Sean LaFreniere is another blogger with a history background. He’s done some yeoman work compiling a list of donations from foreign countries toward hurricane relief in the U.S. His post previous to that, putting the nature of hurricane damage in perspective, also is well worth a read.
Aid offered by foreign nations at a time like this is priceless. The sight of a convoy of Mexican marines driving into Texas to aid refugees was just thrilling, and I was pleased to see some of my favorite allies, like Singapore and the Netherlands, on the list of countries aiding Americans. I was sorry that the U.S. rejected aid from enemies, like Cuba. It would have done us a world of good to accept it. The more Cubans who get to interact with real Americans, and see the country up close, the more will be intellectually immunized against the worst Castro propaganda. Just remember how you felt when U.S. medical teams went to aid earthquake victims in Iran in 2003.
Some of this aid, like the Mexican troops and the Canadian warships, will be genuinely helpful to survivors of the storm. Others is of dubious value, as material aid, but the psychological boost to both sides is tremendous.
Through a series of unfortunate historical events, the United States stands as the sole superpower. Militarily, we’re a linebacker among schoolchildren. American power can look so intimidating to the rest of the world that it is resented — irrationally — simply for being. People who find protection and prosperity in the shelter of an America that keeps the wolves at bay around the globe will cheer on the Islamists when they strike a blow at us. They will tell their polsters that the United States is the greatest threat to world peace. They will compare us endlessly to the monstrous popular-patriotic regimes of history, especially Nazi Germany. They regard America as almost God-like in its invulnerability, and they develop a root-for-the-underdog identification with any people or group they felt as a victim of U.S. power.
Underyling all this, I think, is a presumption in international circles that the U.S. can never truly be hurt, and that it ought to be strapped down, like Gulliver, to keep it from hurting others. Thus the difficulty I, and many others, have with international institutions whose sole purpose seems to be leveling the playing field between America and its foes by handicapping the former.
The world reaction to Sept. 11 broke through that, briefly, and resentment of America turned to sympathy. But only for so long as we were seen as down and hurt. Once we got up, washed off the blood, and went to work, the old fear and resentment returned. The world had come to eulogize us, and fled in disappointment when the corpse got up and walked.
This hurricane disaster is different. Our people suffer and there is no enemy to blame. There’s no geopolitical component, unless you buy the nonsense put forth by certain German politicians that America “deserved” the hurricane because it didn’t sign Kyoto, or the Islamist line that this is God’s punishment on the infidels who soiled the sand of the holy peninsula with their boots.
It’s an amazing feeling to discover you can help what you had presumed was superhuman. It’s “empowering,” to use the wretched modern word, to awaken from the notion that your little homeland is powerless, and to learn it truly is needed after all. I wouldn’t deny that to anyone. To feel needed is one of the richest human feelings. I wouldn’t deny the Mexican people their pride in giving America a hand up when nature knocked it down.
Because this is good for us, too. Good because having once made common cause with Americans, the people of the world will get in the habit of thinking of us not as ignorant monsters bent on world domination. It’s the anti-Americans of the world who have been obsessed with American exceptionalism. Without realizing it, they’ve turned their straw man into their main argument. And it ends up destroying the rest of the world for the sake of America:
“The war in Iraq is bad because it was unilateral and pre-emptive, and because it was begun under false pretenses. Therefore, if reconstruction of Iraq succeeds, and the country emerges as a stable and flourishing democracy, all those poisons at the root of the war will be justified and encouraged. America will be justified and encouraged. It is more important that the Iraq poject fail — and be seen clearly to fail — because if it does, morality and justice will prevail again, America will be discouraged and shamed, and the world will be restored to its right order.”
All that matters is teaching America a lesson, influencing the outcome of the next election in the States, and containing the “evil” neocons. Average Iraqis? Not even a blip on the radar screen of that crusade. The future of Europe or India America be defeated by Islamists in the Middle East? Nobody gave that a thought.
The hurricane aid can help break the spell of that stupidity. It helps our souls, too. Americans who think in patriotic terms often lament the world’s ingratitude for American aid, and how infrequently that help is reciprocated. We cherish non-Americans like Gordon Sinclair for taking notice of this, too, for confirming our view of ourselves as “the most generous and possibly the least-appreciated people in all the earth.”
I think some people enjoy wallowing in that bitterness. But a great many more of us, I hope, will be glad to learn it is not always so.