Why Foreigners Hate Americans and Who the Terrorists Really Are

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We’re cut off from the financial news…and happy for it. We’re taking a mini-vacation this weekend.

The book by Mr Coleman that we quoted last week made us realise how much foreigners hate Americans. Or, at least it made us wonder about it…

Why should they hate Americans? It’s probably more complex than that… they probably hate, love, envy and despise Americans all at the same time. America is the cop on the beat…walking all over the globe with a very big stick in his hand. The United States spends almost as much on its military as all other nations combined. And it spends an unknown sum on its secret services…for unknown services. That’s just what an empire does.

Some people are pleased to see the United States policing the world; they wish it would do more. Others don’t appreciate America’s protection services.

It is all very natural and normal. The imperial power has certain prerogatives, responsibilities and pretensions; it’s bound to stir up resentment in certain quarters. It is also bound to do what empires do.

Temptation is irresistible at all levels – to organised nations…as well as to individuals. To the question – “when will a person do something to excess?” – comes the ready answer: as soon as he thinks he can get away with it. When too much credit is offered a man, with no apparent punishment forthcoming, he will avail himself of it. And when a nation finds it can throw its weight around – it will do so. We know of no counter-examples. Egypt, Greece, Rome, Persia, the Mongols, the Chinese, the French, the British, the Germans, the Japanese…and now the Americans. Give a nation big guns and big battalions…and the temptation to use them is irresistible. Naturally, those that are being bossed around don’t like it very much. Eventually, they get even.

(And that, dear reader, is the subject of a new book by your editor, co-authored with colleague Lila Rajiva. Why do crowds of people go nuts…and do crazy things? No one ever bothered to explain it – until now! Coming soon…to bookstores near you.)

But every episode of imperial history has its nuances. The thought crossed our mind yesterday as we were making our way through Stansted Airport. The lines were shorter, and the capos were politer, but it was almost as bad as going through an American airport. They’d installed a machine we had never seen before – an X-ray machine just for shoes. So, after going through security, our shoes had to go through a security of their own. From the tiniest pair of toddler shoes to the clunkiest “goth” butt kickers, everyone’s shoes went through the machines.

How many people have actually been harmed by a pair of shoes, we wondered?

How many people have actually been killed by airborne terrorists? How many have been killed by terrorists at all? On our flight to Dublin we saw not a single person who looked like he wanted to blow up the plane. Since the most spectacular terrorist incident in history, terrorists have led a fairly quiet life – at least in the West. Britain has seen the most activity; the typical terrorist, we now know, holds a UK passport and works as a doctor for the National Health Service! What we also know is that everything we were told about terrorists was a lie.

They are not desperately poor people. They are not uneducated. They are not without opportunities in the secular world. They are not even very religious. According to the report on 9/11, some of the terrorists entertained themselves before the attack by going to a lap-dance bar.

Importantly, they are not very many. And they are not very competent. If they plant a bomb somewhere, odds are fairly good that it won’t go off. If they concoct a shoe-bomb…it won’t even blow off their foot. It is as if they were pretending to be terrorists…playing the part, rather than actually causing much havoc.

Of course, there are a few well-known exceptions. The London subway…the Madrid commuter train…the Twin Towers. But if the worldwide terrorist threat were really what it is made out to be, it is surprising there are so few serious incidents.

Maybe we’re missing something. But it would seem to be such an easy thing to derail a crowded train…to set off a smoke bomb in a crowded subway…to hijack a big bus and drive it into a crowded market? Even to stampede a crowd and kill dozens – it could be done without weapons. Terrorists so far have displayed a remarkable lack of initiative or imagination. They are supposed to be killing people. But, so far, more people are killed by accident than terrorists.

In WWII, before the D-Day landings, a handful of commandos and resistors were able to interrupt almost all German train transport towards Normandy. On the Eastern front, meanwhile, partisans were able to cause so much trouble that whole armies had to be diverted to combat them. A determined foe can always cause a lot of trouble, especially in a civil society.

What’s wrong with these terrorists? We don’t know. As near as we can tell, they’re the most dangerous enemy that doesn’t really threaten us. But billions of dollars and countless hours are spent trying to protect us from them.

Why?

We don’t know…but it is sometimes amusing to go through airport checkpoints and see someone who hasn’t been watching the news. Occasionally, someone makes it to the airport directly from the backwoods. He is so naïve that he thinks it is still a free country. He is flabbergasted when the petty tyrants start barking orders at him – “get in line…take off your belt…have your IDs ready”. He is silly enough to think he should treated like a customer rather than a criminal. He’s amazed that he has to take off his clothes off. “Remove your jacket, belt and shoes…do you have a laptop?” He is outraged when they take away his toothpaste…and beside himself when the guard gives him the once-over with his rubber-gloved hands. The poor hick! But he’ll get used to taking orders. Give him time.

Bill Bonner
The Daily Reckoning Australia

Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

Best-selling investment author Bill Bonner is the founder and president of Agora Publishing, one of the world's most successful consumer newsletter companies. Owner of both Fleet Street Publications and MoneyWeek magazine in the UK, he is also author of the free daily e-mail The Daily Reckoning.
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Comments

  1. Alfred Hitchcock said:”There is no terror in a bang,only in the anticipation of it.”

    Reply
  2. Why do foreigners hate Americans?
    Perhaps the title says it all.

    Gregg Warren
    July 17, 2007
    Reply
  3. Dear Bill Bonner.

    Good column on the reaction to terrorists.

    You observations are acute, and are in accord with research on societal risk perception.

    Think on this: People in developed countries are fearful of wild animals, or nuclear power stations, and have little fear of power lawn mowers or back yard swimming pools. Yet, objectively they are much more likely to be injured by their lawn mower or have their nearest and dearest drown in the home swimming pool. Their chances of being mauled by a tiger or being a victim of another Chernobyl are zero for all practical purposes.

    The most significant work on this topic has been done by Slovic. His data are based on American and western European population samples, but his results hold well in other developed countries, and there is reason to believe that something the same holds universally, albeit with different threats.

    Slovic’s research shows that risk perception is two dimensional. One axis might be called benign through to dreaded to the extreme. Benign needs no explanation, things classed as dread involve actual or possible large loss of life, and take the innocent and helpless along with responsible adults.

    The other dimension goes from familiar to strange. The home swimming pool is familiar., whereas an unusual high tech medical treatment, or an exotic carnivore would be rated strange.

    Slovic’s work shows that people discount the dangers of familiar things that bring them benefits (power lawnmower) while they wildly exaggerate the dangers of things that are weird and unfamiliar, but just could have catastrophic affects, such as atomic power plants.

    By this model, an Islamic terrorist in the UK would be much more feared than IRA terrorists were some years back.

    Statistically, as a percentage of annual death and injury statistics both threats are trivial. However, the public perception is not silly: both the Islamists and the IRA are symptomatic of larger anxieties about the state of UK society and, in the case of the Islamists, the world in general. These anxieties are well founded.

    In both cases, the political response to the Islamists and the IRA mirrors and amplifies public fears. In the case of the USA at present, it is clear that the Islamist threat is being used after the style of demagogues throughout the ages. Rhetoric about “the enemy”and the “war on terror” (how did the “war on drugs”and the “war on poverty” fare in the USA and elsewhere?) subverts rational analysis of the situation.

    With respect to other comments in the latest Dailyreckoning, for many of us the concern is not that the USA is acting the way empires have always done, but that the USA is acting in ways that empires do when they run amuck, as they have done from time to time in history. The unique and alarming situation is that the USA is running amuck with greater power of destruction by many orders than any former state in history.

    As for as being surprised that the Islamic terrorists attacking the West are middle class, I am surprised that you are surprised. Any reading of the history of the major revolutions in France, America, Russia and China shows that the revolutionary leaders have all been middle class. The same holds for smaller revolutions in the modern era: the revolutions throughout Europe in 1848, revolutions against Spain in South and Central America.The list goes on.. Marx, and a host of later commentators have pointed out that the middle class is the revolutionary class. Analysis of political events in terms of social class is out of fashion these days, but very recent events seem to have concentrated minds.

    Could lead to some interesting discussions about the critical role of alienated members of the middle classes. Right now in the west, middle class people are being proletarianised at a high rate ( as Karl Marx predicted), and if there is an economic slump there will be millions of such people created. They could make the Islamists look like pussy cats.

    cheers

    B.K.

    Reply
  4. You ask how much the USA spends on its secret services. In 2005, newspapers reported that Mary Margaret Graham, deputy director of national intelligence for collection, let slip that the budget was $44 billion. Mrs. Graham made headlines when she inadvertently disclosed the size of the national intelligence budget during a speech in San Antonio, TX on October 31, 2005 according to US News & World Report.

    You can make a lot of trouble and a lot of enemies with 44 billion. One of the reasons the USA annoys people so much is the huge gap between what they claim to do and represent in the field of press freedom democracy and human rights and what they actually do. The internet is largely responsible for the gaffe being so thoroughly blown in recent years. They will either have to suppress free debate on the internet or revise their copy.

    Best wishes

    RH

    Reply
  5. Oh please. I see the same tired arguments being thrown around, such as the CIA, etc. As if other governments haven’t done the same things (at a more limited scale). Want to know why the “world hates americans” It’s an easy scapegoat for one, two, they are hypocrites, and three….they can’t stand that american’s just don’t give a #### what everyone else thinks.

    Reply
  6. Why Americans have fallen from grace (You said hated)

    When I was a lad (before you were born) Australians used to idolise America and their creative can-do about everything attitude. We used to dream about having colour photos and movies and “clear the way for another freeway” attitude. Everything that came out of America was bigger, better and easier to use than anywhere else in the world. America was the country to copy and the place where you got the latest and best of everything. American achievements were used all the time here as models to push forward our progress.

    Then the government grew strong and wealthy on the success of the great American production machine. It became so strong and wealthy that it decided that it was the power not the factories and producers of the wealth. Then the American people in their comfort of the wealth that they had created forgot to notice that the government was growing faster than the industries and wealth building companies and was also slowly undermining the very constitution on which the wealth and freedom to create that wealth was based.

    As the freedoms were slowly and gradually removed for all the “best” reasons the American people lost their leadership in superior creative endeavour and traded goods and services to be replaced by a government policy on what America should do in the world. And thus a political machine was created. Not of the people, not by the people and certainly not for the people. But of a government who changed the purpose of the entire country from a productive free trading nation idolised and welcome in the world to a manipulating, meddling, political monster.

    At this very moment your constitution lies in tatters from a one man tyranny. Your freedoms are gone and your harassment in your daily endeavours are so distracting that being in business is the least fun you can have with a crowd. Regulations make building almost impossible and delays endless. Health, safety, insurance and legal threats a nightmare to any operation. Government gone mad. Internally and externally.

    The funny part of it is “Non government Americans” are truly great and lovely people. I have met many of them and this is so sad because their rulers have let them down dreadfully. (And they have been very lax in letting this happen)

    If the good guys that are left do not get busy and rip out the rot at the top and the infection in the middle and re-install the constitution as it was written and intended the entire country will soon self-destruct quicker than an Impossible Mission tape.

    God bless America,
    Merv

    Reply
  7. […] Daily Reckoning – Why Foreigners Hate Americans and Who the Terrorists Really Are. Reminiscent of Bruce Schneier’s “Portrait of the Modern Terrorist as an […]

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