March 1, 2003: Headlines: Speaking Out: Arab News: US Should Change its Foreign Policies to Win Back World’s Trust with Programs like the Peace Corps

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US Should Change its Foreign Policies to Win Back World’s Trust with Programs like the Peace Corps

US Should Change its Foreign Policies to Win Back World’s Trust with Programs like the Peace Corps

US Should Change its Foreign Policies to Win Back World’s Trust

Adrienne McPhail, Special to Arab News

In the 1960s there was a book published entitled “The Ugly American”. I read it, as did a number of young American students, and was profoundly affected by what it had to say.

It told the story of the Central Intelligence Agency and how its interference in Asian countries led to many of the problems that plagued that area of the world, not the least of which was Vietnam.

In its own way this one book helped to bring an end to the Vietnam War and changed a generation’s outlook on life. That generation, referred to as the “baby boomers”, grew up in a society that had just helped to free Europe and Asia from the forces of evil. Our parents instilled in us the patriotic belief that every country should be free and that all people had the right to live in a democratic society. The “iron curtain” had just fallen on Central and Eastern Europe and the enemy, communism, was to be fought on every front with US troops wherever possible and with words that streamed endlessly from the voices of Radio Free Europe.

We were very certain that our country was right in its fight against communism and we clung to that certainty until the nightly televised images of the dead and dying in Vietnam convinced us that perhaps we were wrong.

The young men who returned defeated from that war were treated with contempt and were lost in a society that had turned against itself. This was a stain on the American character that will never be erased. Our generation came of age and moved on with their lives but they were a very different type of American. Determined not to repeat the errors of their parents, they adopted a form of isolationism that promoted American products to all markets in the world while at the same time withdrawing from political, social and economic problems in the world unless they directly affected their investments. Then the unthinkable happened and a group of desperate and insane men took out their anger and frustrations on America as they flew hijacked jet airplanes into those same high-rise buildings, and this generation watched their ideology crumble to the ground as the towers fell.

The “peace generation” was attacked and was at war but who was the enemy? As they struggled in confusion groping for answers they found instead that they and their country were considered by many people to be the real enemy. The shock of this revelation was almost as great as the initial attack itself. Having withdrawn into their comfortable cocoon and convinced themselves that with the exception of Bosnia, they were not creating major problems in the world, they lulled themselves into believing that the world would appreciate their indifference and that the generous foreign aid packages they distributed would outweigh the often unbalanced and sometimes unfair foreign policies they had adopted.

They were surprised to learn that they had become a symbol to many poor nations of a large, wealthy, self-absorbed, nation that had no real interest in helping the millions of starving and oppressed that inhabited the same space that they did. They were waking up to the fact that their parents’ generation, with all the errors they made, were in fact right and they were wrong. They were finding out that they had no right to view the rest of the world as just a market place. They were learning that with the privileges of being a major power came the responsibility of reinvesting in their world — a lesson they had failed to learn. Now, they are learning that there are times when is not only necessary to go to war but it can also be just; if the motivation is to improve the human condition rather than to gain monetarily.

What this generation of Americans will do now shall determine the future of their country and from the ashes of that great tragedy there rises an opportunity to become the “good American”. To achieve this noble goal young Americans will have to step forward. As President Kennedy asked our once-young generation, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”. I ask the new generation to create the “good America”. I ask them to undo the errors of my generation and to volunteer two years of service in the “new peace corps” working one-on-one with people around the world. Sharing the experience and education that the wealth of their society blessed them with to help the less fortunate.

I ask them to forgive the mistakes of my generation and to demonstrate to the world that America truly can be, once again, the beacon of hope and freedom and will set an example both at home and abroad that all struggling nations can aspire to.

As for my generation, we are in the process, as painful as it is, of cleaning up the debris that we in many ways created. We will have to change foreign policies and base our decisions solely on what is fair and just regardless of the cost. This will have to apply to all nations with whom we deal, be they friend or foe. For only in this new form of justice can we pass on to our young Americans a reputation that is as untarnished and as clean as the one our parents once passed on to us.

(Adrienne McPhail is a free-lance journalist based in Riyadh.)

Arab News Opinion 1 March 2003

When this story was posted in October 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Arab News

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Speaking Out



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