There was some discussion here a couple of weeks ago about collective gratitude, specifically the idea that Europeans should feel gratitude for America’s interventions in both World Wars and its defensive umbrella over the continent during the Cold War.
Expecting gratitude from foreign nations is a peculiarly American notion. It’s part of our Weltanschauung. America is an idea, not a nation, so our interactions with other countries are focused on the good things we do for them by spreading the American idea.
Other powerful nations don’t expect gratitude. You’ll never catch the Russians or the Chinese asking for gratitude from their neighbors. Britain may have done a service to India by colonizing it, but the British did not expect gratitude from their colonial subjects. Unlike the United States, these empires acted (or act) as empires, that is, in their own interests. Their foreign policy is not based on altruism, so gratitude is never an issue.
As Rudyard Kipling wrote:
Take up the White Man’s burden,
And reap his old reward—
The blame of those ye better
The hate of those ye guard—
The cry of those ye humor
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:—
“Why brought ye us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?”
If there were ever a clear example of why expecting gratitude is a bad idea, it’s the recent shoe-throwing incident in Iraq. According to AKI:
Iraq: Protest in Favour of Release of Bush ‘Shoe-Thrower’
Sadr City, 15 Dec. (AKI) — Thousands of Iraqis on Monday demanded the release of Muntazer al-Zaydi, the journalist who threw his shoes at US President George W. Bush. The protests took place in the Shia Baghdad neighbourhood of Sadr City and the demonstrators marched towards the headquarters of the Iraqi press syndicate, in al-Waziriya, said Iraqi news agency Voices of Iraq.
The protesters, who were reportedly made up of followers of radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, also burned American flags.
Meanwhile, a statement calling for the release of al-Zaydi was issued by the Cairo-based satellite news channel al-Boghdadiya, where the journalist has worked since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
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“Al-Boghdadiya channel calls for the immediate release of its correspondent al-Zaydi in line with the new era of democracy and freedom of expression the US authorities had promised the Iraqis,” said a media release from the channel quoted by Voices of Iraq.
On Sunday, al-Zaydi threw his first shoe at Bush as he yelled “This is a gift from the Iraqis. This is the farewell kiss, you dog,”
As he threw his second shoe, he said: “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.” As Bush avoided the shoes, al-Zaydi was quickly wrestled to the ground by security guards.
Al-Zaydi was being held on Monday by Iraqi police and was reportedly interrogated about whether he was paid to throw his shoes at Bush. He was also being tested for alcohol and drug use.
In the Arab world, throwing your shoes or exposing the soles of your shoes is one of the worst signs of disrespect.
In a separate incident in the Iraqi city of Najaf, protesters threw their shoes at an American patrol as it passed by.
This is how the people of Iraq react to their “liberators”, the people who brought them democracy and invested thousands of lives and untold billions of dollars on their behalf. No conquered nation has ever received a better deal from its conquerors than Iraq has from the USA.
Yet they burn our flag and throw shoes at us — the equivalent of spitting on us.
Within six months or two years or five years from when the United States finally withdraws its military forces from Iraq, the Iraqis will either revert to their customary ways and install a strongman in power, resort to civil war, or become an Islamic theocracy like Iran. The only way we can prevent such an outcome is to occupy the country for decades — or pave it over.
And, no matter what happens, gratitude will never be forthcoming. Expecting it is utter foolishness.
We should either leave them to their own devices, or rule them with all the ruthlessness that is required.
We should act like an empire or go home.
Hat tip: C. Cantoni.