Well, the short answer is no. But it sure looks that way from the outside sometimes…
Somewhere around the conflicts stemming out of the 1960’s, an attitude pervaded the U.S. that to admit failure, wrongdoing, or misjudgement was unpatriotic. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, to claim victory or superiority where none exists appears to be ignorant at best, if not plainly deluded. A CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp) television program, “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” ran a very popular segment for years called ‘Talking to Americans’ which showcased average American citizens diligently exposing their complete ignorance of their neighbours to the north. Had anyone south of the border been aware of it, I’m sure it would have created quite a stir. Of course, Jay Leno made a good living doing the same thing for some time as well. But its a little different to pick on one’s own than have an outsider do it.
Until the mid-twentieth century, U.S. foreign policy was profoundly isolationist. European countries in particular, have been engaging in trade, wars and pacts for several centuries, thus requiring some basic knowledge about each other. Most Europeans speak at least 2 or 3 languages, simply out of necessity. Until trade and expansion required it, the U.S. did not have any need to understand centuries of world history or geopolitics, and by then, with the fortuitous invention of atomic warfare, didn’t have to. The Truman Doctrine that dominated U.S. foreign affairs was responsible for some very questionable actions, particularly in Central America. But very few Americans know any details other than “Communism Bad”. The almighty quest to stomp out any socialist leanings throughout the twentieth century set up some strange bedfellows, the results of which we are only seeing today. The grand propaganda machines of the fifties certainly did the job, as most Americans, for example, see their military actions not as aggressive intervention in soverign nations resulting in great loss of life, but as ‘rescue missions’.
Perhaps it is the glorification of the ‘white hat versus black hat’ cowboy mentality, but Americans seem to see things in very simple, black and white terms. And the U.S. is always on the side of the angels. When the U.S. funded the Taliban in the 1980’s it was the right thing to do to stop the Soviets. Now that the Taliban has turned on the U.S. their former allies are evil and the U.S. is once again on the side of right. The U.S. seems to the rest of the world to pick their battles and their allies based on what is most convenient and expedient to the interests of the U.S. at the time – but sells it to its people based on grand ideological ideals. And those that don’t drink the Kool-
Aid are branded as unpatriotic. For a country founded on revolution, to expose hypocracy and misinformation in the government should be considered the utmost in patriotism. But the scars from Vietnam persist.
The U.S. exports so much of its culture to the rest of the world that the rest of the world knows a lot more about Americans than Americans do the rest of the world. That lack of balance right there makes Americans and their policies look stupid – how does one explain to an Iraqi child why Americans have bombed out their home, only to see on a TV somewhere an American that cannot point out Iraq on a map? It may not be fair, but the rest of the world sees the U.S. through the media, tv and movies. Whether it is sound bites on the news that reveal gross ignorance in world affairs by the politicians Americans have voted for, or movies depicting the U.S. single handedly winning World War II, this is what the rest of the world sees. And when they know by personal experience that the U.S. aren’t always the heroes, aren’t always the ‘white hats’, they can only assume the U.S. just doesn’t care. And if that is true, then yes, Americans are stupid.