Saturday, June 20, 2009

Why the World Hates America (Part 1)

Whether or not Americans choose to admit it, anti-Americanism is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. Terrorism, diplomatic debacles, and international conflict frequently stem from a distaste for America and its actions. I stress this last point because too many Americans believe that the Muslim world and other anti-American regions hate us “because of our freedom” (this was especially prevalent during the intense jingoism that the nation experienced after September 11th).

Instead, this seven-part series will show you that the world has several legitimate reasons to dislike the United States. I will start at the end of World War II and progress chronologically to the present day, detailing the most anger-inspiring events in American foreign policy. After this series, I’ll flip my thesis on its head and list the reasons why the world should love America—in the end, proving that both sides (blind patriotism and virulent hatred) are wrong. We have to accept that the United States has made incredible foreign policy mistakes, but it has a strong résumé of international aid and altruism.

The main issues I will look at are:

  1. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  2. Operation Ajax: The 1953 Iranian Coup d'état
  3. Support for rebellions throughout the Cold War
  4. Shifting alliances in the Middle East
  5. Unflinching support of Israel
  6. The War in Iraq
  7. American Exceptionalism and its two-faced foreign policy

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Every student of American history experiences a similar feeling. At some point, one will come across an event that makes you stop and ask, “America did this?” For some, it is slavery; others cannot comprehend the treatment of Native Americans; for me, it was the use of the atomic bomb on Japan. A simple perusal of the statistics* is enough to sober the minds of anyone:

The Hiroshima bombing:
  • 70,000 people died in the initial blast
  • The five-year death toll was 200,000, due to cancer and other effects

The Nagasaki bombing:
· 40,000 people died in the initial blast
· The five-year death toll was close to 140,000

These attacks led Japan to be one of the staunchest anti-proliferation nations in the world. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been argued ceaselessly over the past sixty year—did President Truman make the right decision? Was it American terrorism? Doesn’t this make the United States hypocritical when it argues about other nations’ war crimes?

Why did Truman drop the bombs?

By the summer of 1945, the United States and Japan were in the climactic ending of the Pacific War. It was widely thought that America’s victory was inevitable, but the Japanese refused to surrender. The United States was dedicatedly firebombing Japanese cities, but it did little to weaken the resolve of Emperor Hirohito. Anxious to end the war, Truman and his Interim Committee had to choose between two options: dropping the bombs or ordering a full-scale invasion of the Japanese mainland (named Operation Downfall).

Operation Downfall was an immense military operation to rival Operation Overlord (the Normandy landings on D-Day a year earlier). It was widely accepted that the invasion would ultimately be successful, but not without hundreds of thousands of U.S. casualties, as well as millions of Japanese killed. It would have been a strategic and political nightmare for the military and the Truman administration.

The nuclear option, on the other hand, involved no U.S. casualties and would be quicker to achieve and easier to implement than an invasion. Truman believed that the atomic bombs, however horrific, would ultimately save lives and end the war quickly.

Was this part of modern warfare or state terrorism?

The word terrorism was not part of the national vernacular in 1945, but the principal of keeping war between combatant armies and not civilians has been part of warfare for centuries. While some civilian casualties are inevitable in war (particularly in World War II and the extensive air raids on all sides), this was a direct attack on a civilian populace used to intimidate the Japanese government into surrendering. The United Nations Security Council defines terrorism as:

…criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act…” (Security Council Resolution 1566)

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki seems to meet these criteria. However pure Truman’s intentions (to save lives, etc.), one cannot deny the horror of these attacks. Much like most of the events in this series, the United States seems to act with good intentions, but its application of foreign policy often leaves one sobered about America's image abroad.

For more information

The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb,by Gar Alperovitz
Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan,
by J. Samuel Walker
Hiroshima,by John Hersey

*Provided by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of History and Heritage Resources.