Current Issue

Mar.4, 2009

Vol. 109, No. 9


Hating Uncle Sam

A Princeton class dissects the causes of anti-Americanism and what can be done about them.

By Mark F. Bernstein ’83
Published in the March4, 2009, issue

Seluk Demirel

Why do they hate us?

Americans have asked that question about the world at least since the beginning of the Cold War, sometimes plaintively and sometimes peevishly, but never more pointedly than since the opening of the war in Iraq.

“Why do they hate us?” George W. Bush asked rhetorically in his speech to a joint session of Congress nine days after the 9/11 attacks. Islamic fundamentalists hate America’s democratic form of government, the president concluded. Some analysts say that foreign governments whip up anti-Americanism to divert attention from their own shortcomings; others call negative attitudes abroad a fitting rebuke for American policies that defy or divide world opinion, ranging from our overuse of natural resources to our role in the Middle East.

Analyzing anti-Americanism has become a flourishing academic specialty. Last fall, eight members of a junior task force at the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs studied the issue in depth. The task force was taught by Sophie Meunier, a research scholar who has written extensively on the subject and currently is working on a book about anti-American attitudes in her native France and elsewhere. The students produced a 16-page policy paper, “Dealing with Anti-Americanism: A Report to the New Administration,” which it presented to policymakers in Washington in December. Meunier was planning to send a much longer, final report, completed in January, to members of the new administration, including former Woodrow Wilson School dean Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80, the incoming director of the State Department’s policy-planning staff.

Anti-American attitudes are not confined to jihadists, and polls — taken before the election of Barack Obama — suggest they have been deepening, even among those who are supposed to be our allies. According to a survey released in December by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, an affiliate of the Pew Research Center, only 53 percent of Britons think favorably of the United States, down from 83 percent nine years ago. Just 31 percent of Spaniards hold a favorable opinion of the United States, and in Turkey, an aspiring member of the European Union, approval runs at a mere 12 percent. In large swaths of the world, anti-American jibes have become a staple of popular humor: A recent advertisement in South Africa for the European-made Smart car boasted that it featured “German engineering, Swiss innovation, American nothing.”

Still, in some parts of the world, especially the former Soviet satellites of Eastern Europe and in sub-Saharan Africa, the United States remains very popular. According to Pew, 68 percent of Poles and 64 percent of Nigerians hold favorable opinions of this country; in South Korea, which U.S. troops have defended for half a century, it is 70 percent. Many people strongly oppose particular U.S. policies while professing deep affection for American culture or for Americans personally. Fewer than 40 percent of Mexicans, for example, say they hold a favorable opinion of the United States — but immigration runs in one direction.

The task force members bring perspectives from around the globe, which makes them perfectly suited to delve into their topic. Five of the eight students on the task force have lived abroad, and one is a foreign citizen.

And the professor? “I’m French,” Meunier jokes, “so that qualifies me to teach about anti-Americanism.”

In fact, the course had its genesis in Meunier’s academic work. Born in Paris, she earned a bachelor’s degree at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris. After graduate studies at Harvard’s Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies and the University of Chicago, she received a Ph.D. from MIT. With the exception of a brief period at the Brookings Institution, she has taught at Princeton since 1998.

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10 Responses to Hating Uncle Sam

James Beckman '58 Says:

2009-03-02 14:11:51

Having lived and worked in Central Europe since 2002, the major issues are the Iraqi war, the absence of a Palestinian state, and now the US-led global economic meltdown. Of course, there are pluses for America, but the above summarize literally thousands of contacts with Europeans.

George A. McAlmon III '76 Says:

2009-03-02 14:15:51

Why do "they" hate "us"? We better rigorously examine our side of the street before looking abroad. Given the last eight years, under the most *intentionally* destructive administration in American history, it may be more apt to ask: "How can other countries come to trust and respect America again?". That is where academic research should focus.

Chester A. Files Jr. '45 Says:

2009-03-06 09:24:30

This is a very interesting project. Although I have always believed that I was Republican, I now believe that George W. Bush has done a lot to make other peoples dislike us. I recently attained an MA in History from Providence College and found that the Mid-eastern problem was very interesting to me. Question: Would University policy permit me to correspond with members of the cited task force?

Gaetano P. Cipriano '78 Says:

2009-03-13 10:36:18

Foreigners dislike the USA for the same principal reason that people dislike the NY Yankees - envy. The USA is the most powerful, richest, most innovative country by a country mile. It's really that simple; however, in typically Princetonian academic fashion a simple, self-evident issue is overanalyzed by academic people who must have a lot of spare time.

Michael L. Sena '69 *72 Says:

2009-03-16 13:59:38

Five of the eight students on the task force have lived abroad, and one is a foreign citizen. And the professor? Im French, Meunier jokes, so that qualifies me to teach about anti-Americanism. The above are the qualifications listed for those completing this important survey. Apologies, but the voices that are needed are those of us who have grown up in the US, spent the majority of our lives there, and then have moved to live permanently abroad. Spending a semester, a year or even a few years as an American sojourner does not provide the prospective of someone who has chosen a foreign country as his or her home. Those who have chosen to emigrate to the US (e.g. the professor) also have a biased view of America, which must have been positive, predisposing them to reject negative opinions of the US and its citizens. In my class ('69), there are less than a dozen of us who have chosen to emigrate, and some of us must have done so for the same reasons that those with whom we live have a negative opinion of the United States and its citizens. Ask us!

David R. Fine MPA *82 Says:

2009-03-16 16:40:36

This is a fascinating subject, one that is well suited to a WWS policy task force. I suspect that there are many causes of anti-American feelings around the world. Certainly envy is one of them, but surely not the only one, as Gaetano Cipriano seems to think. In Canada, for example, I've always thought that our own collective lack of self-confidence results in a certain amount of anti-Americanism, simply by virtue of living next to such an over-powering neighbour. That said, it is undoubtedly true that the policies of the Bush administration were disliked by a huge number of Canadians, resulting in a significant increase in anti-American sentiment during his two terms in office. I'm a bit surprised by Michael Sena's comment. He seems to think that only Americans who have emigrated abroad are in a position to analyze the issue in question. Not only is this too narrow a view, it is quite impractical in the context of a policy task force for undergraduates beginning their junior year. Finally, a minor factual quibble: the author, Mark Bernstein writes that France left NATO under DeGaulle. I believe that this is technically incorrect; although France left NATO's integrated military command structure, as far as I know, it remained a member of the North Atlantic Alliance. As such, I believe that it remained subject to those articles of the NATO treaty governing collective defence, for example. (Interestingly, President Sarkhozy has just stirred up a bit of a hornet's net by proposing that France re-join the integrated military command.)

Paul Kennison ' 70 Says:

2009-03-17 13:12:26

As someone who has been living in America all my life and visited only Canada and Europe, I can appeal weakly to limited experience and something akin to Gaetano Cipriano'78's "simple self-evident" examination. Surely, envy must be a factor. But to believe it is the only factor tells me that Mr. Cipriano must be innocent or forgetful of history. Do these phrases ring a bell, Gaetano? "Collateral damage," "unavoidable and unfortunate civilian casualties," "the overthrow or assassination of popularly elected heads of state," "support of autocratic dictators sympathetic to U.S. interests," "the ugly American," "the arrogance of power," "we had to destroy the village to save it," etc. My opinion is that the U.S. is hated for the same reason it is loved: for our actions -- both individual and collective. In that sense I agree with Mr. Cipriano; it is simple. But research could enlighten us as to which actions inspire love and which inspire hate. Cultural differences may result in some surprising (to us) answers.

Gaetano Cipriano '78 Says:

2009-03-18 17:53:03

I didn't write that envy was the ONLY reason that America is disliked around the world, I wrote that it's the principal reason, and I stand by that assertion. I found instructive the photo on the editorial page of Investors Business Daily last Friday of the leader of Hezbollah speaking from "an undisclosed location" to an assembly of his followers while saying, and I paraphrase, that Israel will never be accepted and that it must be destroyed. The USA is a staunch ally of Israel, providing military and monetary support, thereby frustrating the man's goal to which he and millions of Muslims are fanatically devoted.The PAW article basically ignores that point which is critical to the entire issue. How can that happen and the article be taken seriously?

Stokes B. Carrigan III '52 Says:

2009-03-19 09:17:39

I live over half a year in Australia working on my wife's cattle station in the Australian "bush." I believe I can report reliably that the Australians do not hate us. Their very high regard for and appreciation of America which probably peaked after WWII continues although somewhat abated. What I have found is that the Aussies don't pay much attention to America except for our music, movies, TV shows, and the exchange rate with the US dollar. Of recent concern, as might be expected, is the impact our corporate greed has had on the world's economy. If anything, Australians are curious about and puzzled by our behavior. But for the most part they have plenty on their plate to occupy their attention - drought, global warming, their relations SE Asian neighbors, and so on.

Chester Lipinski '49 Says:

2009-05-22 12:00:58

So Ms. Meunier feels that because she's French she's qualified to teach about anti-Americanism. Hmmmm. Does that also mean she has a short memory and there is no word for "gratitude" in the French language? My father fought in WWI receiving a purple heart for wounds received in the French Argonne forest. Also, my two brothers and I served in WWII during which the French were liberated. If not for us Ms. Meunier would be speaking German. The same goes for the British. I would hope her study will be honest and include the large percent of Muslim haters (see Turkey) who hate the U.S. principally because of our continued support of Israel. As for the Mexicans, if their opinion of us is so low, why in the world are there more than 10 million Mexican illegal here? And now we learn she's teaching our students? What a sorry state of affairs.
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Dealing with anti-Americanism
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