By Chet Yarbrough
Notes on a Foreign Country (An American Abroad in a Post-American World)
By: Suzy Hansen
Narrated by Kirsten Potter
In her thirties, Suzy Hansen chooses to relocate to Turkey, in part because of a writing assignment but also as a life changing experience.
Hansen’s view of the world is disappointing in that it represents a population cohort positioned to inherit America’s future. Hansen reports facts with a journalist’s interpretation of other’s perception of American foreign policy without history’s context.
To an older generation, Hansen’s facts denigrate the realpolitik of life in the presence of its time.
In many respects, Hansen’s view of America’s moral failure is spot on, but no country is without sin. Without intending to deny the ugly consequence of President Truman’s decision to drop the bomb, or America’s intent to widen its sphere of influence, Hansen ignores some important facts.
America’s experience in WWII left little doubt to most Americans that the Japanese would fight to the end, even in defeat. Over 41,000 Americans were killed and 145,000 injured in Pacific conflicts. Japanese culture demanded fealty to an emperor to the point of suicide in the face of defeat.
As horrendous as the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, it ended war with Japan in less than a week. How many more would have died in a continuing battle? This does not diminish the horror of nuclear war, but its reality defied 20th century’s imagination.
After the war, Japan, Greece, and Turkey, let alone Europe, were in dire straits. The Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plans were created to rebuild much of what was destroyed in the war. There is no question American capitalism profited by its investment in these countries. However, no other country had the untapped wealth that capitalism created in America. What nation could take on reconstruction without American capitalist success?
America did take advantage of its wealth by imposing democratic ideals on foreign countries. However, mistakes Hansen notes in her book are more a function of cultural ignorance and capitalist fervor than evil intent.
Hansen fails to mention the power grab by Stalinist Russia as a major factor in creating an American counter force to Stalinist acquisitiveness. The Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan created a shield against Stalinism.
Kennan’s Russian containment policy set the table for the eventual dismantling of the U.S.S.R.
America continues to make mistakes in other countries for many of the same capitalist reasons they did after the war. America supports some of the most immoral autocrats of the world because they control their countries. American support of despots is based on America’s perceived self-interest. As with any foreign country’s foreign policy decisions, self-interest can be a mistake recognized only in history. One must acknowledge “self-interest” pervades all human beings, let alone independent nations.
Only with more investment in understanding other cultures, in the way that George Kennan understood the U.S.S.R., can good foreign policies be formulated.
The reality is–many mistakes are based on cultural ignorance.
Hansen presumes America is in decline. America is not in decline, but other countries are advancing, and America is becoming an equal, not a hegemon. The lesson America must re-learn is the importance of sovereignty and culture difference. There should be no more Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan invasions. This is not to argue isolationism which seems implied by Hansen’s stories. America must use its financial strength to influence other nations to become better stewards of their citizens, whether through democratic ideals or their chosen form of governance.
America must stand on the side of sovereignty for all countries that choose their own identity. When sovereignty is challenged, the world (not any singular nation) is challenged to respond. America must lead by example, not by force, except in concert with all sovereign nations.
Hansen ignores many facts to make her case for America’s failures. It is difficult to listen to “Notes on a Foreign Country” because it only reports on mistakes, not America’s example as a free Republic.