Of Niall Ferguson, Objective Criticism, and European Hatemongers

There has, of course, always been an undercurrent of anti-Americanism in European society. Our rapid expansion across the continent and rise as a potential competitor, our form of government, our heterogeneous mixture of races and ethnic groups, and religious idiosyncrasies, our geographic distance, and many other factors have acted to reinforce the sense that Americans were “others.” Our brains are hard-wired to have a dual system of morality, which I have elsewhere referred to as the Amity/Enmity Complex. We reserve “good” moral behavior for those in our “in-group.” The “other,” however, is perceived as evil, unclean, and contemptible. Ask the European Jews who survived World War II how that works. The collapse of the Soviet Union reinforced the sense of our power and significance. Instead of just one among several others, for many Europeans we became “The Other.” Predictably, human nature took its course, and hatred of Americans reached new extremes.

As I happen to speak German, I was able to watch the phenomenon as it developed in that country firsthand. It became impossible to overlook when the German mass media, with Spiegel magazine in the forefront, began to discover just how lucrative it could be to feed the growing undercurrents of anti-American hate. The rest of the media soon caught on. Towards the end of the Clinton administration, the German media started becoming choked with expressions of rage, hatred, and denunciations for any number of trumped up claims of US “immorality.” Spiegel’s editors became positively obsessed with the game, to the point that it became difficult to find any news about Germany on their website mixed in with the daily dose of intemperate railing against the USA. This quasi-racist Amerika bashing went on well into the Bush administration, until a growing number of decent Germans, and the few Americans who were paying any attention, started pushing back. David of Davids Medienkritik was prominent among them, and one can find some of the more egregious and vicious attacks documented on his website.

Gradually, the word spread, and more Americans began to notice, including influential players in our own mass media. It became increasingly obvious to the “respectable” elements in the German media that, if they kept it up, they would soon enjoy reputations similar to that held by Julius Streicher and “Der Stürmer” during the Third Reich. This, of course would not do. It might seriously jeopardize their chances of raking in any future international prizes for “objective journalism.” They began moderating their tone, until today one only sees the occasional chunk of red meat still tossed out to the legions of Amerika haters.

Of course, this remarkable change in tone makes it quite obvious that the editors of Spiegel and the rest were quite conscious of the game they were playing all along. If not from that, one could detect it in the day and night difference between the occasional English articles on their site and the German stuff intended for domestic consumption. While the unabashed hatemongering was still going on unabated, however, they were quite disingenuous about it. One of their favorite phrases was “objective criticism.” Any slanted, half-baked attack on the US was fobbed off as “objective criticism.” I don’t doubt that many Germans still rationalize their hate as “objective criticism.” To them, I can only recommend that they take a look at the real thing. They need look no further than Niall Fergusons, “The War of the World.”

The book is anything but a pro-US panegyric. On the contrary, we come in for some harsh criticism touching such matters as our pervasive habit of shooting enemy prisoners of war, our bombing of civilians in World War II, our less than generous response to the European persecution of Jews and other minorities before the war, and any number of other real or perceived shortcomings. There’s more than enough to make the more thin-skinned of my countrymen squirm as they read it. To read it, however, is to learn the difference between the “objective criticism” of the hate mongers and the search for truth of a conscientious historian.

Balance is always one of the best tip offs. Ferguson is well aware of the opposing arguments on either side of the issues he discusses, and has a deep grasp of the relevant history. No one can be perfectly objective. Our world view is bound to mediate the way we perceive historical facts to a greater or lesser extent. However, Ferguson doesn’t ignore half of the facts because they conflict with a preferred narrative. History plays a much different role in the “objective criticism” of the Amerika haters. For them, it is just a sewer one wades through to pick up choice tidbits that fit the narrative. To them, its end is to villify. Facts that conflict with that end are ignored. As a result, the hater’s grasp of history is necessarily shallow. Challenge one of their choice tidbits, and it’s obvious. They never waste much time trying to defend the indefensible. They just hop ahead to the next tidbit.  Read the book and you’ll see the difference.

There is another good reason for reading “The War of the World.” In the process of demonstrating the difference between a serious history and propaganda, Ferguson has created a virtual case study of the Amity/Enmity Complex in action. Of course, the manifestations of anti-American hate referred to earlier are an excellent example of a recent manifestation of this destructive aspect of human nature. “The War of the World” chronicles many more, although Ferguson himself hasn’t grasped the connection. The book cites instance after instance of slaughter and destruction inflicted on the “other” in recent history. The Jews are, of course, the quintessential “other” of our time, and Ferguson reveals the incredible and unforgivable misery they have suffered from the irrational hatred of their neighbors, not only in Germany, but in pogroms and murders that were every bit as vicious in Russia, Poland, Ukraine, and a host of other countries. Read the litany of horror, and it may begin to dawn on you why the existence of Israel is necessary.

The Jews had plenty of company in the 20th century. Ferguson tells us of the Armenian genocide, the rape of Nanking, the slaughter of Serbs by Croats and of Moslems by Serbs, and countless other manifestations of the Complex. Read his book. Then read what Robert Ardrey, Arthur Keith, and many others have been trying to tell us since the time of Darwin about the dual system of human morality, and think about it.  Unless you’re blind. You’ll see they were right. One day, perhaps in the not too distant future, they’ll be proved right. Wait and see.

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