If you watch the evening news you can always see people who hate us as a country. Usually the words come from those that are our enemies such as terrorist groups or rogue states such as Iraq.
But sometimes they come from the people we consider our friends.
Americans have a real hard time not thinking that everyone should love us. We are used to being the most wealthy, most powerful nation in the world. We are also the most generous nation on the planet, giving in every crisis and seemingly every cause.
The last publisher of this paper (Kevin Ashby) related a story to me about a situation he faced in Argentina. Now Argentina has had an up and down relationship with the U.S. over the years, but just the same it would seem that the common citizen of that country would have a positive opinion of us, especially when they know one of us personally.
It seems that Kevin was riding a bus in the country at one time and he began talking with a Argentinian college student about various things. Kevin said the conversation went well and when the student went to leave the bus Kevin told him goodbye.
The student looked at Kevin and as he took the bar to swing off the bus he said "Goodbye North American pig."
Kevin didn't know what to think. He said to me, 'What would you make of that?"
I wasn't there so I can't exactly tell the parameters of the situation. However, I know Kevin Ashby and I know he is one of the most positive people I have ever met, so I doubt that he did anything to precipitate that final farewell. This young man must have just hated Americans, regardless of their relationship with him.
So what caused him to feel that way?
This past week I was able to spend a couple of days with our friend from New Zealand that Ken Larson wrote about in his editorial last week. He and I toured a little of the area and then spent all of Friday in the Salt Lake area looking at the sites. Here is a man from a country that we would all regard as very friendly to the U.S. I spent a lot of time with him in the car, talking about everything from his trips to India and Australia to the politics of the day.
In those talks I found a man from a country that loves and hates the United States at the same time.
He told me of the reaction of his countrymen to the 9-11 events. They were shocked and outraged and they cried for us as if they lived next door. When we spoke of what could be done about the situation he talked of "we" as a common people doing this and that. It was a miraculous connection between people living half a world away in different hemispheres.
But I also found a great deal of resentment, not of me personally, but of things our country has done over the years that has made life rather tough for those in New Zealand.
New Zealand is a small country with a population of just under four million. It is a group of islands a 1000 miles east of Australia, the main chain of which is between 500-600 miles long. They have been our allies in almost every conflict between World War I and the Gulf War. They are part of the British Commonwealth, cousins with Canada. What could we have ever done to offend them?
Well during our conversation I heard quite a list. For instance at one time the nations railroads and communications systems were owned by the government. New Zealand decided to sell off these assets so they would be operated in a more business like manner.
An American company out of Wisconsin bought the railroads. Within a few months they had closed down the rail lines that weren't making money (which according to our conversation was most of them), thereby laying off thousands of workers, many of whom had been working for the railroad for years. New Zealands economy is not strong, and unemployment is high. After that, it got much worse, especially when most of those people went "on the dole." The closure also resulted in many areas having no rail travel. That would seem no big deal to most Americans, but to a country where the rail system has been the main mode of travel and the highways mostly consist of little two lane roads, it was a real blow.
Next the government sold the telecommunications system to Bell South of the United States. They paid $4.5 billion for the system sometime in the middle of the eighties.
Today, and ever since, Bell South has made more in profit from the system each year than they paid for it. As my New Zealand friend put it, "And all that money, we need for our poor economy, is sitting in some bank in Chicago."
New Zealand has also tried to work out some kind of trade agreement with the U.S. that will favor them more than the present situation, but the country decided many years ago to be a "non-nuclear zone" which means U.S. nuclear warships cannot dock in New Zealand ports. That, apparently has been the main sticking point to a trade agreement.
Now I am sure if I asked the Wisconsin company that bought the New Zealand railroads, Bell South about the phone system or the U.S. government about the trade agreement, they would have their own side of the story and that side would be very logical.
But when it comes to foreign relations, whether it be industrial or political, perception is what counts. Regardless of the reasons or profit and loss of a situation, the people that live in a country are going to develop an attitude about us if what we do appears unfair or completely one sided.
Now I realize we can't please everyone.. But being able to talk for hours face to face with a citizen of another country about the United States role in the world is always an eye opening experience. I have had the chance over the years to do that same thing with Canadians, Brits and a couple of people from South America.
In thoe conversations I found the same thing; most love us as a people, but they hate at least some of what our business and government leaders do. And from their point of view, I can see why.
Every American should seek the opportunity to talk with someone from another country in a honest, sincere and unthreatened way. It is amazing what this type of encounter does to open up your mind and see the rest of the worlds view point of us much more clearly.
It also helps one to understand why we are, at least at times, hated.