Through the East Asian Lens: USA
by Kim Petersen
April 22, 2003
The lyrics were recognizable as being Korean but then the song became understandable as the chorus burst forth in punk staccato: “Fucking U.S.A.” It was the title refrain from a hitherto obscure Korean singer Yoon Min Suk that has struck a cord recently with young Korean music fans. The Korean high school students, many clad in US-designer labels, reveled to the beat. Kwon Hyuk Hwan, 17, was particularly forthcoming: “I hate fucking Bush. US must get out of Korea.” Kim Myung Su, 16, said: “Korean people don’t like Bush.” Many might be quick to label this as anti-Americanism.
Yet this was not an ignorant manifestation of hatred. The students cited objections to the US invasion of Iraq, the US’s belligerent posture toward their North Korean kinsfolk, and the grating presence of US bases in South Korea. Nonetheless, Shin Seung Chul, 14, considered: “I think Mr. Bush is a bad man but USA people are kind.”
Granted, on the surface there seems to be an element of anti-Bushism. But the Korean students’ grievances were legitimately expressed and should not be dismissed simply as anti-Americanism. The term anti-Americanism is a bugaboo. Famed US academic Noam Chomsky compellingly pointed this out:
How about preventing the rise of anti-Americanism? What is "anti-Americanism"? If it is opposition to murderous and destructive US policies, should we prevent its rise? Or should we deal with the reasons -- which means departing from the advice? If we want to understand the sources of what is mislabeled "anti-Americanism" -- that is, opposition to specific US policies -- should we follow the advice and refuse to investigate the topic, inquiring into those policies and what they led to? That is the advice we are being given. Surely it doesn't make sense, as soon as it is spelled out. (1)
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. Suppose someone in Italy who criticizes Italian state policy were condemned as "anti-Italian." It would be regarded as too ridiculous even to merit laughter. Maybe under Mussolini, but surely not otherwise. (2)
Japanese seem of a similar view to the Koreans. Masahiro Oyama, a 32-year-old businessman in Osaka opined: “I think US is too crazy to understand any more. So do most Japanese, I believe. We know it was mainly caused by Bush and the people who are something to do with him.” Mr. Oyama said that Japanese TV had provided “rather excessive information about the war” and that therefore people had the opportunity to be well informed about the reasons why the US attacked Iraq although he cautioned “information is sometimes dangerous, so we have to know better than to believe all of it. We are just against WAR! We need peace!”
Suzzan, an expatriate Americanized Japanese running a scuba-diving business in Beijing said: “I don't like Bush, never did (Senior or Junior), and I think it's a shame that Japan will never say no whenever USA needs help with whatever.”
The assessment pervaded also among the Chinese. Zhu Xiao Hui, 25, an elementary school teacher thought “that everyone hates the USA now.” She expressed the view that the US has arbitrarily designated itself up as the “world’s policeman” albeit historically “many wars were made by America.”
The scholarly, retired professor Han Dong Wu spoke eloquently on the US. He likened the US in the world metaphorically as a big fish preying upon smaller fish.
“Because we are all human beings and we all live on the same planet, we should live as a community in a global village, a community of equals. Different languages, different cultures, and different skin color is unimportant. We should have the morals to think about each other and help each other as if one big family.”
“Moral norms eschew selfishness for altruism.”
“But this common concept once shared by the East and West has diverged. Norman Bethune came to China in the past to help in the spirit of common humanity. Now a spirit of egoism has emerged.”
“The US is hypocritical. For example, the US supposedly attacked Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people but everyone knows that oil and control of the Middle East was the actual motive. Superficially the US defeated Iraq but in the Middle East the US has sown deep seeds of hate.”
“Military against military, of course the US will win but in the battle of hearts the US will lose. That is where the final victory will be.”
Mr. Han continued: “It is important to separate the US government from the US people. The US is a unique superpower but it is not a moral superpower.”
The US doesn’t act of altruism. It is unabashedly driven by the “national interest.” Mr. Chomsky explained that Adam “Smith's concern was ‘the wealth of nations,’ but he understood that the ‘national interest’ is largely a delusion within the ‘nation’ there are sharply conflicting interests, and to understand policy and its effects we have to ask where power lies and how it is exercised, what later came to be called class analysis.” (3)
Mr. Han invoked the hapless figure of Ah Q from classical Chinese literature. Ah Q was a selfish peasant who projected his own lunacy and foolhardiness onto the other villagers. (4) The US views itself as a beacon on the hill, a paragon for other nations to emulate. Nations that deviate too far from the American paradigm open themselves to attack. Mr. Han asks: “In this day and age where the world is developing and people are better educated, what kind of civilization would resort to the evil of war to attain its national interest?”
Kim Petersen is an English teacher living in China. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) Noam Chomsky, “Chomsky replies about Avoiding American Crimes: A post from the ZNet Forum System,” ZNet, 12 September 2002: http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=11&ItemID=2326
(2) Noam Chomsky interviewed by Jacklyn Martin, “Is Chomsky 'anti-American'? It Matters” The Herald (Arkansas State U.), 5 December 2002: http://world.roshangari.com/Is_Chomsky.htm
(3) Noam Chomsky, Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order, (Seven Stories, 1999).
(4) Lu Xun, The True Story of Ah Q, (Foreign Languages Press, 2000).