called a propaganda term by critics who feel it is used to dismiss any censure of the United States as irrational. Brendon O'Connor notes that studies of the topic have been "patchy and impressionistic," and often one-sided attacks on anti-Americanism as an irrational position. American academic Noam Chomsky, a prolific critic of U.S. policy, asserts that the use of the term within the U.S. has parallels with methods employed by totalitarian states or military dictatorships; he compares the term to "anti-Sovietism", a label used by the Kremlin to suppress dissident or critical thought, for instance.
"The concept "anti-American" is an interesting one. The counterpart is used only in totalitarian states or military dictatorships... Thus, in the old Soviet Union, dissidents were condemned as "anti-Soviet." That's a natural usage among people with deeply rooted totalitarian instincts, which identify state policy with the society, the people, the culture. In contrast, people with even the slightest concept of democracy treat such notions with ridicule and contempt.
Some have attempted to recognize both positions. French academic Pierre Guerlain has argued that the term represents two very different tendencies: "One systematic or essentialist, which is a form of prejudice targeting all Americans. The other refers to the way criticisms of the United States are labeled "anti-American" by supporters of U.S. policies in an ideological bid to discredit their opponents. Guerlain argues that these two "ideal types" of anti-Americanism can sometimes merge, thus making discussion of the phenomenon particularly difficult. Other scholars have suggested that a plural of anti-Americanisms, specific to country and time period, more accurately describe the phenomenon than any broad generalization. The widely used "anti-American sentiment", meanwhile, less explicitly implies an ideology or belief system.
The scapegoating theory proposes that political elites manipulate anti-American perceptions among the public to distract from domestic problems. Relatedly, America can be construed as an "Other" to solidify national identity. These ideas are illustrated by A.S. Markowitz in Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America, in which it is argued that anti-Americanism is linked to the creation of a coalescing European identity. "The fundamental role of anti-Americanism in Europe in general, and particularly among those on the Left, is to absolve themselves of their own moral failings and intellectual errors by heaping them onto the monster scapegoat, the United States of America. For stupidity and bloodshed to vanish from Europe, the U.S. must be identified as the singular threat to democracy (contrary to every lesson of actual history)." Others, such as Minxin Pei of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, suggest that the unique character of American nationalism is the cause of some anti-Americanism. "The US has difficulty understanding why other countries feel nationalistic. And its idealism appears to others as hypocrisy. Many admire its idealism, universalism and optimism... others reject American nationalism as merely the expression of an overbearing, self-righteous and misguided bully.
In the mid- to late-eighteenth century, a theory emerged among European intellectuals that the New World landmasses were inherently inferior to Europe. The so-called "degeneracy thesis" held that climatic extremes, humidity and other atmospheric conditions in America physically weakened both men and animals. Two authors, James W. Ceaser and Philippe Roger, have interpreted this theory as a "a kind of prehistory of anti-Americanism." Purported evidence for the idea included the smallness of American fauna, dogs that ceased to bark, and venomous plants; one theory put forth was that the New World had emerged from the Biblical flood later than the Old World. Native Americans were also held to be feeble, small, and without ardor.
The theory originated with Comte de Buffon, a leading French naturalist, in his Histoire Naturelle (1766). The French writer Voltaire joined Buffon and others in making the argument. Dutchman Cornelius de Pauw, court philosopher to Frederick II of Prussia became its leading proponent. While Buffon focused on the American biological environment, de Pauw attacked people native to the continent. In 1768, he described America as "degenerate or monstrous" colonies and argued that, "the weakest European could crush them with ease.
The theory was extended to argue that the natural environment of the United States would prevent it from ever producing true culture. Paraphrasing de Pauw, the French Encyclopedist Abbé Raynal wrote, "America has not yet produced a good poet, an able mathematician, one man of genius in a single art or a single science. The theory was debated and rejected by early American thinkers such as Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson; Jefferson, in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1781), provided a detailed rebuttal of de Buffon. Hamilton also vigorously rebuked the idea in Federalist No. 11 (1787). The living examples of Jefferson and Franklin—vigorous geniuses and clearly not degenerate—helped refute the thesis.
Research into the degeneracy idea dates to at least 1944 and the work of Italian historian Antonello Gerbi. One critic, citing Raynal's ideas, suggests that it was specifically extended to the English colonies that would become the United States.
Roger suggests that the idea of degeneracy posited a symbolic, as well as a scientific America, that would evolve beyond the original thesis. He argues that Buffon's ideas formed the root of a "stratification of negative discourses" that has recurred throughout the two countries' relationship (and has been matched by persistent anti-Gallic sentiment in the United States).
Simon Schama says: "By the end of the nineteenth century, the stereotype of the ugly American—voracious, preachy, mercenary, and bombastically chauvinist—was firmly in place in Europe." O'Connor suggests that such prejudices were rooted in an idealized image of European refinement and that the notion of high European culture pitted against American vulgarity has not disappeared.
The nature of American democracy was also questioned. The sentiment was that the country lacked "[a] monarch, aristocracy, strong traditions, official religion, or rigid class system," according to Rubin, and its democracy was attacked by some Europeans in the early nineteenth century as degraded, a travesty, and a failure. The French Revolution, which was loathed by many European conservatives, also implicated the United States and the idea of creating a constitution on abstract and universal principles. That the country was intended to be a bastion of liberty was also seen as fraudulent given that it had been established with slavery. ("How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" asked Samuel Johnson in 1775. He famously stated that, "I am willing to love all mankind, except an American.")
Charles Dickens stated: "The heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty will be dealt by this country [America], in the failure of its example to the earth.
One person who was not impressed by this rhetoric was Mark Twain who remarked that
As European immigration to the United States continued and the country's economic potential became more obvious, anti-American stances grew a much more explicit geopolitical dimension. A new strand of anti-American sentiment started to appear as America entered the competition for influence in the Pacific, and anti-Americanism was widespread among the Central Powers after the U.S. entered the First World War. Furthermore, many of the anti-American ideological threads spread to other areas, such as Japan and Latin America, where Continental philosophy was popular and growing American power was increasingly viewed as a threat. In political terms, even among the allies of the United States, Britain and France, there was resentment at the end of the war as they found themselves massively in debt to the United States.
With the rise of American industry in the late nineteenth century, intellectual anti-American discourse entered a new form. Mass production, the Taylor system, and the speed of American life and work became a major threat to some intellectuals' view of European life and tradition.
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, "The breathless haste with which they (the Americans) work - the distinctive vice of the new world - is already beginning ferociously to infect old Europe and is spreading a spiritual emptiness over the continent.
It has been argued that this thesis transformed into a Heideggerian critique of technologism. Heidegger wrote in 1935: "Europe lies today in a great pincer, squeezed between Russia on the one side and America on the other. From a metaphysical point of view, Russia and America are the same, with the same dreary technological frenzy and the same unrestricted organization of the average man." Oswald Spengler had made similar claims in 1931's Man and Technics and his 1934 bestseller The Hour of Decision. In 1921 the Spaniard Luis Araquistáin wrote a book called El Peligro Yanqui (“The Yankee Peril”), in which he condemned American nationalism, mechanization, anti-socialism (“socialism is a social heresy there”) and architecture, finding particular fault with the country’s skyscrapers, which he felt diminished individuality and increased anonymity. He called the United States “a colossal child: all appetite...”
According to its opponents, neoliberal globalization has magnified the visibility of trade conflicts and decreased job security, and is often attributed to either U.S. or Anglo-American influence Anti-globalist sentiments stem from perceptions that the United States was the inspiration and architect for globalization and neoliberal free trade policy, which those opposed to it claim is exploitative, and leads to conditions that either impoverish or do not enrich developing nations. According to some critics, globalization also exposed previously isolated countries to the spread of the English language and American popular culture, a process that some have labeled cultural imperialism (see American Cultural Imperialism). The 'Anglo-American' corporate business model is the subject of much opposition ("the EU constitution on offer, Laurent Fabius had argued, was too low on social protection and too high on shameful Anglo-Saxon economic liberalism").
The fall of the Soviet Union may have brought an increase in anti-Americanism because the U.S. was left as the world's only superpower and people who formerly saw the United States as a bastion against Communism or needed the American security umbrella no longer felt the need to support the United States unquestioningly. Where the governments of allied states in particular had felt disinclined to openly criticize U.S. policy during the Cold War, they have had fewer such qualms since. "By cultivating an anti-American position, Europe feigns membership in a global opposition of the downtrodden by America." In addition, criticism of American economic sanctions and embargoes toward various countries, including Cuba, Sudan, North Korea and Iran, while maintaining commercial relations with countries such as China generates resentment.
French author Jean-François Revel wrote that "For skeptics of democratic capitalism, the United States is, quite simply, the enemy. For many years, and still today, a principal function of anti-Americanism has been to discredit the nation that stands as the supreme alternative to socialism. More recently, Islamists, anti-modern Greens and others have taken to pillorying the U.S. for the same reason."
The belief that America was ruled by a Jewish conspiracy or that Israel was an American puppet state has also motivated anti-American hatred in some circles during the last third of the 20th century. Other items of concern include American military interventions and imperialism, especially in connection with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the perceived selective favor given to allies of the United States in international institutions, especially involving issues like nuclear proliferation. The apparent dismissal of international law in the War on Terror, for example regarding the treatment of detainees, has also intensified criticism.
During the George W. Bush administration, public opinion of America has declined in most European countries. A Pew Global Attitudes Project poll shows "favorable opinions" of America between 2000 and 2006 dropping from 83% to 56% in the United Kingdom, from 62% to 39% in France, from 78% to 37% in Germany and from 50% to 23% in Spain.
In Britain, a traditional U.S. ally, public affection for the USA has measurably declined in recent years. A June 2006 poll by Populus for The Times showed that the number of Britons agreeing that "it is important for Britain’s long-term security that we have a close and special relationship with the U.S." had fallen to 58% (from 71% in April), and that 65% believed that "Britain’s future lies more with Europe than America". 44% agreed that "America is a force for good in the world." A later poll reported in The Guardian during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict said that 63% of Britons felt that Britain is tied too closely to the U.S.
In early 2002 the #1 best seller in France was L'Effroyable imposture, which claimed that 9/11 was a conspiracy orchestrated by the U.S. government. It broke the French record for first-month book sales. In Europe in 2002, vandalism of American companies was reported in Venice, Athens, Berlin, Zürich, Tbilisi, and Moscow.
European anti-Americanism well predates the invasion of Iraq and the Bush Administration, with criticisms of American "hegemonism", the coining of the term "hyperpuissance", and the dream of making the EU a "counterbalance" to the United States all flaring up in the 1990s. Criticisms were also levied that America was enforcing sanctions against Iraq for oil, and attributing sinister motives to the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Serbia. French anti-American thinking predates the founding of the United States, originating in ill-founded beliefs about the harsh physical and ecological nature of the New World.
While protests have arisen over specific incidents, they are often reflective of deeper historical resentments. Robert Hathaway, director of the Wilson Center's Asia program, suggests: "the growth of anti-American sentiment in both Japan and South Korea must be seen not simply as a response to American policies and actions, but as reflective of deeper domestic trends and developments within these Asian countries." In Japan, a variety of threads have contributed to anti-Americanism in the post-war era, including pacifism on the political left, nationalism on the right, and opportunistic worries over American influence in Japanese economic life.
Korean anti-Americanism after the war was fueled by American occupation and support for authoritarian rule, a fact still evident during the country's democratic transition in the 1980s. Speaking to the Wilson Center, Katherine Moon notes that while the majority of South Koreans support the American alliance "anti-Americanism also represents the collective venting of accumulated grievances that in many instances have lain hidden for decades."
Such anti-Americanism is reflected in Korean popular culture. The monster film The Host (2006) was in part inspired by an incident in 2000 in which a mortician working for the U.S. military in Seoul dumped a large amount of formaldehyde down the drain. In it, a horrible mutated monster from the river menaces the inhabitants of Seoul. "Fucking USA" is an anti-American protest song written by South Korean singer and activist Yoon Min-suk. Strongly anti-US Foreign policy and anti-Bush, the song was written in 2002 at a time when, following the Apolo Ohno Olympic controversy and an incident in which two Korean middle school students were killed under the wheels of a U.S. Army vehicle, anti-American sentiment in South Korea reached high levels.
The Middle East region has been a focal point of much anti-American sentiment in the latter decades of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, often blamed on specific U.S. policies in the region, particularly its close relationship with Israel and its stance on such matters as Sudan's civil war and Darfur. However, some argue that the real roots lay in government policy as reflected in state-directed media. By this reasoning, America is blamed for failed systems in the Middle East, as a means of re-directing internal dissent outwards, towards what Osama Bin Ladin has called "the far enemy", America, instead of at indigenous regimes.
The term Great Satan, as well as the chant "Death to America" have been in continual use in Iran since at least the Iranian revolution in 1979. The Iranian capital Tehran has many examples of anti-American murals and posters sponsored by the state; the former U.S. Embassy in the city has been decorated with a number of such murals.
In 2002 and 2004 Zogby International polled the favorable/unfavorable ratings of the U.S. in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. In Zogby's 2002 survey, 76% of Egyptians had a negative attitude toward the United States, compared with 98% in 2004. In Morocco, 61% viewed the country unfavorably in 2002, but in two years, that number has jumped to 88 percent. In Saudi Arabia, such responses rose from 87% in 2002 to 94% in June. Attitudes were virtually unchanged in Lebanon but improved slightly in the UAE, from 87% who said in 2002 that they disliked the United States to 73% in 2004. However most of these countries showed a marked distinction between negative perceptions of the United States, and much less negative of Americans.
The Pew Research Institute probed more deeply the stereotypes of westerners in the Middle East. While more than 70% of Middle Easterners identified more than 3 negative characteristics of the Westerner stereotype, the three strongest were selfish, violent and greedy. Few had positive opinions of Westerners, but the strongest positive stereotypes were devout and respectful of women. The report also demonstrates strong unfavorable views of Jews and weakly favorable views of Christians predominate in the Middle East. In Jordan, 61%, Pakistan 27%, and Turkey 16% have favorable views of Christians while in Jordan 1%, Pakistan 6%, and Turkey 15% have favorable views of Jews.
Cultural anti-Americanism in the Middle East may have its origins with Sayyid Qutb, an influential Egyptian author, who Paul Berman titled "the Philosopher of Islamic Terror". Qutb, the leading intellectual of the Muslim Brotherhood, studied in Greely, Colorado, from 1948-50, and wrote a book, The America I Have Seen based on his impressions. In it he decried everything in American from individual freedom and taste in music to Church socials and haircuts. "They danced to the tunes of the gramophone, and the dance floor was replete with tapping feet, enticing legs, arms wrapped around waists, lips pressed to lips, and chests pressed to chests. The atmosphere was full of desire..." He offered a distorted chronology of American history and was disturbed by its sexually liberated women: "The American girl is well acquainted with her body's seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs – and she shows all this and does not hide it." He was particularly disturbed by Jazz, which he called the American's "preferred music, and it is created by Negroes to satisfy their love of noise and to whet their sexual desires ... Qutb's writings influenced generations of militants and radicals in the Middle East who viewed America as a cultural temptress bent on overturning traditional customs and morals, especially with respect to the relations between the sexes. As Paul Hollander has written:"The most obvious and clear link between anti-Americanism and modernization is encountered in Islamic countries and other traditional societies where modernization clashes head on with entrenched traditional beliefs, institutions, and patterns of behavior, and where it challenges the very meaning of life, social relations, and religious verities. What becomes of the world when women can go to work and show large surfaces of skin to men they are not related to? In a recent case, the indignant male members of a Kurdish family in Sweden were "provoked" by the transgressing female of their family who had the temerity to have a job and a boyfriend and dress in Western ways. She was finally killed by her father."
Hollander went on to explain:
"In Arab countries and among Muslim populations, anti-Americanism is not only the monopoly of intellectuals but also a widespread disposition of the masses. In these areas, traditional religion, radical politics, and economic backwardness combine to make anti-Americanism an exceptionally widespread, virulent, and reflexive response to a wide range of collective and personal frustrations and grievances-and a welcome alternative to any collective or individual self-examination or stock-taking.
More generally, it is the rise of alternatives, ushered in by modernization, that threatens traditional societies and generates anti-American reaction. The stability of traditional society (like that of modern totalitarian systems) rests on the lack of alternatives, on the lack of choice. Choice is deeply subversive-culturally, politically, psychologically.
The recent outburst of murderous anti- Americanism has added a new dimension to the phenomenon, or at any rate, throws into relief the intense hatred it may encapsulate. The violence of September 11 shows that when anti-Americanism is nurtured by the kind of indignation and resentment that in [turn] is stimulated and sanctioned by religious convictions, it can become spectacularly destructive."
Qutb's ideas influenced Osama Bin Laden, an anti-American Islamic militant who is believed to be the founder of the Jihadist organization Al-Qaeda. He is a member of the prestigious and wealthy bin Laden family. In conjunction with several other Islamic militant leaders, bin Laden issued two fatawa—in 1996 and then again in 1998—that Muslims should kill civilians and military personnel from the United States and allied countries until they withdraw military forces from Islamic countries and withdraw support for Israel.
He has been indicted in United States federal court for his alleged involvement in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, and is on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.
Bin Laden, on behalf of Al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States of America in videos released to the public.
In the rest of South America the 1855 American intervention in Nicaragua and the Spanish-American War of 1898, which turned Cuba into a virtual dependency of the United States, also prompted hatred of America. Perceived racist attitudes of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants of the north towards the populations of South America also caused resentment.
In the twentieth century American support for the 1954 coup in Guatemala against Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, fueled anti-Americanism in the region. This CIA sponsored coup prompted a former president of that country, Juan José Arévalo to wrote a parable entitled The Shark and the Sardines (1961) in which a predatory shark (representing the USA) overawes the sardines of South America.
Vice-President Richard Nixon's tour of South America in 1958 prompted a spectacular eruption of anti-Americanism. The tour became the focus of violent protests which climaxed in Caracas, Venezuela where Nixon was almost killed by a raging mob as his motorcade drove from the airport to the city. In response President Dwight D. Eisenhower assembled troops at Guantanamo Bay and a fleet of battleships in the Caribbean to intervene to save Nixon if necessary.
Fidel Castro, the revolutionary leader of Cuba, has throughout his career tried to co-ordinate long standing South American resentments against the USA through military and propagandist means. He was aided in this goal by the farcical, failed, Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba in 1961, planned and implemented by the American government against his regime. This disaster ruined American credibility in South America and gave a boost to her enemies worldwide. According to Rubin and Rubin, Castro's Second Declaration of Havana, in February 1962, "constituted a declaration of war on the United States and the enshrinement of a new theory of anti-Americanism". Castro called America "a vulture...feeding on humanity The United States embargo against Cuba maintained resentment.
The 1964 Brazilian coup d'état, Operation Condor, the 1973 Chilean coup d'état, the Salvadoran Civil War, the support of the Contras and the refusal to extradite a terrorist, U.S. support for dictators such as Augusto Pinochet, Anastasio Somoza, Alfredo Stroessner have continued to influence regional attitudes in a negative way.
The perceived failures of the neo-liberal reforms of the 1980s and the 1990s intensified opposition to the Washington consensus, leading to a resurgence in support for Pan-Americanism, support for popular movements in the region, the nationalization of key industries and centralization of government. America's tightening of the economic embargo on Cuba in 1996 and 2004 also caused resentment among South American leaders and has prompted them to use the Madrid based Iberian Summit as a meeting place rather than the American dominated OAS. One of the most vocal of these leaders has been Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who is known for his strong opposition towards the American government, particularly George W. Bush, driving him to address him in many ways; referring to him as "the devil" before the United Nations. He has clearly stated his intent to use Venezuela's oil resources as a card "against the toughest country in the world, the United States.
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