This book was brought to my attention by a previous Amazon reviewer and my suprising reaction to it. I was suprised because, while I share many of the writer's opinions about the ugly truths of America (and Americans), I was a bit hostile and defensive. I had to read the book for myself and reassess my reaction. What readers will find is a brutally honest and often unflattering view of not only America and our government, but of we the people as well. We like to think that non-Americans can differentiate between "Americans" and our government, and this is mentioned several time. Yet there is also a criticism of who we Americans are that is difficult to read. Ironically, many contributors also share an admiration and even envy for what we have and what we have done - the common theme, however, is disappointment.
In a collection such as this, one expects criticisms of George H.W. Bush (he was never very popular outside the United States; one could say he wasn't that popular *within* the US, either, but bear in mind he was elected twice to office) and the American invastion of Iraq. And both Bush and Iraq are mentioned with frequency. What is also sadly recurring are the authors repeated statements that, following 9/11 they felt at one with we Americans; all the more bitter, then, that this goodwill and international support was squandered and recklessly thrown away by our actions in the months and years following. Beneath these superficial criticisms, however, the writers share other sentiments: primarily a sense of profound disappointment that America hasn't lived up to its image as American involvement in Chile, Guatemala, Nicarauga, Kossovo, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Iran are pointed to as a betrayal of our ideals of truth, justice, self-determination and democracy.
All of the writers comment on the tremendous power of America - not just militarily and economcially, but especially culturally. Indeed, Indian Suny Singh's essay "In Praise of the Deliquent Hero, or How Hollywood Creates Terrorists" points out that it is precisely American cultural dominance that has simultaneously created such an idealized vision of America and provided those who are anti-American with the script to destroy it. Most admire "American values" of democracy and opportunity, and hope to have the comfort and high standard of living we enjoy. Yet the arrogance, lack of understanding and curiousity of others, and lack of self-reflection by Americans both baffles and frustrates these writers. As Nigerian wirter Chris Abani put it, "... many others are more complex in their understanding of America than Americans are."
How do they see us? A few adjectives culled from the twenty essays: "arrogant," "disrespectful," "superficial," "ambivalent," "indifferent," "shallow," "utterly without scruples," "undisciplined, promiscious, voracious for everything." Hardly flattering. Given our quality of life, our way of life, and the insular way in which we see the world, this is understandable. As one writer remarks, "How do we see America? Very well. ... The question might be of a different nature: ... Does America see us at all?" This collection of essays provides us the opportunity to see "them" - if we have the courage to look.
To conclude this review on a more positive note, it is precisely our ability to assess our problems, to recognize our shortcomings and failures and to attempt to redress them that makes us so admirable. One writer in particular retells of his first exposure to America was through the Watergate trial - and how much that impacted him and his perception of us and our country. I can only hope that we still have the courage to again coldly assess ourselves and change the way we act - and react - to the rest of the world.