First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Anti-Americanism in Korea; Bush and the NAACP
It's easy sometimes to see the whole world through a single lens.
For instance, anti-Americanism. Of course it plays a role in our current relationship with France and Germany. But the anti-Americanism that swept the current German government into its tenuous hold on power is not the same anti-Americanism that Chirac both feels and exploits in creating the foreign policy of the French.
And neither of them has anything to do with the anti-Americanism that arises so virulently in the Middle East that it seems ordinary Muslim civilians rejoice when Americans are killed.
Anti-Americanism has different roots in all those places, and leads to different effects. In Germany, probably a passing fad; in France, an ingrained national policy born of De Gaulle's personal but justified resentment of Franklin Roosevelt's treatment of his Free French movement.
In Arab countries, despite the fact that anti-Americanism is drummed into everyone's heads by their media and press and in many a religious school, there is also a strong current of unvoiced hope; for every Arab who loudly opposed the American invasion, occupation, and oppression of Iraq, there was probably a much quieter Arab who wished that America would come and liberate his country.
The resentment and fury toward America can be real. But it is not identical in every place where it surfaces, and it does not necessarily last, and in some cases it can be overcome.
Take South Korea. I, for one, was stunned when young people in the South demonstrated against any kind of American intervention in North Korea. How could anti-Americanism take root in Korean soil when the blood of American soldiers had been shed to keep them free?
In other words, it looked just like the kind of anti-Americanism we see in France.
But it isn't.
I sat at dinner tonight with a retired diplomat who has been closely involved with world-changing events in China, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, among many others. He told us of his own embarrassment when, visiting Korea recently, he started telling South Koreans some of the jokes that he heard the Chinese in Beijing telling about North Koreans.
He assumed (as I would have) that such jokes would be welcome in the South.
But they were met with stony silence. He soon realized that to South Koreans, it's never funny to hear of Chinese making fun of any Korean. Koreans are keenly aware of their history of oppression by one neighbor or another. They feel the pain of being a nation that has been despised by China, Russia, and Japan.
To them, the border between the two Koreas is a border between the lucky South, where prosperity and freedom have gradually but finally arrived, and the unlucky North, where their fellow Koreans still groan under an incompetent and largely insane tyranny. They know that this border will not last.
When they think about the nuclear weapons in North Korea, they are not disturbed. They know that those nukes (if they exist) will be aimed at Japan. And when the two Koreas are ultimately united, then those nukes will belong to all Koreans.
After all, South Korea once tried to develop nuclear weapons of their own, and America stopped them. So they rather enjoy the fact that there are Koreans -- north of the line though they may be -- who thumbed their nose at the Uncle who wouldn't let them take their equal place on the world stage.
What we see in South Korea is not "anti-Americanism," really. It's Korean patriotism. And it's a gross mistake if we try to suppress it.
The South Korean people don't want America to go to war with North Korea over a nuclear weapon that the South Koreans fully expect someday to own (irrational as that hope might seem).
At the same time, they also don't want American troops to go home; they know perfectly well that they don't want to live under the tyranny "enjoyed" by their fellowcitizens to the north.
They resent what seems to them to be American high-handedness -- an American soldier whose tank killed two Korean schoolgirls, for instance, a dreadful accident (in the American view) deserving of an administrative reprimand, a terrible crime (in the Korean view) deserving of a real response, a sign that America regards the deaths of two Korean children as something that matters.
We handled that one so badly that the verdict influenced Korean elections. And then we wonder why South Koreans, of all people, should have anti-American demonstrations.
But the anti-Americanism we see in South Korea is not the same as that in other countries, and needs to be healed in completely different ways. Nor should we think, as American citizens, that South Korea is just another nation of America-hating ingrates.
Koreans have not forgotten the good that America has done there, or the sacrifices Americans have made for them.
But they also see what we do not -- the many insensitivities and avoidable offenses that show an American lack of respect for a proud people who are ready for -- and deserving of -- treatment as a nation that matters in the world.
Speaking of people who matter, and dumb mistakes in dealing with them, it is hard to believe that President Bush declined the invitation of the NAACP to speak at its annual convention.
It's easy enough to understand why. In the year 2000, Democratic leaders were keenly aware that George W. Bush was the most dangerous candidate they had ever faced, as far as black voters were concerned. He had proven in Texas that he could win support from and make inroads into the black vote.
So, facing the only Republican in years who seemed likely to undo the GOP's marriage with racism, black Democratic leaders -- especially the NAACP -- conducted a campaign of hate, fear, and slander against him. The rhetoric in black political gatherings throughout America was so vicious that the national media kept most of it under wraps.
Of course President Bush heard of it, and it had to hurt. He didn't deserve it; quite the opposite. He was the Republican least worthy of such invective.
But that was four years ago. Black Americans have now lived under three and a half years in which George W. Bush had the White House and a year and a half in which his party controlled both houses of Congress, and none of the outrageous predictions of the Democrats have come true. Jim Crow laws have not been reinstated. Slavery has not been reintroduced. None of the closer-to-sanity predictions have come true either.
And the black community is not particularly excited about Kerry or the Democratic Party.
Significant numbers of American blacks are not exactly thrilled by the idea of gay marriage, for instance, and resent comparisons between such an outrageous change in family law and the civil rights movement.
Many American blacks regard the war on terror as a higher priority than any partisan squabbling and worry that Kerry would not be effective in defeating terrorism.
There are more American blacks in the middle class than ever before, and many of them are amenable to the Republican position on taxes.
And so on. In other words, this is a moment of historic opportunity for President Bush and the Republican Party. Even though polls show that blacks overwhelmingly want "anybody but Bush," this is not as deep a commitment as Democrats wish. Bold action by President Bush -- going into the lions' den, if that's how he wishes to see it -- might be transformational.
Bush could do the equivalent of Reagan in Berlin saying, "Tear down this wall." He could go to blacks and say, There are issues we disagree on, but there's one we can agree on. Terrorists don't care about black and white, they just want to kill Americans. I stand for the principle that we must attack terrorism at the root, and eliminate this scourge not just from our country but from the world. What will you gain from voting for my opponent, who has spent his career trying to weaken American defense capabilities?
In the meantime, Bush might say, I also think Republican economic policies will benefit African-Americans far more than any of the policies of the Democratic Party.
In other words, he could go to blacks the way he might go to any other group of Americans and offer what he has to offer.
Of course he won't win them over en masse. Of course many of the very people who are now inviting him will continue to vilify and slander him. They can't say anything worse about him than was said about Abraham Lincoln, though. That should provide him with some comfort.
And the very fact of showing up, especially after the venomous attacks that have been made on Bush, will show that Bush cares about black citizens.
I think some foolish adviser might have said to him, If you go and talk to them, you only legitimize the NAACP, which is on its last legs as a representative of black Americans.
Here's better advice, Mr. President: Whatever the NAACP may be today, it is still the greatest organization in the history of the civil rights movement, and if you snub the NAACP, all African-Americans feel snubbed. Treat the NAACP with respect -- whether the current leadership deserves it or not -- and it will be taken by ordinary black citizens, correctly, as a sign that you value them, not the NAACP itself.
Revise your schedule, President Bush. Go to the NAACP convention. Let them slam you all they want. Let them treat you badly. Show that you can take it.
Show that you think that the chance to speak to African-Americans is so important to you that you'll overlook the vicious rhetoric of their leaders.
That's the kind of leader that you wanted to be in the first place, isn't it? That's the kind of leader you were as governor of Texas, wasn't it?
It's in the handbook you rested your hand on when you swore your oath of office, Mr. President:
Love your enemies. Do good to them that despitefully use you. Turn the other cheek.
It's not too late to undo this blunder.
And the adviser who told you you shouldn't go? Fire him. He doesn't understand America, he doesn't understand American blacks, and he doesn't understand George W. Bush.
Copyright © 2004 by Orson Scott Card.
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