Austria is by all accounts a pretty good country, at least by international comparison: We have a comparable strong economy, a good health and welfare system, we are a democratic country, where human rights are generally respected. We have many good people and, well, also too much idiots, but latter you can probably say about every country. But one of the most important things I can say about growing up in Austria, born in the 1980s, I grew up in peace – which is something I learned to appreciate only later, after I got to learn history and see other parts of the world.
The town where I grew up, lies near the border of Italy and nearly every week my parents, my brother and I used to drive to Italy, went eating, shopping, enjoyed the beautiful old Italian cities. I loved it, and the summer holidays on the Italian beach were the best time of the year. The Italians were the friendly, hospitable neighbors, and as a little child it would never even have crossed my mind, that there could ever be something else than peace between Austria and Italy. It was later in school and from stories of my father that I learned that peace wasn´t always a matter of course, that there have been numerous, devastating, incredibly senseless wars between these two countries. In the First World War alone hundreds of thousand soldiers died in excruciating battles, many of them poisoned by nervous gas or buried by avalanches in mountain battles.
I also had to learn, that not only between Austria and Italy, but in Europe in general wars had rather been the rule than the exception. And I learned about the darkest chapter of Austrian history, the Nazi regime and the Holocaust.
Being born in the 1980s I was only the second generation of Austrians after the Second World War, who had the privilege to grow up in peace and freedom. And by now I know, that there would have been no chance, that without the United States, and the sacrifices made by millions of Americans in the war against Nazi Germay and then the struggle against the Soviet Union and Communism, that I would be living in a free, democratic, peaceful country. My life and the life of hundreds of Millions of Europeans would have been totally different, and a democratic Europe nothing more than an unattainable dream. Without America there would have been no rescue for Europe from the totalitarian, barbaric ideologies of Fascism and/or Communism. And all that had been so self evident for me as a child, living in peace and driving with my family from Austria to Italy, from one democratic country to another, it would not have been.
When I got older but still in school – and already interested in politics and history – I acknowledged the contribution of the United States to a free Europe. But despite of it, I didn´t consider myself a huge America fan – although my favorite movies, TV shows and music all were American. In fact, looking back, I have to admit that I probably had adopted some of the typical Antiamerican resentments, common in Europe. And after all, criticizing the powerful, and the most powerful nation undeniable are the United States, seemed like a just, and even brave thing to do – it was only later that I realized that critizing America is of course totally risk free, whereas challenging some of the Antiamerican regimes and ideologies can be life threatening.
My opinion changed and my Anti-Americanism resentments faded, ironically when Anti-Americanism seemed rapidly on the rise everywhere else. After 911 the unconditional solidarity in Europe, that the German chancellor Schröder proclaimed, expired rather quickly, if it ever existed. There were not only just a view voices that insinuated more or less directly that America has brought the attacks on itself. People in the media, who were regarded as intellectuals, used phrases like “terrorism is the war of the poor”, with regard to El Kaida and the Taliban merciless slaughtering civilians. The more extreme and hollow Antiamericanism got, the more it´s hypocricy became apparent, the more I wanted to know facts and get a differentiated opinion. And the more I learned about America and it´s adversaries, the more I got pro-American.
There is the saying, show me your friends and I tell you who you are – which works also the other way around: Tell me your enemies and I tell you who you are. The extreme right, the extreme left, and extremist Muslims, they all have America as their common enemy. Being hated by Fascists, Communists and Islamists alike, America clearly must do most things right.
Being pro American doesn´t mean that one has to support every single American policy. American politics are not always right, no one is. But those who criticize America soley because they hate America are hardly ever right.
At this point, I could write extensively about American politics and why I think that America is the most responsible superpower in history, much less hypocritical than its adversaries and critics, and in many of its policies even as altruistic as a nation can be. But I don´t want to make this comment all about politics, because politics is not the only reason why I´m pro-American, and why I´m thankful to America. And politics is also not the only reason, why people hate America.
Also apart from politics, there is no nation, no civilization on earth, that has contributed more to humanity. No country has been home to more nobel price winners, no country has had more citizens, that filed patents and made inventions: From the telephone to the PC, to the Internet revolution, from the electric light to the space shuttle, to the enormous contributions to medical progress, increasing life expactancy and live quality for countless of people all over the world.
No matter where you go, even the fiercest enemy of the US, will use American inventions: A member of the Muslim brotherhood, will curse the US and will boasts about how superior Islamic values are, at the same time he will – of course – use a PC, a mobile phone, internet and countless other things, Americans invented or contributed to.
The United States are also dominant when it comes to culture and lifestyle: From cinema and TV, from Coca Cola to jeans. Particularly the cultural influence is something that encounters resentment, especially so in Europe, where there is often a tendency of cultural arrogance. But the cultural American dominance is not based on tanks and rockets. People watch American movies because American comedies are in general more funny and American thrillers are more exciting. No one is forced to watch the Simpsons on television or order Coca Cola in a restaurant. People do it because they like it, even many of those, who are convinced they hate America.
So is America perfect? Of course not, no country is. America has it´s faults, it´s weaknesses, American histories has it´s stains and American politicians make mistakes. But even if one magnifies every sin that the United States have committed in the last hundred years and compare them to what other powerful empires, with the capability to significantly influence the world, in the same period have done – compared to the horrific crimes Germans and Austrians committed in the Third Reich, or to the millions who were murdered in Russia and China, every American wrongdoing pales.
In fact, among the most important strengths of America are it´s weaknesses, or to be more precise, it´s ability to deal with weaknesses, to openly discuss and reflect about it´s problems. Already the American founding fathers realized that people, even the best of them, are not perfect and are fallible, and therefore they established a sophisticated political system, based on separation of powers and checks and balances, and freedom of speech and freedom of press.
The ability of self criticism, the ability to assess problems objectively, even if it means taking an unpleasant look in the own mirror, is one of the most important driving forces for progress. Societies who have this ability of self criticism thrive, those who don´t will ultimately fail. And it´s one of the most decisive differences between America and other societies, where religion, ideology or the ruling regime are not dared to be questioned. Most striking this difference separates America from the Islamic world. As one who got to know the Islamic world quite well, one of the most notably things, that one can notice in the Islamic world, is the omnipresence of conspiracy theories, pinning the blame for everything on everyone else, but their own culture, society or religion. That´s one of the main causes, why the so called Arab spring will likely turn into an Islamic winter and not like the American Revolution to an onset for a better, more enlightened society.
In America those who criticize their government and country, like for example Michael Moore, can become celebrated millionairs. And about every historic to current problem in American society, from slavery to social injustice, Hollywood will make movies and books will be written. People who hate America will look at these movies and read these books and claim with self-righteousness that they are proof for the evil and failure of America. But the fact that they are written in America by Americans is a sign of strength, of a healthy society. Whereas those who hate America and blame if for every problem there is, are not able to make the honest look in the mirror for themselves.
Actually Antiamericanism – about which I hope to write in more detail in the near future – has much to do with people´s inability of self critism, often in conjunction with hidden inferiority complexes, that seek for an easy explanation, why America is a superpower, and their countries are not. And of course Antiamericanism is fueled and propagated by authoritarian regimes and totalitarian ideologies challenged by America and it´s ideals.
One of the great things about America, why I love and others hate it, is that America is more than a nation. America at it´s core is an idea. The idea of individual freedom and opportunity – which is deeply enshrined in it´s DNA – it´s founding documents. The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights and other writings of the founding fathers are such timeless documents, that reading them today, after more than 200 years is still inspiring – yet also a bit depressing , considering what mad ideologies people have fallen for, long after these great documents were published. And that in the 21th century, when more people than ever all over the world have access to technology to inform themselves, many of them still follow blindly ideologies, that are lightyears away from the enlightened, rational, humanist thinking of someone like Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin.
Despite all the adversaries and obstacles, the dream of the American founding fathers “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness” has spread far beyond the borders of the United States. That´s why I have the privilege to live in a country and on a continent, that although many people won´t recognize it or be grateful for, is enormously influenced by America – for the better.
As much as I love America, I would wish to say that today in the 21th century, in the year 2012, for the rest of the world, America wouldn´t be needed anymore. That America has fought it´s battles, won over Fascism and Communism, killed Bin Laden, and left the rest of the world with Google and Wikipedia, so that everyone could make informed decisions. And now it´s time that America could retire as the world super power, look soley after itself, like Switzerland has done so comfortably for centuries (and like Republican candidate Ron Paul apparently proposes).
But I´m afraid that America will have to carry the burden of being the world super power for much longer. Also in 2012 and the years to come, the threats and challenges will remain paramount – Islamic Jihadism will continue to be a permanent threat, the Arabic spring will likely turn into a long and harsh Islamic winter. Not to mention, the Iranian psychopathic end time regime likely to get the atomic bomb, and Pakistan and North Korea already in possession of nuclear weapons.
And there is no other power in sight, that could handle these challenges responsibly. The UN is an organization, where the mayority of countries are still far away form being real democraties under the rule of law, with a UN General Assembly that officialy mourns the death of Kim Yong Il, and countries like Sudan and Saudi Arabia elected in the Human Rights Council. Russia andChina– no comment necessary. And the European Union – no united foreign policy in sight and militarily largely impotent, not to mention currently crippled by the Euro crisis.
So also in the 21th century, much like during the Cold War, and now with regimes and organizations living ideologically in the very dark ages, getting the technology and weapons of the future, the United Sates will have to carry on the burden of being the leader of the free world. And it won´t be an easy or a grateful task, but if anyone can do it, it´s the United States.
And I´m thankful.
(im Orginal auf meinen Zweitblog austroamericanfriendship.wordpress.com veröffentlicht)