May 3, 2006
"He who knows only his own side of a case knows little of that"
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty 1859
I moved heaven and earth to come to the United States as a resident and set up a business here. Like most converts to a cause, I am at least as passionate as many who are born to it. An America-phile, I feel at home in this land of drive, idealism and the will to succeed. I feel good to be participating in the country whose policies and actions have, at this moment in history, the greatest power to shape the world. And I like being in a nation that is or has a center of excellence in almost all fields of human endeavor.
When I arrived in the U.S. in 2004, I wasn't sure of what I would do. I had a "plan" for a property investment company a field in which I had dabbled in Britain, but I wasn't too sure of how I was going to make a success with so little starting capital. Nevertheless, I knew I wanted to live life large, no matter how I was going to make that happen, and so came to this country that is known for "large" and for the cliché that has moved millions the American Dream.
Soon after I arrived, my most important reason for being here became clear. I had the inspiration with a good friend of mine, Will Kern, to launch a Web site, www.watchingamerica.com, that would translate foreign news about the United States, to enable Americans to see what the rest of the world thinks about their country.
Watching America was in part born out of observations made during my many visits to my then-girlfriend in California soon after 9/11. After turning on the TV here and being frustrated by the lack (with the exception of C-Span) of unpackaged news, rather than what appeared to be highly positioned and American-centric infotainment, I found a couple of bookstores where I'd go to read various foreign newspapers to catch up on the rest of the world and global (rather than national) perspectives on the day's issues. Ironically, it was only in California that I really discovered Britain's press. At the same time, of course, I'd see book after book that indicated America's new introspection and desire to find its place in the world motivated in part by the cultural need to work out why the Towers fell, and why, perhaps more importantly, America was so surprised when they did. The Jacuzzi in the condo complex was the perfect place to read up and educate myself Orange county style on the United States, and indeed, global politics.
But just as you can't feel the ground from looking at a map, you can't understand the "other" simply by reading about it or by listening to the postulations and pronouncements of pundits on your favorite news channel. WatchingAmerica therefore fills a "gaping niche:" its visitors get to look straight into the minds of non-Americans friends and foes who, in many cases, are affected more by American policy than are Americans themselves. Of course, translations of news and views published about America by our friends and enemies often reveal the real sentiments that are carefully obscured by the English-language output from those countries, especially constructed for the West's consumption.
The first thing that a visitor to Watching America will notice is that the world doesn't have much good to say about the United States. That surprises no one. In fact, no more than 5 percent of such articles are positive. Of the rest, most are negative, with the others neutral.
What is it about the American nation, people or culture that has led the United States to become, according to most surveys and op-eds from around the world, the country some love to hate, and to others, simply global enemy No. 1? My contribution to Border Talk will seek to address this question not by rehashing global issues, about which so much is written daily, but by offering some thoughts on the meaning of "American" and issues of American identity that place it apart in good ways and bad from the rest of the world.