| 02 January 2003
|Dixie Chicks and Noam Chomsky: Two Sides of Americanism & Anti-Americanism in the USA|
Dixie Chicks and Noam Chomsky: Two Sides of Americanism & Anti-Americanism in the USA.
by Leonard Zeskind
Introduction to Dixie Chicks page
This essay originally appeared in 2003 as a chapter in the book Nichts gegen Amerika: Linker Antiamerikanismus und seine lange Geschichte. The book’s editor, Michael Hahn, translated my English-language manuscript into German, and Konkret Literatur Verlag in Hamburg published the book. That October, the Berlin alternative weekly newspaper, Jungle World, republished the essay in its entirety. And that German-language version is reproduced again on its website.
Although this essay-chapter was initially written for a German audience, during a period of increased anti-Americanism in Europe occasioned by the U.S invasion of Iraq, the themes discussed here remain pertinent to any audience reading in any language.
An American look at “anti-Americanism” might begin with a scene from Germany. A February 1990 anti-fascist conference in Frankfurt am Main had just met for several days. At the meeting’s conclusion, it had collapsed into squabbling factions. And the participants failed to reach any agreement about what to do next. Afterwards, conferees living on both sides of the Wall in Berlin and a few towns in East Germany had settled in for a long bus ride home. They rehashed events and several talked with the one American onboard. A church-based activist explained the educational work of her group. A pale-skinned West Berliner and his more darkly hued wife, a Brit of Afro-Caribbean descent, complained about the difficulties they faced as she tried to gain German citizenship. Several Turkish men told of the violence against “foreigners” that they had personally witnessed. A woman from Halle described her participation in the New Forum movement, and how she was growing increasingly worried as the dissidents’ early talk of democratic rights had been supplanted by angry nationalists and even neo-Nazis. Her concern was heightened, she told the American, because she was Jewish, a fact of life she had only learned from her parents on their deathbed. They had been too fearful to tell her earlier, she said. Now, in her early 30s and a lifelong citizen of the DDR, she did not know what to do, and was thinking of moving to Israel.
As the bus left Halle for the final miles of the journey, one particularly articulate West Berliner asked about the Left in the United States. And the American described some of its multiple failings. Yes, but there is more, the Berliner insisted, American leftists do not know how to think deeply. They are dominated by philosophical pragmatism and have never mastered the dialectical method.
Now switch scenes forward to a garden party in the American Midwest held during the months immediately following the U.S. invasion of Iraq. A handful of left-wing farmers are meeting with their urban supporters, including several from New York. The talk naturally turns to the war and the high level of support among the American people for Bush and military action. It makes me ashamed to be an American, one Midwesterner avers. But there are two sides to being an American, another argues: slavery and genocide on one side, freedom and the fight for justice on the other. Bah, says a church secretary, I am not an American, but an African, caught and enslaved and resident here against my will. Her pastor, a white man born and raised in Alabama, seconded her notion. I am not an American, he says, I am a citizen of the World.
A fourth person, a New Yorker whose parents were born in Puerto Rico, leans over and whispers quietly. That is the trouble with most Americans, he says, they cannot keep two different thoughts in their head at the same time.
There is very little that German leftists can say about Americans and the American left that American leftists have not already said about themselves. In fact, anti-Americanism is a solid part of American life. But consideration of its ramifications is largely absent from the discourse inside the left.