In 1958 a book called ‘The Ugly American’ was published. It was written by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer. It was a fictionalized portrayal of how the authors saw some Americans as behaving when they either travelled or worked overseas. In the book, the story takes place in a fictional Southeast Asian country, meant to represent Vietnam, and depicts the Americans stationed there as not acting in a way which takes into consideration the intricacies of the local culture, language and customs. The main character is portrayed as not only being physically ‘ugly’ but also ‘ugly’ in a metaphorical way in that he speaks loudly and is somewhat obnoxious with the local population. This portrayal of Americans overseas has since been generalized to apply to any foreigner who acts this way in a foreign country.

However, the bad reputation which it gave the United States of America stills haunts it today. But what is really the role that America plays on the world scene? Many people continue to argue for and against the notion that America is a force for good in the world. Too often we hear critics pointing to America’s foreign policy initiatives as either misbeguided, violent and aggressive, imperialist, oppressive and so on.

But let’s look at things on the level. America is still the principle bastion of liberty, freedom and democracy on this planet. It operates under the rule of law, due process of law, it has an independent judiciary, bicameral parliamentary democracy, freedom of religion while respecting people’s right to believe or not to believe in a Higher Power, as they see fit, and a separation between Church and State, a free press, freedom of mobility, one person, one vote with universal suffrage, equality between men and women, universal free public education, an excellent health care system, despite the number of people who still lack coverage or who have inadequate coverage, (Obama Care has improved this substantially), there is freehold land tenure and a fairly easy ability to buy and sell property, and best of all, America is still the Land of Opportunity, despite beginning to be overcrowded. One can still come to America, and work, study and make something of yourself, if you want to and live freely in a society which values hard work, achievement, knowledge and which rewards such things generously with a very rapid process of social mobility and lack of class or caste distinction, which in many emerging countries is still unheard of.

This is why America still attracts the best and brightest to its shores. It is still a beacon of liberty, freedom, opportunity, democracy and justice. It is no wonder why America desires so much to export this way of life to the world. Of course it is understandable that America, its government and its citizens often don’t comprehend the resistance to her overtures when she goes forth into the world and comes knocking on other people’s doors, wanting their resources, be they animal, vegetable or mineral. Americans simply, like other imperial powers before them, feel that ‘why wouldn’t you want to be American?’ To them it is such a self-evidently obvious truth that anybody would be foolish not to want to embrace this bundle of values, beliefs and intangible ideas that come with being American.

What a lot of Americans don’t realize, I think, is that people in the emerging world are hesitant to embrace a new Pax Americana because they are afraid of the negative aspects of American civilization that come with all of these intangible benefits: Rampant over-consumption, materialism, obesity, secularism, atheism, agnosticism, political disaffection and cynicism, sexual perversion, pornography, deconstruction of the traditional social fabric and social hierarchy, alcoholism, drug addiction, problem gambling, and so on.

I think most people want the advantages of what America has to offer, but they would prefer to leave out the negative stuff. I’m not sure if this is entirely possible, but one thing is for sure, America is still a force for good in the world and a tremendously powerful player on the world scene through its military might, which it uses to defend and promote its trade and cultural interests at home and abroad.

One might say, as many wags have been prone to do lately that ‘well, America has had her day in the sun, empires come and go, why not let China have a kick at the can and rule the world?’ Well, I’m not at all convinced. People criticize America because 45 million of her 300 million citizens until recently were without adequate medical care. If one looks at China, one quickly comes to the realization that 600 million of her 1, 3 billion citizens have no access to any medical care whatsoever!

I’d also like to point out that America doesn’t block access to the internet to its citizens as China does, nor does it have internal exile prisons full of political prisoners who are imprisoned because they dare to speak out against the government. Last I heard, taking pot-shots at the Obama Administration in the mainstream media was almost a national pastime! Nor does America have a corrupt one-party state full of apparatchiks who muscle in on poor farmers in the countryside, expropriate their land, send in the security forces to expel them, then take over the land to build more factories to make money for themselves and their cronies.

There are also proper laws in place in America to protect workers against exploitation, poor conditions in factories, mines and so on. Folks would be appalled if they knew the number of thousands of Chinese coal miners who were killed every year in mine accidents in China so as to continue fuelling their double-digit pace of economic growth. These proper laws are all conditions which America ultimately seeks to establish overseas, despite what critics say to the contrary. America seeks to pacify this New Frontier and to bring order to it so as to eventually push the New Frontier ever further off world into outer space, where liberty, freedom, democracy and justice will flourish anew.

Don’t discount America. Don’t count her out. Never underestimate the power of the Red White and Blue. Some of us may still have an image of The Ugly American in their minds, but I prefer to think of America, the Beautiful, the land of the free and the home of the brave. God Bless America. Amen.

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